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. February 2023 (Photo credit: Ryan Lim/AFP)
The UAE and Israel unveiled their first jointly developed, unmanned naval vessel on 20 February, representing the increasing military relationship between the two states, as well as Tel Aviv’s mounting fear of the ‘Iranian maritime threat.’
The vessel was unveiled at the Naval Defense and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX) in Abu Dhabi. It is equipped with imaging systems and advanced sensors, as well as reconnaissance and mine-detecting technologies.
The unmanned ship was jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Emirati defense firm EDGE.
“We are for the first time demonstrating a mutual project that shows the capabilities and strengths of both companies,” Oren Guter, the head of IAI’s naval program and former Israeli naval captain, said.
The vessel will be capable of countering “threats here in the area,” but the goal is to eventually ‘deploy them abroad,’ Guter added.
This comes as part of a growing military relationship between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, the focus of which is ‘deterring’ Iran.
Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said: “Security is a natural area of cooperation between Israel and the UAE … 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.”
On 10 February, Iranian drones struck an Israeli oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, reportedly killing two officers, in retaliation to an Israeli drone attack on a military facility in Isfahan last month. Iran has been accused of striking Israeli tankers in the past.
The UAE, on the other hand, has been subject to attacks by Yemen’s Ansarallah resistance movement, which is accused of being an ‘Iranian proxy.’ This is due to Abu Dhabi’s role in the brutal, Saudi-led war against the country.
In 2021, it was reported that Emirati and Israeli defense companies were jointly developing an anti-drone system. The following year, Israeli air defense systems arrived in the Gulf country.
The two states have also participated in joint naval drills in coordination with the US, as well as Bahrain, another one of Israel’s Arab allies that normalized relations as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords.