Turkish US Navy Officers in Israel for Exercise

HAIFA–Israel (Reuters)–Turkish and US naval officers arrived in Israel on Monday for a three-way sea maneuver that has drawn fire from Middle East neighbors.

Military officials said at a welcoming ceremony in Haifa that the exercise on Wednesday–named "Reliant Mermaid," was aimed at coordinating search-and-rescue procedures and posed no threat to countries in the region.

"We want to…become acquainted with what communications are used by the three different navies," said Commodore Joseph Sestak–commander of a US destroyer squadron that includes the US ship John Rodgers–which will take part in the exercise.

"When you fly your helicopter and we fly our helicopter–(we must know) what altitudes do they search with so that if we both have helicopters out there–there…isn’t a catastrophe," he told reporters at the office of Haifa’s mayor.

Turkish and US vessels docked at the city’s port on Monday–carrying helicopters and heavy guns.

No shots will be fired during the one-day maneuver but the sight of aircraft and gunships crossing the eastern Mediterranean is ominous enough for countries worried about the growing military ties between Israel and Turkey and irked by US involvement in the Middle East.

"These maneuvers constitute an encouragement to Israel to continue its aggressions against peace and Arab and Islamic states," Syria’s official al-Thawra newspaper said on Saturday.

Iraq and Iran have also criticized the exercise–which stems from a 1996 military agreement between Israel and Turkey.

Israel has fought several wars with Syria and views Iraq and Iran as arch foes. Turkey has its own disputes with the three countries.

Jordan–which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 that allows for expansion of military ties–announced on Monday that it was sending an observer to the exercise.

"We are not participating in maneuvers. We are sending an observer to exercises and this is totally different," Jordanian Foreign Minister Fayez al-Tarawnah told reporters in Amman.

"This is a sovereign decision which Jordan has taken because we read it as maneuvers or exercises for search and rescue," he added.

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