US mulls Israel-made unmanned boats to bolster Mideast operations amid Iran tensions

Report says further Israeli involvement in Gulf could anger Tehran; US official says Israel sending military attaché to 5th fleet to ‘keep lines of communication open’

An unmanned Israel Navy ship test fires missile off the coast of Ashkelon on March 7, 2017. (IDF spokesperson)
Illustrative: An unmanned Israel Navy ship test fires missile off the coast of Ashkelon on March 7, 2017. (IDF spokesperson)

The US Navy is examining the possibility of bolstering its joint operations in the Middle East with Israeli-made unmanned vessels, a US official told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

The report did not specify who would be operating the boats, but noted that additional Israeli military involvement in the Gulf region could anger Iran amid rising regional tensions.

The unnamed official said the US military was examining a number of options, including using Israel’s unmanned vessels during current Gulf exercises.

Israel is a participant in a massive US-led naval exercise focusing on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence. The International Maritime Exercise, known by its acronym IMX, kicked off last month and is set to end on Thursday.

The Israel Navy has a fleet of unmanned ships that are used to complement its manned patrol boats around Israel’s coastal waters.

The Reuters report said the US was showing interest in Israeli-made surface drones that can be deployed in tandem with air and underwater UAVs.

“The Israelis are definitely vested in leveraging this technology,” the unnamed official said, adding that a US fleet commander had made a recent trip to Haifa to examine the surface drones.

The comments by the US official were made during a trip by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Bahrain, the first official visit by an Israeli premier to the Gulf kingdom.

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa hosts Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at his palace in Manama, on February 15, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Bennett met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and senior Bahraini ministers during the one-day trip, which ended Tuesday evening.

The prime minister also met with the commander of the US Fifth Fleet Vice Admiral Bradford Cooper, and praised the cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries, which, he said, contributes to the security of both countries, according to a statement from his office.

Bennett added that the presence of the US Fifth Fleet is a significant factor in maintaining regional stability against various security threats and that he looks forward to increased cooperation between the US’ regional allies.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Fifth Fleet Commander VADM Brad Cooper in Bahrain, February 15, 2022 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Reuters also confirmed a Channel 13 report that Israel is set to post an attaché to the Fifth Fleet’s Manama base, making it the 29th country to do so.

US officials told the agency that it was expected the envoy would hold a naval captain or commander rank. Israel has not publicly confirmed that it is sending a representative.

An American official told Reuters that the posting of an attaché would be for “keeping the lines of communication open” between Israel and the US fleet.

Bahrain is located on Iran’s doorstep in the Persian Gulf, and both countries, along with the US, are deeply concerned about Tehran’s nuclear program and its military activities across the region.

Israel and Bahrain established full diplomatic relations in 2020 as part of the US-brokered “Abraham Accords.” Bennett’s trip came two weeks after Benny Gantz became the first Israeli defense minister to publicly visit the country.

Tal Schneider, Judah Ari Gross and AP contributed to this report.

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