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UAE, Israel unveil joint naval vessel as military ties grow

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Controllers man a terminal at the command station of the Israel Aerospace Industries in an unmanned maritime demonstration during the Naval Defence and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX) at the Abu Dhabi International Exhibition Centre./AFP
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Feb 21, 2023 - 02:11 AM

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates and Israel on Monday revealed their first jointly created unmanned vessel, illustrating their growing military ties as maritime threats rise in the Gulf region.

The craft, which has advanced sensors and imaging systems and can be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and detecting mines, was unveiled off the coast of Abu Dhabi during the Naval Defence and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX).

The unmanned surface vessel or USV was created by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Emirati defence consortium EDGE.

The busy Gulf shipping lanes have suffered years of missile and drone attacks blamed on neighbour Iran.

“We are for the first time demonstrating a mutual project that shows the capabilities and strengths of both companies” in securing coastlines and countering mine threats, said Oren Guter, who leads IAI’s naval programme.

Guter, a former captain in the Israeli navy, said the vessels would counter “threats here in the area” but that the aim was also to deploy them abroad.

IAI was looking to bolster cooperation with the UAE in air defence and hopes to help the wealthy Gulf state improve its naval capabilities, he said.

The UAE and Israel have steadily deepened their military partnership, including defence procurement, since they normalised relations in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

In January 2022, Israel’s defence electronics company Elbit Systems said its subsidiary in the UAE was awarded an approximately $53 million contract to supply systems to the UAE air force.

Emirati and Israeli defence firms are also working to develop an autonomous counter-drone system.

Countering maritime threats from Iran is one area of focus for the UAE-Israel partnership, said Torbjorn Soltvedt of the risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

“Security is a natural area of cooperation between Israel and the UAE,” Soltvedt told AFP.

“Countering the growing threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman will be a priority as both Israeli and Emirati ships have been targeted in Iran-backed drone and missile attacks,” he said.

On Sunday, Israel accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-linked tanker off the coast of Oman in a strike that caused minor damage. It was the second such accusation this year.

Stalled negotiations to revive a deal over Tehran’s nuclear programme have renewed the threat of Iran-backed attacks in the region, experts say.

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