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Israel, US, UAE, Bahrain Hold First Joint Naval Drill to ‘Guard the Sea’ Against Iranian Terror

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

The Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime that was attacked off the Oman coast. As seen in Cape Town, South Africa, in this picture obtained from ship tracker website MarineTraffic.com, December 31, 2015. Photo: Johan Victor/Handout via REUTERS

In a first, Israeli naval forces have joined counterparts from the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain for a joint drill in the Red Sea to enhance cooperation on maritime security in the face of Iranian aggression, a senior Israeli naval officer said on Thursday.

“We have to guard the sea and make it a safe place, not just for Israel but all the countries around us,” the officer told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The exercise, which began on Wednesday, will “increase the cooperation and the safety in the Red Sea, but not just the Red Sea, because we are dealing with Iranian terror.”

“We know we are not the only ones in the region that are concerned about this threat,” he added.

“The sea is a dimension that allows us when we work together to get [Iranian presence] further away. Not just in terms of the deterrence, which is important. But also the sensors and the capabilities to act for defense when needed,” the naval officer continued. “We hope that the American capabilities will help us defend the area in a better way.”

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The naval official cited a July drone attack on the Israeli-linked Mercer Street vessel that killed a British security contractor and Romanian crew member. Israel, the US, and other world powers blamed the attack on Iran, which has denied involvement.

“Two people got killed at sea by an Iranian UAV on an innocent ship. We didn’t act and the world didn’t act afterwards,” the naval officer remarked. “This is an example we need to take off the map in the sense of threats. This is not something we can afford in the Red Sea or other places.”

US Naval Forces Central Command’s (NAVCENT) Fifth Fleet, which is hosting the five-day exercise, said it will include at-sea training on the transport USS Portland vessel, with a focus on seizure tactics, among others, to “enhance interoperability between participating forces’ maritime interdiction teams.”

“Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability,” stated Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, US Fifth Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces.

The exercise marks only the beginning of cooperation on maritime security and information exchange, the Israeli naval officer explained, and will be conducted in stages.

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