The United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have sent naval forces into the Red Sea to begin a joint security drill, an act that senior Israeli military officials are calling a “message to Iran.” The Red Sea is an essential shipping lane that leads into the Suez Canal, one of the most significant commercial sea routes in the world.
On Thursday, the US 5th Fleet explained that the maritime drill would last five days and focus on a variety of at-sea training exercises, including search and seizure tactics. The USS Portland transport dock ship will be the setting for the training.
This will mark the first time that Israel has shared maritime training exercises with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, two countries that normalized ties with Israel last year. That decision had been criticized by many Palestinian pundits and politicians since it was predicated on the UAE and Bahrain formally recognizing Israel.
While this was the first time the three nations shared at-sea training exercises, the UAE did participate in an air force drill that was hosted by Israel last month.
An Israeli navy officer who spoke to reporters anonymously shared his excitement concerning the exercise, “This is the first time at sea, and actually it’s exciting that young officers are meeting young officers. We’ll do it step by step.”
These exercises are viewed as a direct response to Iranian threats to regional shipping lanes, including those within the Red Sea. Recently, Israel has accused Iran of smuggling weapons to enemies of Israel using those lanes. It also has claimed that Iran has attacked civilian ships in the area which have had ties to Israel. Israel has publicly acknowledged an increase in its naval presence throughout the Red Sea because of this perceived Iranian aggression.
The region has been marked by conflict on the high seas for a variety of nations. For years, Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen have attacked oil shipments in the southern part of the Red Sea. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have supported the officially recognized Yemeni government by fighting against these rebels since 2015.
The US 5th Fleet has not disclosed the specific location where these exercises will be taking place.