The Israel Navy participated in a combined maritime security patrol with the US Naval Forces Central Command’s 5th Fleet in the Red Sea for the first time on Tuesday, August 30. Three Israeli ships – the INS Eilat and two patrol boats – sailed alongside the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey and a US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft that flew overhead. According the Israeli military spokesperson, “The forces also drilled on search and rescue scenarios, air defense, high-value unit defense and small boat operations, as well as tactical defensive maneuvers.”
The head of Israel’s naval operations, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Hagari, said that the strategic cooperation between the forces is “vital for regional security and that of the State of Israel.” He added that “This exercise is the beginning of a cooperation that will expand and increase the circles of defense and security in the maritime space to prevent terrorist acts.”
The drill was the “opening shot” for joint work between the Israeli navy and the US’s 5th Fleet as part of Israel’s shift to CENTCOM’s (United States Central Command) area of responsibility from its previous integration in EUCOM (European Command), Israel’s Military Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.
“Our navies are ushering in a new era of expanded cooperation and capacity building,” said Vice-Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “We are partnering in new ways, which is essential for preserving security in today’s dynamic maritime environment.”
The US 5th Fleet’s area of operations encompasses some 2.5 million square miles 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 Bab al-Mandab Strait. With Israel’s addition, the NAVCENT region now comprises 21 countries.
In August, Israel Air Force pilots flew alongside their counterparts from the United States Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) in a first-of-a-kind aerial drill. Dubbed “Desert Eagle,” the drill was led by the IAF’s 133rd Squadron, known as the Knights of the Twin Tail, flying F-15s along with the USAF’s 494th Squadron. Jets from the 115th Flying Dragon Squadron simulated enemy jets.
According to a statement released by the IAF, “The historic cooperation between the Israel Air Force and AFCENT Command is part of the tightening of strategic and long-term cooperation between Israel and the United States.”
CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the military’s relationship with Israel on Thursday, September 2, taking over from the EUCOM, some eight months after plans for the move were announced. “The realignment, announced by the [US] Defense Department in January, strengthens the strategic US-Israeli defense relationship and offers opportunities to deepen operational collaboration between the Israel Defense Forces [sic] and CENTCOM’s many partners in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement. The decision to move Israel to CENTCOM was made by former US president Donald Trump shortly before the end of his term, following lobbying from several pro-Israel groups in Washington and growing ties between the Israeli army and CENTCOM.
The move to CENTCOM is not only to simplify the cooperation with American troops in the region, but also to create the potential for a regional coalition to establish military hegemony against Iran under US imperialism along with reactionary Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel.