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PM warns of growing threats at sea, hails efforts to combat them

During visit to navy bases, Bennett says Israel working with US, regional allies to secure shipping routes around Middle East

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

Prime Minsiter Naftali Bennett walks with the head of the Israeli Navy David Salama during a visit to the navy's Haifa Base, on February 8, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershon/Government Press Office)
Prime Minsiter Naftali Bennett walks with the head of the Israeli Navy David Salama during a visit to the navy's Haifa Base, on February 8, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershon/Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was working with the United States and other regional allies to combat growing threats at sea, during a visit to two Israeli Navy bases on Tuesday.

“Recently we have seen a rise in threats on the maritime front, in sailing and shipping lanes. I certainly see this as a threat, and we must know that the target is the State of Israel, but not only [the State of Israel]. Therefore, I am particularly pleased with the growing and solidifying strategic cooperation with the United States on joint naval exercises and with other allies in the region,” Bennett said.

The premier appeared to be referring to recent attacks against Israeli-owned ships in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere around the world that were allegedly conducted by Iran in retaliation for reported Israeli strikes on Iranian fuel tankers.

The Israeli Navy has increasingly been working with the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which operates in the seas throughout the Middle East, to confront these threats, following Israel’s move to the area of responsibility of the US military’s Central Command last year. Israel has also been increasingly cooperating with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, with whom it normalized ties in September 2020.

Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz traveled to Bahrain, meeting with both Bahraini defense officials as well as the head of the US 5th Fleet to discuss the threats posed by Iran at sea and offering to work together to combat them.

Bennett made his remarks during a visit to two Israel Navy bases, the Haifa Base, which houses the military’s fleet of missile ships and submarines, along with other vessels, and the Atlit Base, which is home to the navy’s elite Shayetet 13.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett rides in a boat during a visit to the Israeli Navy’s Atlit Base, on February 8, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)

At the Haifa Base, Bennett toured a Sa’ar-6 class ship, which recently entered service, and during his visit to Atlit, the prime minister sailed out to watch a demonstration at sea by Shayetet 13, his office said.

Bennett was accompanied on the visits by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Israeli Navy commander Maj. Gen. David Salama.

Last month, Israel closed a deal to purchase three submarines from Germany, just before the cabinet voted to establish a commission of inquiry into the agreement, which is entangled in an investigation into alleged corruption and bribes that has already resulted in multiple indictments.

During his visit, Bennett referred to the deal, saying that it was a “strategic purchase that will be used for the security of Israel for years to come.”

Under the agreement, Israel will buy the advanced vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp for NIS 11 billion ($3.4 billion). The first of the vessels, which will form a new class called Dakar, is to be delivered within nine years, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Part of the cost will be financed by the German government via a grant in accordance with an agreement signed between the two countries in 2017.

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