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IDF, CENTCOM launch joint ‘amphibious exercise’ in Eilat

Militaries to conduct various drills over next two weeks in one of the first joint activities with US Central Command

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A US Central Command helicopter carrier, the USS Portland, sails in the Arabian sea ahead of two-week special forces exercise with Israel this month, on September 13, 2021. (Sgt. Seth Rosenberg/CENTCOM)
A US Central Command helicopter carrier, the USS Portland, sails in the Arabian sea ahead of two-week special forces exercise with Israel this month, on September 13, 2021. (Sgt. Seth Rosenberg/CENTCOM)

A United States helicopter carrier anchored at the Port of Eilat on Monday for a two-week joint American-Israeli special forces exercise, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The “bilateral amphibious exercise” represents one of the first joint exercises between the IDF and the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), since the American outfit included Israel in its area of responsibility earlier this year, the US military said. Previously, Israel had been part of the US European Command (EUCOM).

“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.

The US military said roughly 500 American troops would take part, most of them coming from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with “one logistics battalion detachment, one infantry rifle company, a light armored reconnaissance company, and a [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System] platoon.”

In August, the IDF and CENTCOM held their first joint aerial exercise, with F-35 stealth fighter jets from both countries training in the skies over southern Israel.

CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the US military’s relationship with Israel at the beginning of September.

A US Central Command helicopter carrier anchors in the Eilat Port ahead of a two-week special forces exercise with Israel, on November 1, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Until then, the State of Israel had been kept in the area of responsibility of EUCOM in order to prevent possible tensions between CENTCOM and the Arab and Muslim nations under its purview, many of whom did not maintain formal ties with Israel, and would therefore not want to be considered as mutual allies. The US Central Command’s area of responsibility stretches across the Middle East to Central Asia, including the Persian Gulf region, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In recent years, however, CENTCOM’s Arab allies have increasingly developed relations with Israel, some informally, so these issues have largely faded.

The previous arrangement allowed Israel to work closely with European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in European Command, but initially limited interaction between the Israeli military and Arab armies in Central Command.

Despite the move, Israel has continued to conduct training exercises with EUCOM units, including last month with the aerial Blue Flag drill, in which EUCOM pilots took part.

Though partially a symbolic move, including Israel in CENTCOM is expected to improve the direct communications between the Israel Defense Forces and American troops in the region and, through the US, other militaries in the region. The move does not portend changes in the basing of US forces in the Middle East or Europe.

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