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U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation: Joint Naval Training

“Reliant Mermaid” is an annual joint naval and air force military training operation focusing on search and rescue operations held by Israel and the United States. Turkey used to take part in the operation as well but pulled out as of 2010 due to fraying diplomatic relations.

One of the main objectives for Israel in taking part was to strengthen its military relationship with Turkey and serve to dissuade hostile Arab countries from attacking Israel in the event of a broader Middle East war. Much of the Arab world, most notably Syria and Iran, denounced the annual operation, claiming that the United States is assisting in the organization of a new power axis in the Middle East.

The first iteration of the training maneuvers was conducted in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea in January 1998 involving the warships from all three countries. From 2000 until 2009, "Reliant Mermaid" was held every year to glowing reports from field commanders and military higher-ups. All the parties involved summarized the drills as a success and said it bettered military ties between the countries’ navies.

However, following the 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident, the drill was postponed with Turkey refusing to take part and was not reestablished until August 2012. That month, naval forces from the United States and Israel conducted the four-day drill without the presence of Turkish forces for the first time in three years.

Besides testing search and rescue abilities, the “Reliant Mermaid” drill also tested the U.S. Navy’s destroyer-mounted Aegis-missile defense system, which theoretically could defend Israel against Iranian nuclear missiles. The U.S. Navy, however, took pains to stress that the exercise bore no connection to the recent verbal escalation between Israel and Iran.

“Reliant Mermaid is a regularly scheduled exercise and is not associated with, or a reaction to any real-world events,” a Navy Public Affairs Office spokesman said.

“This was a successful exercise which strengthened the bonds between the U.S. and Israeli navies and increased our ability to work together as a team,” said American Commanding Officer David A. Bretz.

"Reliant Mermaid 103" was held successfully in August 2013 and included a guided-missile destroyer from the U.S. 6th Fleet as well as missile boats from the Israeli Navy.

The Israeli Navy held joint drills with the U.S. and Greek Navies in May 2015. The training operation, named “Noble Dina,” began on April 27 with Israeli, Greek, and U.S. Navy commando, ships and submarines engaging in sea-air-land maneuvers.

Soldiers from Israel’s Shayetet-13 commando unit and U.S. Navy SEALs participated in a joint training operation in April 2017. The participants practiced parachuting into water combat situations, nighttime raids on ships, and various hostage rescue scenarios.

The French Navy participated in the annual U.S.-Israel Noble Melinda joint training exercise for the first time in July 2017. The 2017 exercise was meant to train participants to search for, identify, and neutralize underwater mines and other explosive devices. A French naval vessel served as the staging area for the exercises.

Just days before leaving office, President Trump ordered U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for military policy in the Middle East, to include Israel. One of the first examples of the new relationship was a bilateral amphibious exercise in Eilat in November 2021 involving the IDF and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT). The exercise involved military operations in urban terrain, infantry live-fire training, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) live-fire and rapid maneuvering training, as well as professional exchanges on various topics including engineering, medical and explosive ordinance disposal.

“The troops will take part in a multi-branch exercise for two weeks, in which they will train with counter-terrorism forces, commando forces and expose-attack forces, simulating warfare techniques in open areas and urban environments,” the IDF said.

“This exercise is part of the the next chapter in the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ longstanding relationship with Israel that is so vital to stability and security in the region,” said Brig. Gen. Farrell Sullivan, commanding general of the U.S. task force.

Also in November 2021, the navies of Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched their first ever joint exercise in the Red Sea. The drill is being led by the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which operates throughout the Middle East.

“Here the goal is to extend the range of the navy’s operations — for the good of the State of Israel and the IDF — to extend our ability to detect [threats], to extend our sailing range, to prevent naval terror and also to retaliate, when we must, when it’s needed, against what the Iranians are doing,” an Israeli officer said. He added, “This is the first time — at sea — that we’re swapping know-how with Bahrain, with the Emirates, about professional, operational techniques.” 

The five-day exercise includes training on the USS Portland vessel and will “enhance interoperability between participating forces' maritime interdiction teams,” according to NAVCENT. “It is exciting to see U.S. forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” added Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of the 5th Fleet. 

In March 2022, the Noble Dina exercise was conducted involving U.S., Israeli, and Greek naval forces. The exercise is designed to train participants in Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Search and Rescue (SAR), Air Defense (AS), counter-piracy, and antiterrorism/force protection (ATFP). “These exercises are of paramount importance in strengthening the navy’s connection with foreign fleets who share common interests,” Rear Admiral Eyal Harel, the head of Israeli naval operations, said during last year’s exercise.

Sources: Shai Ben-Ari. Israel hosts US, French navies for exercises on countering underwater threats, i24 News, (July 27, 2017).
Anna Ahronheim, Elite commandos from Israeli special ops team up with U.S. Navy SEALs, Jerusalem Post, (April 7, 2017).
Yaakov Lappin, “Israel holds naval drill with U.S., Greece,” Jerusalem Post, (May 6, 2015).
Amir Oren, “Israel, U.S. conduct joint naval exercises,” Haaretz, (August 19, 2012).
Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System.
Judah Ari Gross, “Israel, UAE, Bahrain, US launch drill in Red Sea in response to Iran: officer,” Times of Israel, (November 11, 2021).
Global Security.
“Israel, Turkey, U.S. set to begin Reliant Mermaid exercise,”Defence Talk, (August 17, 2009).
Israel Defense Forces.
“Israel and NAVCENT Conduct Bilateral Amphibious Exercise,” U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, (November 2, 2021).
Judah Ari Gross, “IDF, CENTCOM launch joint ‘amphibious exercise’ in Eilat,” Times of Israel, (November 2, 2021).
Judah Ari Gross, “Israel, UAE, Bahrain, US launch drill in Red Sea in response to Iran: officer,” Times of Israel, (November 11, 2021).
“UAE, Bahrain, Israel and U.S. forces in first joint naval drill,” Reuters, (November 11, 2021).
Lilach Shoval, “Amid Russia tensions, Israeli Navy joins NATO exercise,” Israel Hayom, (March 21, 2022).

Photos: Top - Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson’s Unit - Public domain via Wikimedia.
U.S. ship - U.S. Navy.