Israeli and American naval special forces completed a large-scale exercise in the Mediterranean Sea last week simulating the takeover of a merchant ship carrying illegal weapons and contraband, as Iran and a US-led coalition square off on shipping routes in the nearby Persian Gulf.
The Israeli military said the exercise, Noble Rose 2019, was not in direct response to these tensions.
Israel’s elite naval commando unit, known in Hebrew as Shayetet 13, participated in the drill alongside US Special Forces. An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson refused to comment on the precise number of troops that took part in the exercise, but said it was “larger than what we’ve done before.”
During the exercise, which concluded last Wednesday, the special forces soldiers simulated a number of scenarios, including “regaining control of a hijacked ship and extracting forces from enemy territory,” the military said in a statement.
“In the exercise, advanced and varied capabilities of the Israeli Navy’s Commando Unit were displayed, including taking over a vessel by parachuting from a plane, climbing, rappelling, sniping, and medical evacuation,” the military said.
IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said one of the novel elements of the exercise was during the simulated “boarding and taking over a merchant ship carrying weapons and contraband.”
According to Conricus, the Israeli and American troops worked “shoulder to shoulder” during this part of the drill.
“Collecting intelligence, assessing, and together coming up with a tactical solution, this is something that is not usually done,” he said.
While not unprecedented, parachuting from a plane into the sea is a complicated maneuver and thus not one that the IDF performs regularly. The last large jump in the Mediterranean by Israeli paratroopers was performed in 2018 as part of Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations.
“The goal of the exercise was to deepen the cooperation and professional discourse between IDF and US Special Forces,” the military said.
The exercise was largely conducted off the northern Israeli coast, though some aspects of planning were performed on shore, Conricus said.
Noble Rose 2019 was not connected to the Israeli Navy’s Mighty Waves earthquake preparedness exercise, which was held earlier this month off the Haifa coast, the spokesman said.
Since last month, Iran has seized three tankers in strategic Gulf waters, including a British-flagged vessel.
That came after British Royal Marines helped impound a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on July 4.
Britain suspected it was destined for Syria in defiance of European Union sanctions, which Iran denies. The tanker was released earlier this week.
The US and its Gulf allies have also accused the Islamic Republic of carrying out several mysterious attacks on ships in the region, which Tehran denies.
The US has sought to form an international coalition to protect shipping routes through the Gulf. Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the Jewish state was contributing intelligence as part of this effort.
AFP contributed to this report.