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Why An ‘Aircraft Carrier’ and the U.S. Marines Are Training in Israel

U.S. Marines Israel
An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires its 120 mm smoothbore cannon during a live-fire event as part of Exercise Eager Lion 2015 in Jordan, May 9, 2015. Eager Lion is a recurring multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability between partner nations, and enhance regional security and stability. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols/Released)

United States Marines are in Israel: They’re the tip of the spear of a combined U.S. Navy and Marine Corps task force in a bilateral amphibious exercise with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The Training

The Israeli Defense Forces and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command began a bilateral training exercise in Eilat, on Israel’s southern Gulf of Aqaba coast, spearheaded by the U.S. Marine Corps.

The exercise between the IDF, U.S. Navy, and Marine Corps 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,” according to a Marine Corps statement.

Israel announced the bilateral exercise via the Israel Defense Forces Twitter page, announcing that “an aircraft carrier with hundreds of U.S. service members has arrived in Israel,” though the ship is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. “We will conduct a two-week joint multi-force training on dense urban area combat & multi-domain capabilities. We continue to strengthen our capabilities to counter threats in the region.”

500 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit made up the Marine Corps contingent and included an infantry rifle company, a HIMARS platoon, a light armored reconnaissance company, and a logistics battalion detachment. It is unclear exactly how many Israel Defense Forces personnel are involved in the exercise.

The Marine general commanding the task force, Brig. Gen. Farrell Sullivan underlined American-Israeli cooperation, stating that “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.”

Location, Location, Location

The body of water Eilat abuts, the Gulf of Aqaba, is of high strategic significance. Not only do four countries, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia border the body of water, but the Gulf also allows access to several strategic waterways, including the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez and Suez Canal to the north (and therefore the Mediterranean).

To the south, the Red Sea allows access to the Gulf of Aden, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean.

Earlier last month, six American F-16C Fighting Falcons stationed in Germany flew to Israel to participate in Blue Flag Israel 21, a multilateral exercise that included aircraft and personnel from France, Germany, the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Italy, and India.

An Air Force B-1B bomber flew around the Arabian Peninsula in October, escorted by Israeli and Egyptian F-15 fighter jets and Bahraini and Egyptian F-16s.

What Next? 

Earlier last month, the United States moved Israeli from European Command to Central Command, reflecting the changing strategic nature of the Middle East in light of Israel’s recent rapprochement with its Arab neighbors. Moreover, strengthening Israeli-American military ties comes at an opportune time for both countries as they navigate their fraught relationships with Iran and Tehran’s ongoing efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer based in Europe. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

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