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US and Israeli Navy Conduct Exercise Under New US Central Command

US and Israel joint naval exercise in the Red Sea
Israeli Navy corvette INS Eilat (left), guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (center), and an Israeli Navy fast patrol boat (U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Jesse Johnston)

Published Sep 1, 2021 7:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. and Israeli naval forces staged a joint exercise yesterday, August 31, in the Red Sea. While it is not the first exercise between the two countries' navies, it comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region and is part of a new organization strategy by the U.S. Department of Defense in its approach to managing Israel and the region.

A series of incidents in the Middle East in 2021 has increased tensions and led to accusations of a shadow war between Israel and Iran. Iranian forces were linked to a series of attacks on Israeli-owned and managed vessels, including rocket attacks on two car carriers and most recently a series of drone attacks on the tanker Mercer Street, which is managed by a London-based company controlled by Israeli interests. The U.S. and U.K. using intelligence and an investigation of the tanker linked the drone attack that killed the captain and another crew member to Iran. Israel’s defense minister according to media reports has actively campaigned for retaliatory strikes on Iran and has publicly vowed to use the military to defend Israeli shipping.

In addition to denying the attacks, Iran accused Israel of targeting Iranian tankers. Several incidents off the coast of Syria and Lebanon were blamed on Israel.

The United States announced in January that it would be moving Israel from the U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility effective Sept. 1. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the change offers new opportunities for cooperation among regional navies in the Middle East.

“Our navies are ushering in a new era of expanded cooperation and capacity building,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “We are partnering in new ways, which is essential for preserving security in today’s dynamic maritime environment.”

As part of the recent exercise, four Israeli and U.S. Navy ships sailed together in the Gulf of Aqaba. The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey sailed alongside an Israeli Navy corvette and two patrol boats as a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft flew overhead. The units conducted air defense, high value unit defense, small boat operations, and tactical maneuver training.   

“Combined patrols like this help maintain regional maritime security and stability,” said Capt. Robert Francis, commodore for NAVCENT's Task Force 55 which controls U.S. Navy surface assets in the Middle East. “The collaboration has been tremendous. We share a common understanding with our international counterparts that there is strength in unity.”

The Monterey is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Under their command are the critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb. With Israel’s addition, the region is now comprised of 21 countries.