Israeli commandos during a large scale drill in Cyprus, June 2017

Israeli commandos during a large scale drill in Cyprus, June 2017.

The IDF began joint drills with the Cypriot army on Sunday, the third time the two armies have drilled together on the Mediterranean island this year.

The drill, which is aimed at maintaining the readiness of the forces for any emergency, will see air and ground forces from both countries take part.

Israel and Cyprus have held several military drills this past year, including in June when over 500 elite Israeli commandos as well as attack helicopters and fighter jets held a three-day-long intensive drill in Cyprus. The drill was described by senior IDF officers as the first of it’s kind and one of the largest exercises by the commandos held on foreign territory.

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 at the time since 2014, when the two countries agreed to hold joint exercises as part of their military cooperation.

IDF commando unit in Cyprus drill (credit: IDF)

In late May, Israel sent representatives to Cyprus to observe the four-day annual maritime search and rescue and non-combatant evacuation Argonaut drill. The exercise saw 22 countries drill 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.

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

In November the defense ministers of all three countries met in Athens to discuss strengthening cooperation to promote security, stability and peace in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was the first trilateral defense summit between Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

“The cooperation between the countries, which began in 2009, is growing in a wide range of fields. Greece, Cyprus, and Israel share common values as democratic countries and face similar security challenges. The cooperation is intensifying every day on many levels, based on the understanding that we must take our fate into our own hands,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said.

Cypriot Defense Minister Christoforos Fokaides said that “Cyprus, Greece and Israel defend in this volatile and fragile region not just their common interests, but also the interests of Europe and, I would say, those of the international community in general.”

All three have recognized the need for new alliances and have declared their willingness to widen this Mediterranean alliance to perhaps include other regional players such as other moderate Sunni-Arab countries, such as Egypt and Gulf countries, despite strains due to the stalemate in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In late November three Israeli missile ships and one naval helicopter participated in the Hellenic Navy’s main autumn war games, taking part in Exercise Niriis.

Based on a fictitious scenario the drill aimed to train participating navies and personnel to deal with modern maritime threats while conducting evacuations of civilian populations.

Lt.-Col. Yaniv Lavi, commander of the Israeli delegation said that “during the drill the naval forces carried out advanced training that provided solutions to scenarios related to search and rescue, prevention of maritime terror attacks as well as advanced maritime medical evacuations.”

The delegation also hosted the personnel from the other delegations for a joint Kabbalat Shabbat, the IDF said.

The exercise, which occurred between November 17-25 was joined by ships, aircraft and personnel from Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, the USA and the UK. Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) and Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2), with Turkish minehunter TCG Alanya also took part.

“The exercise contributes to interoperability across Allied and Partner nations and allows NATO units to test and validate concepts, procedures, systems and tactics,” read a NATO statement.

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