Israel leads Mediterranean war exercise with NATO in shadow of Ukraine war

Five countries are participating in the annual “Noble Dina” drill; Russia held drills in the same area last month.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel is currently leading its annual naval exercise in the Mediterranean with forces from four NATO countries in an area where Russia drilled just before it invaded Ukraine last month.

Called “Noble Dina,” the multi-national force expanded from its original Greek, American and Israeli participants to include Cyprus and France. In past iterations, the five-day drills held with helicopters, ships and submarines have practiced areas as search-and-rescue, port defense and maritime security.

Israel’s participation in this year’s exercise was thrown into doubt as Jerusalem is trying to maintain a low profile during the war in Ukraine. Practicing naval and air tactics with countries from the European alliance could anger Russia, although NATO has made clear that it would not directly intervene in the fight, since Ukraine is not one of its members.

However, NATO countries support Ukraine unequivocally, having already taken in millions of refugees and supplying Kviv with arms, medical aid and financial support over the course of the almost-monthlong war.

As a major non-NATO ally that has developed close ties to Russia — due to its influence in Syria and the huge number of Russian Jews (close to one million) who have immigrated to the Jewish state — Israel is treading a careful line, trying not to anger either side.

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After careful consideration, IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi decided to go ahead with the exercises, Israel Hayom reported Monday. The IDF announced that some of the Navy’s Squadron 3 missile boats are participating in the five-day event, as is a submarine and other forces, together with “missile boats, airplanes and helicopters of the parallel navies.”

Anti-submarine tactics, simulated battles between ships and search-and-rescue operations are all part of the military agenda, which will end this weekend.

The IDF considers these drills of the utmost importance, as the forces gain useful insights in tactics and strategy from each other while strengthening the level of international military cooperation in an area quite close to the Jewish state.

Perhaps one of Kochavi’s considerations was that Russia held military exercises in the same eastern Mediterranean Sea Basin, right before its invasion of Ukraine. In mid-February, a cruiser, frigate and destroyer from its Northern Fleet drilled together with nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets that had flown in especially for the exercise from Russia to the country’s air base in Syria.

According to the Military Times, it marked “the biggest Russian naval deployment to the Mediterranean Sea since the Cold War.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to Russia and Ukraine Zvi Magen told JNS at the time that this training “could form a challenge for NATO’s underbelly” and create “a new front against the West in the Middle East.”