The USS Portland (foreground) and INS Hanit during Red Sea maneuvers, Nov. 15, 2021. (US Naval Forces, Central Command) (US Naval Forces, Central Command)
Red Sea maneuvers

The IDF is integrating itself with regional militaries. Here’s how.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

The naval forces of Israel, the U.S., the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain held a joint exercise in the Red Sea. The maneuvers were the first of their kind since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

The five-day exercise focused on search and seizure tactics.

“It is exciting to see US forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces said in a statement. “Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”

More exercises have been scheduled over the next year.

To streamline U.S.-Israeli military cooperation,and catalyze Israeli and Arab collaboration against Iran, President Donald Trump transferred Israel from the US European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility to the Central Command (CENTCOM) during the last days of his term.

“Putting Israel under CENTCOM is very dramatic, because that is the command that is responsible for dealing with the Iranian threat … CENTCOM has identified Iran as a main threat. This is its worst-case scenario, and it is preparing itself to take action against Iran just like we are preparing ourselves in light of our own worst-case scenarios,” Lt. Col. Shahar Shoshanna of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed to Israel Hayom on Sunday.

After years of maneuvers with EUCOM, the IDF and CENTCOM forces are “getting to know each other,” which was the purpose of September exercises, also in the Red Sea.

The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb.

Those are places where Israeli and Iranian vessels have been engaged in a shadow war of their own.

Iran has been operating in the Red Sea for years, using the waterway to smuggle weapons to Gaza and gather intelligence.

The Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea to Gulf of Aden, is particularly sensitive to Israel. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen are known to have placed mines and fired rockets at Saudi ships traversing the waterway. Concentrated attacks on Israeli vessels would curtail their access to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

Indeed, Israel and Iran have already been engaged in what many describe as a “shadow war” on the seas.

In April, the Saviz, a cargo ship that reportedly served as a floating base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was struck by a mine in the Red Sea, between Yemen and Eritrea. The Saviz was reportedly conducting electronic surveillance and assisting Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Iran claimed the ship aided “anti-piracy” efforts. In August, CNN reported that another Iranian vessel, the Behshad, is now stationed in the same area.

Iranian vessels said to be smuggling weapons or illicit oil have been targeted in mysterious attacks widely presumed to be Israeli. Iran has attacked a number of Israeli tankers in the Gulf of Oman, including a suicide drone strike on the Mercer Street, which killed two people.

And in 2020, following the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, an Israeli submarine passed through the Suez Canal towards the Persian Gulf.

In a sign of the IDF’s growing integration with regional militaries, Israel hosted its largest ever multinational air force exercise in October. Operation Blue Flag took place in October 2021, with roughly 1,500 people and 70 aircraft from eight participating nations. Although the UAE did not participate, its Air Force chief Major General Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed al Alawi was present as an observer.

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