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Israel, Cyprus, Greece conduct naval exercise amid tensions with Turkey

France also sent naval assets for the first time since last year's joint exercises.
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Israel’s navy conducted a joint exercise with Cyprus, Greece and France in the eastern Mediterranean this week as the countries continue to bolster defense cooperation amid ongoing tensions with Turkey.

Exercise Noble Dina was led by the Israeli navy off Cyprus’ west coast, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. The exercise, which ended Thursday, included “anti-submarine procedures, search-and-rescue scenarios and a scenario simulating battle between ships,” the IDF said. Israeli Dolphin-II class submarines also participated in the exercise.

The drills build on increased defense cooperation between the four countries in the eastern Mediterranean since Turkey has become increasingly assertive in the region in recent years.

Disputes over hydrocarbon rights in the eastern Mediterranean have drawn together governments seeking to limit Turkey’s claims, including France and the United Arab Emirates — which also oppose Turkey’s ambitions in Libya.

Amid bitter tensions last year, a Greek frigate rammed a Turkish naval vessel that was escorting a Turkish seismic research vessel in waters claimed by Athens. Tensions have continued despite talks. Israel, Egypt, France and the UAE openly backed Greece last summer amid the dispute.

The UAE joined mutual naval exercises with Greece, Egypt and Cyprus for the first time late last year after inking a deal with Athens that would allow for mutual basing on each other’s territory. Abu Dhabi also signed an agreement with Cyprus in January.

Greece has also sought to buy the United States’ highly advanced F-35 fighter jet. If eventually accepted, Athens would join an exclusive club of nations allowed access to the Joint Strike Fighter, a privilege Washington took away from NATO-ally Turkey after officials there purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

Speaking about the latest Noble Dina exercise Friday, Rear Adm. Eyal Harel, who leads Israeli naval operations, said the drills “are of paramount importance in strengthening the navy’s connection with foreign fleets who share common interests.”

Greece, Israel and Cyprus are aiming to complete a major undersea natural gas pipeline to Europe by 2025, and have plans for other joint infrastructure projects. Turkey has voiced opposition the EastMed pipeline and signed an exclusionary maritime zone deal with Libya shortly after its announcement.