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In 1st, Israeli Navy joins huge US-led exercise; Saudi Arabia, Pakistan participate

Israeli, US officers hail growing cooperation between IDF and 5th Fleet; dozens of countries join IMX drill, focused on undersea warfare, including some Israel has no ties with

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The Israeli Navy on Thursday wrapped up its participation in the US Navy’s massive IMX exercise, in which dozens of countries took part, including several with which Israel does not have formal ties.

This was Israel’s first time participating in the International Maritime Exercise, as it increasingly cooperates with the US military’s Central Command and its 5th Fleet, which operates in the waterways around the Middle East.

“The participation of the Navy in the American exercise demonstrates the strengthening connection between our fleets, based on power, mutual learning, and strategic partnership. We are coordinated and working together with our American partners to prevent terror in the maritime arena and to strengthen the security of the region’s waters,” Israeli Navy chief David Salama said in a statement.

The head of the US 5th Fleet, Admiral Brad Cooper, who over the past month has met with Salama, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, similarly hailed the growing ties between the two navies.

“This joint exercise demonstrates our determination to protect international law and order. This is a special opportunity to expand our interoperability as we strengthen our naval ties,” Cooper said.

In the IMX exercise, the Israeli Navy says it trained with the 5th Fleet, simulating neutralizing naval mines, above- and under-water search-and-rescue operations, as well as conducting medical exercises at sea. On the Israeli side, the navy’s 3rd Flotilla, which operates missile ships, the 915th Patrol Boats Squadron, and the Unit for Underwater Fighting, known by its Hebrew acronym YALTAM, took part in the exercise, which was held in the Red Sea.

American and Israeli sailors walk through the Israeli Navy’s base in Eilat during a US-led naval exercise, IMX, in February 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the US Navy, in total, more than 9,000 people from 60 militaries took part in the IMX, which kicked off on January 31.

Participants include a number of countries that Israel does not have formal ties with, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, as well as several countries with which Israel recently normalized relations, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which hosts the US 5th Fleet.

The biennial drill was launched in 2012 and has become “the largest multinational naval exercise in the Middle East,” according to the US Navy.

In November, the Israeli Navy participated in a 5th Fleet-led exercise in the Red Sea, alongside the UAE and Bahrain in what Israeli officials said was meant to serve as a response to recent attacks by Iran against Israeli naval assets.

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