Israel is taking part in a huge US-led naval exercise in the Middle East, for the first time publicly joining Saudi Arabia and Oman, two countries it has no diplomatic relations with despite its normalisation of ties with some Gulf states.
The International Maritime Exercise 2022 (IMX 22) includes approximately 60 countries and comes amid heightened Gulf tensions after missile attacks on the UAE by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, including a foiled attack aimed at a base hosting US forces.
The UAE on Monday intercepted a missile during a visit by Israel’s president, the third such attack in two weeks claimed by the Houthis, who are battling a Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE.
But this is the first time Israel has participated in an IMX exercise, and publicly alongside Saudi Arabia with which it has no diplomatic ties.
Gulf neighbours Kuwait and Qatar, who also have no formal relations with Israel, did not participate, according to US Navy information.
Bahrain hosts the US Navy Fifth Fleet’s headquarters as well as some operations for CENTCOM, a US military coordination umbrella organisation for the Middle East. Israel last year was included in CENTCOM.
A US Navy spokesperson on Wednesday said exercise planners were aware of the geopolitical context of participating countries, but cooperation had been high.
“Here in the region we have had nothing but positive results in terms of planning efforts,” he said.
The Israeli military said on Monday that some units would participate in the Red Sea exercise with the US Fifth Fleet.
“For the past few months, Israel has been exercising not only with us but other partner nations in this region,” Fifth Fleet spokesperson Tim Hawkins told reporters on Wednesday.
In its seventh year, IMX 22 began on Monday from the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and will cover the Arabian Gulf (also called the Persian Gulf), Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and North Indian Ocean.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Bahrain on an unannounced visit.
Announcing Gantz’s trip only after his arrival in Manama, Israel’s defence ministry said on Wednesday he would sign a security cooperation agreement with Bahrain.
The Israeli defence ministry made no mention of the Houthi attacks nor gave details of what a security accord with Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s main base in the Gulf, would include.