Israel’s navy embarked on several unique missions in mid-March. First, along with the rest of the Israel Defense Forces, the navy has become one of the world’s first vaccinated navies. It also embarked on its annual Noble Dina exercise with the Greek navy, which saw the French and Cypriot navies participate for the first time.
The naval drill had to be cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Israel hopes to be back on the high seas more often with partner countries. This is important because Israel is outfitting its new Sa’ar 6 corvette ship which will defend its exclusive economic zone off the coast from threats. In recent years there has been an uptick in tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. Israel is partnering more often with Greece and Cyprus, on energy deals for instance. In addition, Greece and Cyprus are working more closely with Egypt. Together all these countries are working with France. The elephant in the room is often Turkey, which has cold relations with Israel, Greece, Cyprus, France and Egypt. Israel doesn’t seek to provoke Turkey, but it is clear that these drills are bringing together a series of countries that share interests in the eastern Mediterranean. It appears that in future years the United Arab Emirates or Egypt could participate as Israel partners more closely with Arab states.
The Head of Exercises of the Israeli navy Lieutenant Commander Amichai Rahamim said that Noble Dina is an important drill that has taken place for many years with Greece. The inclusion of France and Cyprus for the first time with naval and air assets was important. The drill took place west of Cyprus. It included surface vessels, a missile boat, submarines, helicopters and planes. “It is focused not only on a surface exercise, also mule-threat exercise of air and underwater and surface threats,” said the commander. “The main task is to combine and cooperate multi-nationally against the threats and practice our forces and ships in answering these threats and building the cooperation against these threats.”
Enhancing interoperability is important for Israel. Israel’s navy was traditionally a smaller service in Israel and Israel has never been a major naval power. However, in recent years it has sought to acquire more submarines and the Sa’ar 6 ships. These will be packed with Israel’s latest technology. Defending the economic zone is important for Israel, as is working with the French and the United States, more powerful navies that have forces in the region.
“[O]nce we conduct this exercise, we learn a lot and together we are stronger. Our friends over here in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus and Hellenic navies that are close to us and neighbors at sea. It is important to practice with them as well as with the French and U.S. navy which act in the Mediterranean,” says Rahamim.
Naval tensions have grown in recent weeks between Israel and Iran. On February 26, the Israeli-owned Helios Ray was attacked in the Gulf of Oman and Israel has blamed Iran. Reports on March 11 in The Wall Street Journal also say that Israel has attacked up to a dozen Iranian cargo ships destined for Syria. Israel also blamed Iran for an oil spill off the coast in February. The context therefore is that there are rising tensions and naval units are important for Israel and its security.
Six ships took part in the drill. Israel sent the INS Romach, a missile boat, and a submarine. Israel’s head of Naval Operations, Rear Admiral Eyal Harel said that “over the past week, the Navy led a large-scale exercise in which it implemented capabilities in underwater warfare, search and rescue, convoy escort and surface combat. These exercises are of paramount importance in strengthening the Navy’s connection with foreign fleets who share common interests.” The ships practiced at sea between March 7 and 11.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (Gefen Publishing) and Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future (Forthcoming, Bombardier Books). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.