image Photo: Rafael

NAVCENT considers purchase of Israeli robot boats

The Bahrain-based United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) is mulling acquisition of unmanned Israeli vessels to be used in joint Middle East operations, said an American official.

By Erin Viner

Dozen of Israel’s unmanned surface vessels are being examined as part of current Gulf exercises, which the US is interested in as possible complements to flying and underwater drones, said an unnamed US official cited by Reuters.

“The Israelis are definitely vested in leveraging this technology,” said the source, revealing that the surface drones were also studied during a visit to the Israeli port city of Haifa in recent weeks by a Fleet commander.

The IDF Spokesperson had no immediate comment on the report.

The US official also said that Israel will soon become the 29th country to post an attaché to the Fifth Fleet’s Manama headquarters, who would likely be of navy captain or commander rank.

“It’s about keeping the lines of communication open” bilaterally between Israel and the Fleet, said the source, referring to the plan to station the envoy in the Gulf kingdom.

The development would broaden Israel’s growing role in regional military arrangements as it normalizes ties with former foes in the Gulf. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) normalized relations with Israel as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was warmly received during a visit at the Fifth Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain yesterday, amid his historic visit as the first Israeli leader to travel to the Gulf kingdom.

During talks with NAVCENT Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, Bennett expressed his expectation “that the joint work between the countries in the region and the strong US ally will continue to develop.” The Israeli leader also praised “cooperation between the IDF and the US Armed Forces,” which he said “contributes to the security of both countries.”

The meeting with the top US resident officer in the Middle East came as the US Fifth Fleet is hosting a multilateral naval exercise, involving the first publicly acknowledged joint participation by the Israeli and Saudi Arabian navies. While the activity is significant, military sources told TV7 on condition of anonymity that the Israeli Navy is primarily engaged with its US counterpart with only limited contact with other national forces.

The small island state of Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia – with which Israel has no formal relationship.

Earlier this month Jerusalem and Manama signed a security cooperation agreement, Israel’s first with a Gulf nation.

Bennett described his 2-day trip to Bahrain as a chance to forge a common stand against Iran and its proxy militias including Yemen’s Islamist Houthi movement, whose recent attacks on the UAE have shaken the oil-producing region.

Sunni-ruled Bahrain accuses Shi’ite Iran of stoking unrest in the Kingdom.

“Israel and Bahrain are dealing with major security challenges stemming from the same source; the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Bennett told Bahraini Alayam newspaper.

In November, the armed forces of Israel, NAVCENT, Bahrain and the UAE conducted a security exercise in the Red Sea, the first publicly acknowledged joint naval drill by the 4 allies.

The Israeli leader was hosted by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, government ministers and members of Bahrain’s Jewish community on Tuesday.  The two nations also signed a research and development accord and agreed to expedite negotiations on an investment protection agreement to facilitate investment flows.

According to Bahraini opposition activists, at least 4 people were arrested during protests on Monday held in several Shi’ite villages against Bennett’s visit.