The navies of Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a joint exercise in the Red Sea this week, the American military said, in an apparent threat to their shared adversary, Iran.

The exercise comes just over a year after Israel normalized ties with the UAE and Bahrain. Though Israel has conducted exercises alongside the UAE in the past, the drill represents the first-ever public military cooperation between Israel and Bahrain.

According to the US military’s Central Command, the five-day exercise is taking place at sea and will include “visit, board, search and seizure tactics.” The drill is being led by the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which operates throughout the Middle East.

“It is exciting to see US forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of the 5th Fleet, said in a statement.

Since February, Iran and Israel have been accused of engaging in what analysts have called a naval “shadow war,” in which vessels linked to each nation have come under attack in waters around the Gulf in tit-for-tat exchanges.

“Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability,” Cooper said.

Recent months have seen a significant increase in apparent shows of force by the US, Israel and countries in the Persian Gulf on one side and Iran on the other.

Earlier this week, Tehran launched a major naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman, which Iran’s deputy army chief said was meant to “[warn] the enemies that any act of aggression against Iran will draw a crushing response from the army.”

Last month, the US flew B-1 heavy bombers through the region, and Israel hosted a massive multinational aerial exercise, Blue Flag.

Tensions have been particularly high with Iran in recent months as the Islamic Republic has stalled indirect talks with the United States in Vienna regarding a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Israeli and American officials have increasingly threatened military action against Iran’s nuclear program should those negotiations, now scheduled to resume at the end of November, fail.

Israel, UAE, Bahrain, US launch drill in Red Sea in apparent message to Iran

Josh Toupos

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