Israeli, US militaries simulate ship hijacking amid tensions

Israel's military says it has conducted a joint exercise with U.S. Special Forces simulating the retaking of a hijacked ship

JERUSALEM -- Israel's military said Tuesday it has conducted a joint exercise with U.S. Special Forces simulating the retaking of a hijacked ship.

The Persian Gulf has seen six attacks on oil tankers in recent weeks amid a growing confrontation between the United States and Iran in the wake of President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear agreement between world powers and Tehran over a year ago.

The U.S. has blamed the attacks, along with the downing of an American surveillance drone in the Persian Gulf, on Iran. Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks.

Israeli officials said the two militaries "exercised regaining control of a hijacked ship and extracting forces from enemy territory." Footage released by the army showed commandos parachuting and rappelling onto a ship and storming a container ship-like vessel during the exercise, dubbed "Naval Rose."

The exercise was held last Wednesday, but details were only announced by the military on Tuesday.

The army said the drill had no connection to recent events and was planned as part of its annual training plan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently boasts of strong behind-the-scenes ties with Gulf Arab countries that feel similarly threatened by Iran. Such ties are largely kept under wraps due to the lack of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and most of the Arab world.

Israeli media this month quoted Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz as telling a parliamentary committee that Israel was taking part in the U.S.-led coalition. Katz's office declined comment on the reports.

Iraq's foreign minister said last week that Israel's participation in a U.S. mission to protect shipping would be unacceptable.

Trump's decision to pull out from the nuclear deal and re-impose economic sanctions on Iran has halted billions of dollars in business deals and put the brakes on Iran's crude oil sales overseas. Iran's currency, the rial, has sharply depreciated as a result.