Nov 29, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

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The US military announced that Unit 51 of the US Marine Corps will begin conducting three weeks of bilateral amphibious exercises in Eilat alongside IDF special forces beginning on Monday in preparation for deploying to the Persian Gulf. 

Preparing for “extreme scenarios”

One of the unit’s missions will be to respond to extreme scenarios – such as taking over a consulate or a ship. The training is supposed to provide a solution to a situation in which the Iranians will try to take over an American consulate or a ship sailing in the area.

“This exercise is part of the next chapter in the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ longstanding relationship with Israel that is so vital to stability and security in the region,” said Brig. Gen. Farrell Sullivan, commanding general of the task force.

Participating U.S. forces include approximately 500 personnel from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including one logistics battalion detachment, one infantry rifle company, a light armored reconnaissance company, and a HIMARS platoon.

The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb. With Israel’s addition, the region is now comprised of 21 countries.

The exercise includes military operations in urban terrain, infantry live-fire training, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) live-fire and rapid maneuvering training, as well as professional exchanges on various topics including engineering, medical and explosive ordinance disposal.

Joint training has taken place in the past but this is the first time such a force has trained in this manner in Israel.  The Marines arrived on top of the Vituso destroyer in helicopters for the Negev and Eilat, where they will train in several locations: war on terror, war in built-up areas, as well as basic training and the operation of their dedicated tools.  At the beginning of the training, the IDF Infantry School will train for the joint training, and later special units such as the Lotter and Magellan will join.

The arrival of Unit 51 is a result of Israel’s connection to Santcom, the headquarters of the Central Command of the US Army entrusted to the countries of the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf.  According to a source close to the matter, the training that began today is tactical in nature, and this is the first deep connection between the armies.  The hope is that from here it closer collaborations will develop.

After completing the exercises in Israel, the Marines will continue to the Persian Gulf, in order to address a possible escalation with Iran and extreme scenarios according to which the Iranians will try to take control of an American ship, or more seriously, a diplomatic mission.  The joint training, which will also include the Navy’s 13th Fleet and is also intended to be a demonstration of strength against Tehran and a deterrent, as well as to show the level of cooperation between Israel and the United States.

“Other options” for Iran

This comes two weeks after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a joint news conference at the State Department in which they stated that discussions between the two countries have begun on “other options” should Iran reject an offer to come back into compliance with the agreement if the U.S. rejoins it.

Over the weekend, a US  B-1B bomber overflew key points in the region including the Strait of Hormuz, the Red Sea, its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait and Egypt’s Suez Canal. The US bomber was accompanied by fighter jets from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The B-1B came from the 37th Bomb Squadron based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

Israel has recently upgraded its short-range missile defense systems to identify and shoot down Iranian-developed drones. Drones are more difficult to detect than larger manned aircraft because they fly with less predictable flight patterns at lower altitudes. In 2019, Iranian drones attacked a major Saudi Arabian oil facility. The attack succeeded in cutting Saudi Arabia’s oil production by about half – representing about five percent of global oil production – and causing some destabilization of global financial markets.