Israel is participating for the first time with around 60 countries in the United States-led International Maritime Exercise 2022 (IMX 22), that includes nations with which Jerusalem does not hold diplomatic relations.
By Erin Viner
The development is striking as it marks the first time Saudi Arabia and Oman are publicly taking part in military training alongside the Jewish State.
US naval data reveals that Gulf neighbors Kuwait and Qatar – who also have no formal relations with Israel, did not participate.
This is the 7th year the huge naval exercise has been held. IMX 22 kicked off on Monday and will be conducted in the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and North Indian Ocean.
The multilateral defense drill comes amid heightened Gulf tensions after missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, including a foiled strike aimed at a base hosting US forces.
Israel normalized relations with Gulf states the UAE and Bahrain in the 2020 Abraham Accords, brought together by shared worries about Iran, and first held a joint naval drill with those two countries in November.
Bahrain hosts the US Navy 5th Fleet’s headquarters, as well as operations for the US Central Command (CENTCOM) military coordination umbrella organization for the Middle East. Israel was included in CENTCOM this past year.
A US Navy Spokesperson cited by Reuters said exercise planners are aware of the geopolitical context of participating countries, but noted that cooperation has been high.
“Here in the region, we have had nothing but positive results in terms of planning efforts,” he said.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) revealed on 1 February that some of its units would participate in the Red Sea exercise with the US 5th Fleet.
“For the past few months Israel has been exercising not only with us but other partner nations in this region,” 5th Fleet spokesperson Tim Hawkins confirmed yesterday.
An Israeli military delegation headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain yesterday, where IMX 22 kicked off on Monday.
“Deepening cooperation will enable us to maintain regional stability and to defend the common interests of Israel, the United States and Bahrain,” said Gantz.
According to a statement TV7 obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMoD), Minister Gantz was hosted by US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Commander, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper and Bahraini Minister of Defense Affairs H.E. LTG. Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Nuaimi. Minister Gantz was joined by Commander of the Israeli Navy, Vice Admiral David Saar Salama.
The delegation met at the NAVCENT headquarters for a discussion on challenges of mutual interest, as well as opportunities for regional maritime security cooperation, with a particular emphasis on Israel’s recent repositioning to CENTCOM (from EUCOM [European Command], which now concentrates on Russia and its threats against Europe and NATO).
Following the meeting, the delegation toured the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG67).
The parties reaffirmed the important military cooperation between the US and Israel, as well as the unique bond between the defense establishments, nations and leaders, said the statement.
After completing what he referred to as “an important visit,” Defense Minister Gantz said: “In the past year, thanks in part to the Abraham Accords and to Israel’s move to CENTCOM, cooperation between the IDF and the Fifth Fleet has expanded. This strategic cooperation is critical in facing developing challenges in the region. Deepening cooperation will enable us to maintain regional stability and to defend the common interests of Israel, the United States and Bahrain. The bond between Israel and the US is one based on common interests, and perhaps even more importantly on shared values. Our military cooperation is reflective of such. Having served as defense attaché to Washington and as the IDF’s Chief of Staff, I understand the meaning and weight of our strategic partnership. We will continue working together so that this region may prosper and enjoy peace, stability and security.”
VADM Brad Cooper commented that the visit by Israel’s top defense official “highlights the importance of the US 5th Fleet’s decades-long strategic relationship with Bahrain and expanding partnership with Israel following the recent alignment of Israel to US Central Command.”
“We are always at our best when we work together with our international partners,” underscored the US military leader.