Kristine L Ming

Israel observes large scale maritime drill launched in Cyprus

The four-day international Argonaut drill kicked off in Cyprus on Wednesday with 22 countries taking part drilling on scenarios such as dealing with a terrorist hijacking as well as coping with an influx of civilians fleeing a conflict in the Middle East.

Israel has sent representatives as observers only and will not participate in the annual maritime search and rescue and non-combatant evacuation exercise which is lead by the Republic of Cyprus and will have navies from Cyprus, Greece, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, and the United States participate.

The drill, which is divided into four stages will take place within the territorial, maritime and aerial boundaries of the Larnaca district, within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and flight information region (FIR) of the Republic of Cyprus. Exercise Argonaut will also see 24 departments from eight Cypriot ministries take part, including personnel from the National Guard, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center, the Civil Defense, the Cyprus Police take part.

The US 6th Fleet, which is stationed in Naples, Italy, will participate in the exercise with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) and one P-8A Poseidon from Maritime Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 taking part.

The fleet is responsible for conducting a range of maritime security cooperation missions with allied countries in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa, read a statement by the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

Argonaut “is designed to increase interoperability by developing individual and collective maritime proficiencies of participating nations, as well as promoting friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation,” the statement said.

“The exercise helps promote maritime safety and security in the region,” it added, emphasizing that Argonaut is a “regularly scheduled exercise and is not associated with, or a reaction to any real world events.”

While it is not tied to any current events, the exercise will be simulating real-world scenarios which the island nation has faced.

In March 2016 an EgyptAir plane with 55 passengers–including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian–flying between Alexandria and Cairo was hijacked and forced to divert to Larnaca. After hours of negotiation the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, released all passengers and crew before he was arrested.

During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, thousands of foreign nationals were evacuated from Lebanon with over 25,000 mainly Western foreign nationals making their way to Cyprus which had fewer than 800,000 people at the time. It was described by Cypriot officials as the biggest emergency since the partition in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the northern part of the island.

Israel, Cyprus and neighboring Greece are close allies and share a number of strategic interests. While all have shared economic interests, such as the ambitious project to build an undersea gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus, Crete and then to mainland Greece, the three countries also hope to keep the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis from growing.

In March Israel participated in a three-day joint military exercise with Cyprus where the Israel Air Force tested Cypriot air defense.

Named Onisilos-Gideon, it was the largest drill since 2014 when the two countries agreed to hold joint exercises as part of their military cooperation.

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