NAVAL EXERCISE WITH PROMISE OF CALM WATERS (THE MEDIA LINE) By Mati Milstein 01/27/05)
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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
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
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
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,
“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
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
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
“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
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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