The United States, Bahrain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have begun a joint naval training in the Red Sea, the US Navy announced.
The five-day exercise is the first occasion the four countries have publicly acknowledged shared maritime drills and comes after the UAE and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel last year.
The training focuses on maritime “visit, board, search and seizure tactics” and will “enhance interoperability” between the four participating navies, the US Navy’s 5th Fleet said in a statement on Thursday.
“It is exciting to see US forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement.
“Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”
The Red Sea links the Gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal, making it one of the world’s key oil shipping routes.
The training underscores the shifting dynamics of the region following normalisation agreements between several Arab states and Israel during the administration of former President Donald Trump.
The countries had previously informally coordinated, particularly in regards to their shared regional foe, Iran.
In October, Israel hosted its largest-ever air force exercises. Both the US and the UAE participated along with France and Germany. While the UAE aircraft did not fly during the drills, the Emirates’ air force chief travelled to Israel to observe.
Scuffles at sea
Israel and Iran have repeatedly accused each other of being responsible for attacks on their ships in the region.
In April, an Iranian cargo ship, believed to be a base for the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was hit by an explosion in the Red Sea. US media later reported the incident was Israeli retaliation for previous incidents.
Weeks earlier, on March 25, a cargo ship owned by an Israeli company was damaged by a missile in the Arabian Sea in what was suspected to be an Iranian attack, a senior Israeli security official said at the time.
The US and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have accused Iran of using the waters of the Gulf to ferry weapons to Houthi rebels fighting against Saudi Arabia-backed forces in Yemen.
Earlier this year, the US Navy said it fired warning shots during two separate encounters with Iranian vessels in the Gulf.
Tehran accused the US of trying to “steal” its oil from a Venezuelan tanker last month in the Sea of Oman. The US has disputed the claim, saying it was monitoring the incident. The Iranians seized the ship on October 24, and on Wednesday during a ceremony lauding the officers who carried out the operation called the US account a lie.