In first, Israeli warships practice refueling from US tanker in the Red Sea

Military says largest joint naval exercise in recent years increases navy’s operational range and abilities; combat at sea, vessel protection, disarming mines also drilled

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

In a joint naval drill this week, Israeli missile boats practiced refueling from an American tanker in the Red Sea, increasing the Israeli navy’s “operational range and abilities,” the Israel Defense Forces announced Tuesday.

With some 300 soldiers and commanders from each country, the exercise — dubbed “Intrinsic Defender” — which began last Sunday was the largest between the Israeli Navy and the US Fifth Fleet in recent years, the IDF said.

It simulated naval combat, naval firing exercises, vessel protection, sabotage and neutralization of naval mines, search and rescue scenarios and providing medical aid at sea, the military said in a statement.

“For the first time, Israeli Navy missile ships practiced refueling from an American replenishment tanker in the Red Sea, which increases the Israeli Navy’s operational range and abilities,” the statement read.

“The ‘Intrinsic Defender’ exercise expands the range and operational capacities of the Israeli Navy. Cooperation with the US Fifth Fleet helps us to improve and refine ourselves,” said the chief of the Israeli Navy, Maj. Gen. David Sa’ar Salama.

“This exercise is an important and significant step for our strategic stability in the maritime arena,” he added.

Chief of the Israeli Navy, Maj. Gen. David Sa’ar Salama speaks with US Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper during a joint drill in the Red Sea, in an image published by the military, on April 5, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The drill also included teams from the navy’s Underwater Mission Unit practicing with their US counterparts neutralizing naval mines at the Eilat bay in southern Israel, as well as neutralizing explosives using unmanned vessels at the Haifa Naval Base in the north.

The navy’s Snapir Unit — a force protection and harbor security unit — practiced with the US Coast Guard taking over vessels and “preventing hostile terrorist activity,” the military said.

The military hailed the drill as “another example of the close cooperation between the Israeli Navy and the US Fifth Fleet.”

“This exercise provided an opportunity for mutual learning, sharing operational capabilities and strengthening the strategic partnership between the two militaries,” it said, adding that the exercise “brought forth new capabilities to the Israeli Navy which increase its operational capacities in both routine and emergency situations.”

An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 5 corvette approaches a US Fifth Fleet replenishment tanker in the Red Sea, in an image published by the military, on April 5, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

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.

Tensions have been particularly high with Iran in recent months amid indirect talks with the US in Vienna regarding a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

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