Israel Eyes Resumed Turkish Relations, More Training With US, NATO Navies
By: Barbara Opall-Rome, January 12, 2017
TEL AVIV — The Israeli Navy is expanding cooperation with the US Navy and
other NATO maritime services and eventually aims to restore professional
ties with Turkey after more than six years of estrangement, an Israeli
officer said Thursday.
“Maybe in the future, we’ll be able to see here Turkish ships in Haifa port
for mutual exercises as we have in the past,” said Lt. Col. Assaf Boneh,
head of the Israeli Navy’s international coordination branch.
Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of a visit here by US Navy Adm.
Michelle Howard, who commands the US Sixth Fleet as well as NATO’s Naples,
Italy-based Joint Force Command, Boneh said an increasing number of nations
are forging new ties or strengthening existing ones with Israel’s Navy.
He noted that Howard’s visit to Israel, her first in her dual-hat command
role, allowed the Navy to share what it views as strategic challenges and
opportunities in the region.
Hosted by Israeli Navy Commander Vice Adm. Eli Sharvit, Howard toured one of
Israel’s new German-built submarines, sailed on a Sa’ar-5 Corvette and
visited the service’s elite Flotilla 13 unit.
“We’re a part of her vast area of responsibility, so this visit …
contributed to furthering the cooperation between the Israel and US navies,
which is already quite good,” Boneh said.
The Israeli officer noted that Cyprus and France are planning to participate
for the first time later this spring in a traditionally trilateral exercise
called Noble Dina, designed to increase maritime proficiencies among
Up until a break in Israel-Turkey relations in 2010, traditional
participants in the annual Noble Dina drill involved Israel, the United
States and Turkey. In recent years, however, Greece has been a regular
participant in the trilateral drill, which in April 2016 involved a US
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, a P-3C for anti-submarine
scenarios and replenishment provided by US Military Sealift Command.
The enlarged five-nation Noble Dina 2017 drill will continue to focus on
joint maneuvers that enhance security, stability and regional cooperation,
the Israeli officer said.
Yet another trilateral drill involving the Israeli, US and Hellenic navies
is planned for the current year, Boneh said. That drill, dubbed Reliant
Mermaid, is primarily focused on search and rescue operations.
In parallel to its multilateral joint exercises, the Israeli Navy is working
bilaterally with the United States and a spectrum of other friendly nations
to enhance cooperation and military exchanges.
In November, the British HMS Bulwark, part of the Royal Navy’s Joint
Expeditionary Force Task Group, spent nearly a week here on joint drills and
rest and relaxation for its 560-member crew.
The service periodically conducts bilateral maneuvers with the French,
Italian and Cypriot navies, and in late September, the Israeli Navy sent a
submarine and two surface ships to the Italian Navy’s Taranto base.
In an interview prior to his retirement last September as the Israeli Navy
commander, Vice Adm. Ram Rothberg noted that coalition building had become a
priority for the Israeli service. “We are trying to create a different
dynamic of understanding what it means to be in a coalition, how to build it
up wisely and properly … because when we look at this naval theater of ours,
it’s very congested. The naval domain takes on even greater significance as
an extension of national presence,” Rothberg told Defense News at the time.
In addition to Greece, Rothberg cited France, Italy, Cyprus and the UK as
nations with whom his service was cultivating stronger ties. However, he
noted that by far the bulk of cooperation has been and will remain with
Israel’s chief ally, the United States.
As for Turkey, Boneh, the junior Israeli officer, noted that Ankara acceded
to Israel opening up a liaison office to NATO last year — something that has
paved the way for more direct Israel coordination with the alliance. “It
opened up doors for us, and our governments have renewed relations … but the
military-to-military aspect will be [restored] gradually, step by step.”
Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal in June 2016 after a rupture
prompted by the May 2010 Mavi Marmara affair, in which nine Turkish
nationals died during an Israeli raid on a ship that had attempted to break
Israel’s naval blockage of the Gaza Strip. Since then, the two countries
have exchanged ambassadors, and relations are gradually warming.