Israeli Navy exercise occurs as Israel looks to threats in the north and Red Sea 

The Israeli navy conducts a drill at sea in mid-February. (IDF) 

The Israeli navy conducted an exercise over the last week, which the Israel Defense Forces characterized as “readiness in the northern arena.” The IDF said the drill included the Israeli Navy missile ship flotilla. The drill comes after four months of war in Gaza against Hamas and also four months of Hezbollah attacks on northern Israel. The Israeli navy has played an unprecedented role off the coast of Gaza, with new Sa’ar 6 corvettes being used for the first time and the navy often supporting ground forces with fire missions. “The exercise simulated wide-scale and multi-branch combat in the northern naval arena,” the IDF said on February 23 

The four Sa’ar 6 corvettes were built in Germany and began arriving in Israel in December 2020. They were declared operational in April 2023. The ships were acquired to defend Israel’s exclusive economic zone off the coast because Israel has been developing natural gas resources over the last decade. The ships can defend against threats from Hezbollah and help project Israel’s naval power. Israel has historically had a small navy. When Hamas launched its war on October 7, the Israeli navy was pressed into action using Devora-class patrol boats based in Ashdod to help carry out missions along the coast against terrorists. In the next weeks of October 2023, the navy increased its role in the war effort, and the Sa’ar ships were used against Hamas.  

In December 2023, the IDF also said it sent a Sa’ar 6 warship to the Red Sea. The Iran-backed Houthis began launching missile and drone attacks against Israel in October to support Hamas, and they increased their attacks on shipping in November 2023.  

Now that the ships have played a key role in the Red Sea and off the Gaza coast, often supporting ground forces in their maneuver operations near Gaza’s beaches and coastal road, Israel decided to conduct more drills for the navy as fighting has been reduced in Gaza. “This week, a wide-scale exercise of the Israeli Navy Missile Ship Flotilla in the northern arena was conducted,” the IDF said on February 23. “The exercise involved cooperation between the Missile Ship Flotilla and the Israeli Air Force, including a joint exercise with the 193rd Squadron, which operates the ‘Atalef’ (AS-565 Panther) helicopters.” The navy has used the Panthers with its Sa’ar 5 corvettes since 1996, although they were briefly grounded in 2022. The Israeli navy is acquiring new Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawks for the Sa’ar 6 ships.  

During the recent naval drill, the navy practiced countering drone threats, as well as “conducting aerial rescue capability from vessels and refueling a missile ship while at sea.” The Israeli navy has also conducted drills off the coast with its Devora-class patrol boats. Those boats have a stabilized Typhoon main gun on the bow, a .50 caliber machine on the stern, and 1.27mm machine guns on the sides of the ship.  

The naval drill came as Israel sent fighter jets to strike Hezbollah in several locations in Lebanon on February 23. The aircraft hit terrorist infrastructure, and “military structures.” An Israeli tank also fired at an “imminent threat” in Lebanon. In southern Israel, the Arrow 3 air defense system, the top tier of Israel’s air defenses, intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis in Yemen on February 22. The IDF said it is the seventh interception by the Arrow system since October. The strikes on the Lebanese border and the interception near Israel’s southern city of Eilat show how large the potential arena of multi-front combat has become for Israel since the Hamas attack in October. 

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 

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