Israel is providing assistance to the US-led naval coalition forming in the Persian Gulf, Foreign Minister Israel Katz has said, speaking at a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defence Committee on Tuesday, Ynet News has reported.
According to the minister, Israel was giving the coalition assistance in intelligence and ‘other unspecified fields’, with the mission expected to improve Tel Aviv’s ties with the Gulf States.
In the briefing, Katz also reportedly said that he had met with an unnamed “high ranking persona” from the UAE recently to discuss the “Iranian threat,” with the two countries reaching “substantial agreements,” and the foreign minister instructing the ministry to include Israel in the US-led naval mission.
YNet News did not clarify whether Israel had plans to actually send warships to the Gulf, although Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, speculated last month that any Israeli assistance to the US coalition would likely be limited to intelligence sharing.
The Israeli Navy traditionally limits its operations to the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, and has a fleet of coastal patrol ships, missile boats, corvettes and support ships, as well as about 10,000 active duty personnel, at its disposal.
In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed deploying Israeli Navy assets to potential Iranian ‘covert oil smuggling’ routes to “block" the country from circumventing US sanctions.
Relations between Israel and Iran have been poor for decades, with the two countries cutting off formal diplomatic relations after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Since 2017, Israel intensely lobbied US President Donald Trump to scrap the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with Prime Minister Netanyahu making a widely publicized media presentation on Iran’s alleged attempts to hide its nuclear activities from the world just days before Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from the treaty in May 2018.
Leaders and military officials from the two countries have also repeatedly exchanged threatening remarks, with Israel accusing Iran of running anti-Israeli proxy campaigns in neighbouring countries, including Lebanon and Syria, and Iranian leaders regularly speaking of the ‘Zionist Israeli regime’s’ inevitable destruction at some future date.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway through which one third of the world’s sea-bound oil supply flows, began escalating dramatically in mid-May following a string of sabotage attacks against oil tankers, which Washington immediately blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the claims, calling the attacks ‘beyond suspicious’ and accusing the US and its regional allies of attempting to exacerbate tensions. Two weeks before the attacks, the US announced plans to send a carrier strike group to the area amid reports of an alleged ‘imminent threat’ from Iran.
Last week, the UK announced plans to forge a European-led coalition in the Gulf following the seizure of a UK-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz by the Revolutionary Guards over its alleged unsafe behaviour. On Monday, London dropped the European coalition idea and said it planned to join the US-led effort instead. The US had previously invited Germany, France, Australia, Japan, Norway, Belgium, South Korea and other countries to join its coalition, although continental European powers have expressed reluctance to join, while Japan promised to "listen carefully" to the proposal but refrained from committing given Tokyo's "friendly ties with Iran."