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NAVAL EXERCISE WITH PROMISE OF CALM WATERS (THE MEDIA LINE) By Mati Milstein 01/27/05)Source: http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=8861 THE MEDIA LINE THE MEDIA LINE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
An Israeli missile boat, trailed by a line of American and Turkish naval vessels, pulled out of Haifa Port at 7 A.M. and set its course due west into the sparkling waters of the eastern Mediterranean as the early morning sun rose over its stern.

In January, for the seventh year running, the United States, Israel and Turkey conducted the ‘Reliant Mermaid’ search and rescue exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Ships, helicopters and planes from all three nations participated in the exercise, designed to simulate a number of rescue scenarios under both day and night conditions.

Israel and Turkey have close connections and cooperation between Israel and the U.S. is also close.

Predominantly Muslim Turkey has enjoyed tight ties with Israel since the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement in 1996, while at the same time Ankara stands by the Palestinians in their bid for statehood.

The Israeli-Turkish ties have come under harsh criticism from Arab countries and Iran but senior officers insisted January’s joint exercise was not intended as a warning message to other countries in the region. They emphasized Reliant Mermaid’s distinctly non-combat humanitarian nature and even extended invitations to other countries in the region – including Syria and Libya – to participate in the exercises.

Skills that are not practiced, naturally, grow rusty. Naval officers said the exercises are held each year to boost the compatibility of the three forces and reinforce the common language they use to communicate during operations at sea. There is no combat-related component.

Captain Avi Arzony, commander of the Israeli navy’s 3rd Flotilla, said, “the three forces will not drill any combat skills and the exercise is not directed at any other nations in the area… At this stage, the intention is to leave things at the level of search and rescue and not to widen the exercise beyond this.”

Commander Troy A. Stoner, captain of the U.S. Navy’s U.S.S. O’Bannon, agreed.

“This is about the development of cooperation between our nations,” Stoner said. “This allows us to go out to sea together, to communicate and navigate safely and save lives.”

However, senior commanders also made a point of noting that terrorism remains the most significant threat in the region.

“The largest threat to everyone – not just to Israel – is global terror and jihad,” said Arzony, speaking from the deck of Israel’s Sa’ar 5-class INS Hanit missile boat, which served as the command center for the exercise.

Senior figures hinted that military compatibility initially forged around search and rescue exercises could be adapted to other types of operations – should the need arise.

“If there are other countries that would like to train with us against international terrorism, we will be happy to do so,” said the commander of the Israeli navy, Admiral David Ben-Bashat. “A military presence in maritime areas in order to reduce the motivation of terrorists and to provide alternatives in the event of disasters is very important.”

The navies practiced rescuing a “stranded” vessel, a role played by the U.S. Navy supply ship Patuxent. Once the SOS message from the stranded ship was received, aircraft were scrambled to pinpoint the vessel’s location and the tri-national force then steamed to the target area.

An Israeli air force Hercules C-130 aircraft swooped in low over the stranded American ship and dropped bright orange life rafts and smoke flares. Two Israeli missile boats, two Turkish ships and another American vessel then closed in and, with the assistance of Black Hawk helicopter-borne medical and rescue units from the three countries, put out a fire on board the distressed ship, “rescued” sailors from the sea and evacuated them to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

A second exercise with slight variations was carried out after dark.

Radio communication between the three countries’ ships was conducted entirely in English. American and Israeli sailors said relations are excellent and lessons continue to be learned from one year to the next.

“On the individual level, there is an extreme exchange [between personnel from the different navies],” Stoner said. “On a sailor-to- sailor level, from the lowest rank up to the highest rank present, we are all trading ideas on how to do things better.”

“There is always something to learn,” Arzony said on the INS Hanit’s aft helicopter landing deck.

A U.S. Navy officer from the U.S.S. O’Bannon spent the day as a liaison officer aboard the INS Hanit. Other officers from Turkey, Greece, Poland and Jordan joined him onboard.

“This is my first time in Israel,” said U.S.S. O’Bannon gunnery officer Ensign Matt Aldeman from the deck of the INS Hanit. “I’ve been very impressed by this vessel. It’s pretty new and they have a lot of very interesting capabilities. We’re really excited to be here.”

The atmosphere on the INS Hanit was relaxed. At one point, journalists photographed a number of Israeli personnel sprawled out thumb wrestling on the helicopter landing pad.

Near the conclusion of the almost 20-hour exercise, Aldeman said the relations between enlisted personnel and officers on the Israeli vessel were similar to those on the U.S.S. O’Bannon. (Copyright © The Media Line, Ltd 01/27/05)

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