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In a first, Israeli Defence Minister visits US Fifth Fleet base at Bahrain – boards US guided missile destroyer

Defence Minister of Israel Benny Gantz visiting the US Navy's Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain on Thursday (Images courtesy: Twitter/@gantzbe)

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited the US Navy's Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain on Thursday, vowing increased cooperation between the three countries amid changing geopolitical scene in the Gulf region.

Gantz had arrived in Manama on Wednesday to become the first-ever Minister of Defence of Israel to pay an official visit to the Kingdom. Accompanying him are his country's top military officials, including Chief of Staff, Maayan Israeli, Commander of the Israeli Navy, Admiral David Saar Salama, Military Secretary Brigadier General Yaki Dolf, and Director of the Defence Ministry Policy and Political-Military Bureau Zohar Palti.

The aircraft carrying the delegation was the first Israeli Air Force plane to land in Bahrain. 

Israel Bahrain

"Against a backdrop of increasing maritime and aerial threats, our ironclad cooperation is more important than ever. We reaffirmed our commitment to stand united in defence of the sovereignty of our regional partners as well as peace and stability in the region," Gantz tweeted today after visiting the USS Cole.

The guided missile destroyer has been sent by Washington following Tuesday's talks between US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The two leaders had discussed the recent Houthi attacks against the UAE that caused civilian casualties and also threatened US and Emirati armed forces stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base.  

The US has also decided to deploy 5th Generation Fighter aircraft to assist the UAE against the current threat and as a clear signal that it stands with the UAE as a long-standing strategic partner.

While touring the USS Cole on Thursday along with his Bahraini counterpart Lieutenant-General Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Nuaimi and Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, Gantz focused on challenges and opportunities for maritime cooperation.

The developments follow Washington's support for the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements to contain the surge of extremism across the region more effectively.

India had last year welcomed the signing of agreement in Washington by the UAE, Bahrain, Israel and the US, saying that it has always supported peace and stability in West Asia which is an extended neighbourhood.

Largest multinational naval exercise in the Middle East begins 

The visit of Israeli Defence Minister to Bahrain comes just a few days after the start of International Maritime Exercise (IMX) 2022 on January 31 – the Middle East region's largest maritime exercise.

The 18-day biennial naval training event led by US Naval Forces Central Command commenced during a ceremony at the US 5th Fleet's headquarters in Bahrain and combines with exercise Cutlass Express (CE) led annually by US Naval Forces Europe-Africa in East African coastal regions and the West Indian Ocean.

Middle East

Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander and Prime Minister of Bahrain, and Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, at the pier at Naval Support Activity in Bahrain on January 31 (Image courtesy: US Naval Forces Central Command/Mark Thomas Mahmod)

The combined training includes 9,000 personnel and up to 50 ships from more than 60 partner nations, including India, and international organisations operating across two regions.

IMX/CE 2022 is not only the largest multinational naval exercise in the Middle East but also the largest unmanned exercise in the world with more than 80 unmanned systems from 10 nations participating.

This is the seventh iteration of IMX since its establishment in 2012. Training evolutions during this year's combined exercise will span across the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and North Indian Ocean.

"This level of representation demonstrates shared resolve in preserving the rules-based international order," said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper.

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