The navies of Israel, the United States and Turkey conducted an annual joint search-and-rescue exercise on New Year’s Day off the Israeli coast. The fifth military drill involving the three allies in as many years, “Reliant Mermaid V” tested the ability to coordinate humanitarian activities at sea, and was “not intended to improve coordination during a military battle,” according to Captain Ron Ben-Yehuda, commander of the three-vessel Israeli force taking part in the training mission.
Some 1,000 Israeli, American and Turkish military personnel took part in the exercise. The scenario involved locating and assisting several civilian ships in emergency situations. Six naval vessels took part, in addition to Israeli aircraft such as C-130 transports and Blackhawk helicopters used to drop navy frogmen into the Mediterranean in the vicinity of the “crippled” vessels. Life rafts were lowered into the water to assist in the rescue, and human dummies were lifted from the sea for evacuation to Rambam hospital in Haifa. IDF helicopters also practiced landing on board Turkish navy frigates. Once all the activities were completed in daylight, they were each repeated at nighttime.
Captain Ben-Yehuda, who serves as commander of the Israeli Navy’s fleet of Sa’ar-class missiles boats, said the exercise went “exceedingly well,” and that “all phases of the search and rescue went off exactly as planned.” Speaking from the deck of one of the navy’s vessels, he also stressed that the event was planned more than one year ago and its timing was not tied to other events in the region.
One change from previous years was an even greater emphasis on security against potential terrorist threats. Precautions were taken to prevent an incident similar to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 or the incident involving a French oil tanker sailing near Yemen this past October.
As in years past, invitations to participate in Reliant Mermaid V were extended to other nations in the area, such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and even Jordan. Despite the benign nature of the exercise, all refused to be included or even send observers.
Israel also continues to conduct bilateral exercises on a regular basis with both Turkey and the United States armed forces. The recent change in government in Ankara has yet to have any significant impact on strategic activities with Jerusalem.Near East Report