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Israel holds Red Sea navy drill, after warning Iran’s maritime activity is growing

Joint drill with US Navy 5th fleet focusing on ‘mission planning, maritime interdiction’; Gantz last month said Tehran’s presence was the ‘most significant’ in a decade

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

File: 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)
File: 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)

The American and Israeli navies began a four-day joint maritime exercise in the Red Sea on Monday, less than a month after Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Iran’s maritime activity in the area was the “most significant” in a decade.

“The exercise is a bilateral training event between US 5th Fleet and Israeli naval forces that focuses on mission planning, maritime interdiction and other drills at sea,” a statement said from the US 5th fleet said.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the drill, saying Israeli vessels would “participate in a variety of missions alongside [US 5th Fleet] ships and a refueling tanker.”

The Israeli ships involved in the drill were the Saar 5 Class Corvette INS Eilat and the Sa’ar 4.5 Class Missile Ship INS Keshet. The INS Eilat was involved in the interception of several Hezbollah drones launched at an offshore gas field last month.

Last 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.

Israel has held several navy exercises with the 5th Fleet since then, including in April when Israeli missile boats practiced refueling from an American tanker for the first time.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent months following the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran, a number of other mysterious deaths of security personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders, and Iran’s increasing violation of nuclear agreements.

In early July, Gantz revealed satellite images he said showed the “most significant” Iranian military maritime activity in the Red Sea in a decade.

Four Iranian military vessels seen in the Red Sea in satellite images revealed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, July 5, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

In recent years, Iran and Israel have been accused of engaging in what analysts have called a naval “shadow war,” in which vessels linked to each nation have come under attack in waters around the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in a series of tit-for-tat exchanges.

Iran has been blamed for a series of limpet mine attacks that damaged tankers in the Gulf region in 2019, as well as for a fatal drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.

In 2021, the MV Saviz Iranian cargo ship, said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen, was struck by an explosion. Iran blamed Israel for the blast, and an American official told the New York Times that Israel called the strike a retaliation for several attacks on Israeli-owned shipping vessels.

Iranian hijackers also stormed and briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year, as well as briefly seizing and holding a Vietnamese tanker in November. In May, Iran seized two Greek-flagged oil tankers in Gulf waters.

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