Marines aboard a helicopter carrier arrived in Israel’s southernmost city and its only major locale on the Red Sea on Monday for a weeklong multiforce training exercise ― the first since Israel came under U.S. Central Command’s area of operations.
Eilat, Israel, traditionally a vacation hub located close to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is now hosting the amphibious transport dock Portland, which in October transited the Strait of Hormuz with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
A Marine logistics battalion, rifle company, light armored reconnaissance company and a high mobility artillery rocket system, or HIMARS, platoon arrived with the group. The Marines will train with Israeli counterterrorism and other elite units, including the Maglan commando unit.
The Marines, assigned to Light Armored Reconnaissance Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, offloaded an LAV-25 from the Portland on Monday.
The drill is dubbed Israel Interoperability Exercise 21, and is led by the Israeli Defense Forces ground forces, involving around 500 personnel from the 11th MEU.
The U.S. described it as “a robust demonstration of both nations’ commitment to stability in the region.”
The exercise comes after the shift to CENTCOM area of operations from European Command ― and after increased joint F-35 drills, called Enduring Lightning, took place in 2020.
It was made possible in part by Israel’s new normalization and peace deals with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, where key U.S. forces are based for CENTCOM. This includes the Fifth fleet and air base at Al-Dhafra.
US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said the forces were from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and are participating in the amphibious exercise.
The drill involves urban terrain operations and HIMARS alongside rapid maneuvering training, “as well as professional exchanges on various topics including engineering, medical and explosive ordinance disposal,” NAVCENT said in a statement.
NAVCENT said that the Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade is leading U.S. participation in the three-week exercise.
“This exercise is part of the next chapter in the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ longstanding relationship with Israel that is so vital to stability and security in the region,” said Brig. Gen. Farrell Sullivan, commanding general of the task force.
An important time for Israel
The training comes at an important time for Israel, as the country has been increasing the number of joint drills it has with foreign countries.
During the Blue Flag exercise in the second half of October, air force assets from the U.K., U.S., Germany, Italy, Greece, France and India participated.
Photographs in Germany also appeared to show Jordan participating without public acknowledgement.
The commander of the United Arab Emirates Air Force, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi, also came to the Blue Flag training. Along with Israel’s Air Force head Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, the commanders discussed developing cooperation and strengthening relations between the two air forces.
In early October, U.S. Fifth Fleet commander of Vice Admiral Brad Cooper also visited Israel. He met Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, as well as Vice Admiral David Saar Salama.
It was his second visit to Israel since May 2020. At the same time the U.S. destroyer O’Kane docked in Haifa, Israel.
In August, Israel and the U.S. Fifth Fleet conducted the first Noble Waters exercise in the Red Sea.
“During the exercise, the two navies practiced a variety of scenarios including defense and rescue operations,” Israel’s IDF said on Aug. 31. ”The exercise saw the two navies working side by side, learning together and strengthening the connection and familiarity of the two nations’ fleets.”
Two days after the announcement of the Noble Waters drill, Israel’s Kohavi spoke with CENTCOM head Gen. Frank McKenzie about Israel’s realignment to the new command.
The August maritime patrol included the Israeli navy corvette INS Eilat and the U.S. guided-missile cruiser Monterey.
They patrolled in the Gulf of Aqaba in what CENTCOM called a “milestone” in cooperation at the time.
This also comes at a time of increasing tensions in the region between Israel and Iran, and frequent discussions between Israel and the U.S. regarding Iran and other regional issues.
For instance, Israel and the U.S. have been working more closely with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On Nov. 2 Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“I had an important discussion with my friend and partner Secretary of Defense Austin about US-Israel coordination vis-à-vis Iranian regional entrenchment and its nuclear aspirations,” Gantz said. “We agreed to meet soon to deepen our discussion on strategic issues and military cooperation.”
The Iran tensions were revealed Wednesday when Iran said it had prevented “piracy” against a fuel tanker, and claimed the U.S. had tried to interdict its oil exports.
Several days earlier, a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer had conducted a “presence patrol” with escorts from Israel, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This came after the U.S. garrison at al-Tanf in Syria was targeted by Iranian drones.
Israel often uses airstrikes to target Iranian weapon shipments via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
As the Marines arrived in Eilat, Israel was also holding a nationwide drill focused on preparation for possible multifront war.
This could include facing off against thousands of rockets fired by Hezbollah.
The joint drill, which lasted until Thursday, included elements of Israel’s National Emergency Management Authority and the Home Front Command, together with the Israel police, fire and rescue authority and all government ministries.
The Maglan commando unit in Israel, known as unit 212, is an elite unit that conducts reconnaissance behind enemy lines.
It is part of Israel’s Commando Brigade, along with other elite units.
In 2018 more than 600 Marines trained with Israelis in Juniper Cobra on close urban combat and tunnel warfare operations.