American and Israeli forces are conducting bilateral naval training exercises together called Intrinsic Defender.
Information provided by the United States Navy explains that Intrinsic Defender is “a bilateral exercise between U.S. and Israeli naval forces. The exercise focuses on maritime security operations, explosive ordnance disposal, health topics and unmanned systems integration.”
The Navy added that more than 300 U.S. Navy personnel are participating in the exercise, including “a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal dive team, U.S. Coast Guard maritime engagement team, and global health engagement team. U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67), dry cargo ship USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE 8) and various unmanned vessels are also scheduled to participate in the exercise.”
Commander Jim Welsch, the USS Cole’s commanding officer, explained that the "USS Cole looks forward to partnering with the Israeli Navy during the exercise.”
He added that “working with our partners allows us to strengthen our bonds and increase our interoperability. This exercise will allow us to fortify our continued partnership in the region."
USS Cole and the United States Navy’s 5th Fleet
The USS Cole has been operating from the U.S. 5th Fleet region since January 4 “in support of maritime security and stability,” the Navy explained in their press release.
The United States Navy’s 5th Fleet encompasses the smallest area of U.S. Navy operations, with responsibility for the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, as well as some parts of the Indian Ocean. The area also includes “three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal and Bab al-Mandeb.” The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.
The USS Cole, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is the same ship damaged during the 2000 bombing in the Yemeni port of Aden. During the terrorist attack, suicide bombers blew a forty-foot hole in the ship’s hull at the waterline, killing seventeen American Sailors.
A Shift Has Been Made
In October of last year, the United States moved Israel to Central Command from European Command, a move that reflects the evolving nature of the Middle East’s security dynamics considering Israel’s recent rapprochement with its Arab neighbors. Exercises like Intrinsic Defender also highlight the two country’s mutual interests, in particular, vis-a-vis Iran and the ongoing nuclear deal negotiations.
Recent exercises between the United States and Israel have included contingents from the United States Marine Corps, though this particular exercise is purely naval. Intrinsic Defender highlights the growing importance of maritime power for Israel, not just for combatting terrorism but also for protecting assets and interests its near-abroad.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.