American, Turkish and Israeli ships held their first joint naval exercises on Wednesday – a one-day manoeuvre that has brought angry protests from Iran and Arab states.

But all three participating countries have been at pains to stress that the Reliant Mermaid exercise is only to practice search and rescue operations.

The exercise comes in the context of a growing Turkish-Israeli military relationship that other regional powers – Iran, Syria and Iraq – regard as a provocation.

In choppy winter seas and under cloudy skies, Turkish, Israeli and U-S ships held their first joint manoeuvre on Wednesday.

Five warships and more than 1-thousand sailors took part, along with naval reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters of the three countries.

The exercise, which was held some 30 to 150 kilometres off the Israeli coast, lasted just four hours.

The ships sailed to a rendezvous off the Israeli coast where they received “distress signals” from three yachts.

The exercise, named Reliant Mermaid, drew angry protests from Iran and many Arab states.

But all the participants were hopeful it would help each navy improve their rescue skills.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“This is a humanitarian search and rescue exercise. We want to familiarise ourselves with each others procedures, techniques, how we can inter-operate best in case we have to respond to a distress signal at sea in order to save lives.”
SUPERCAPTION: Captain Joseph Sestak Junior, Commander of 6th Fleet Battle Force, U-S Navy)

The joint manoeuvre comes in the context of a growing Turkish-Israeli military relationship that regimes such as Iran, Syria and Iraq believe is aimed at them.

Jordan however – took up the invitation to send along Admiral Hussein Khassawneh from the Royal Jordanian Navy to observe the exercises.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“The purpose of the exercise is very clear. It is to practice the search and rescue procedures in the Mediterranean and to reach a common level among three navies.”
SUPERCAPTION: Admiral Hussein Khassawneh, Royal Jordanian Navy

Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who also inspected the drills, reiterated that the manoeuvres are not directed against anyone.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“I will be very happy to have in the future some more Arab countries join these exercises or other exercises in the area. It is better to co-ordinate and to co-operate together in the peace time, with other friendly countries and I hope not in any other situation.”
SUPER CAPTION: Yitzhak Mordechai, Israeli Defence Minister

The budding alliance between Israel and Turkey offers tangible benefits for both sides.

For the Turks, who share borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria, it means a ready supply of high-tech weaponry and access to Israeli technology.

For the Israelis, Turkey represents a badly needed friend in the region, as well as a potential listening post to keep track of Israel’s enemies.

The two countries also have a common interest in stemming the spread of radical Islam.

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