(Communicated by the IDF Spokesman)
 
Eight ships belonging to the NATO southern forces docked yesterday morning (May 29, 2006) at the Haifa port as part of the NATO Mediterranean dialog program. The ships will be the guests of the Israeli Navy from May 29-June 4.

A press conference took place aboard the Spanish freighter after the ships docked, held by the commander of the NATO force, Brigadier General Teodoro Lopez-Calderon and the commander of the Israeli Naval base in Haifa, Brigadier General Yochai Ben-Yosef.

Brig. Gen. Ben-Yosef welcomed the guests and noted that the visit marked another step in the advancing of the relationship between the IDF and NATO. The Israeli Navy and NATO forces are operate under shared values – making efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region, preventing global terrorism and providing humanitarian aid and assistance in the event of emergencies at sea.

Brig. Gen. Lopez-Calderon stated that the goals of the visit are to allow the NATO force to familiarize itself with this important country and deepen the relationships with Israeli civilian and military authorities. He noted that the NATO force is maintained at a high state of readiness, and is prepared to deploy wherever NATO has need for it. The force is composed of ships from various allied countries that train and operate together throughout the year and participate in all the key exercises held by the NATO alliance. The force is ready for deployment in any region within a 3,000 nautical mile radius.

The Israel Navy commander noted that next month Israeli naval forces will participate in a NATO maritime exercise in the Black Sea off the coast of Romania. The exercise will take place with the NATO southern force currently visiting Israel, other NATO forces, as well as forces from other countries including Romania, Turkey and Greece.

This will be the first time that Israeli naval craft will participate as an integrated force in a NATO naval exercise. The goal of Israeli participation in such an exercise is to learn to work in coordination with NATO forces operating in the region.

During the month of June, the Israel Navy will, for the first time, take part in an international training exercise titled "COOPERATIVE MAKO."  This naval exercise is being conducted by the NATO-Mediterranean Dialogue and other peace-seeking nations. Participants include: Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, France, Albania, Algeria, Georgia, United Arab Emirates and others…

COOPERATIVE MAKO is unique in that it constitutes the first time that an operational unit of the Israel Defense Forces (Israel Navy Ship "Eilat") will fully participate with NATO in a military-like operation. As part of the tactical training exercise, forces will become accustomed to a variety of scenarios: combating terror, anti-submarine warfare, combating mines, examining navy vessels, crises in unstable environments, professional diving, anti-aircraft self-defense, and naval rescues.

Various NATO forces, destroyer ships and naval vessels from ten different countries will participate in COOPERATIVE MAKO.

The exercise will be held between June 14, 2006, when the naval vessels will depart from Haifa, and July 4, 2006, and the training schedule will be divided into four parts:

Part 1 (June 18) – Arrival of the forces at Port Constanza and preparation for the exercise.
 
Part 2 (June 18-23) – Training at the port. During this period, working groups will be formed and professional educational classes will be held for all of the participating forces. Practice drills and demonstrations will be conducted on the ships in a variety of fields, and a final briefing on the exercise will be given.
 
Part 3 (June 25-29) – Integrated technical naval exercises. Full tactical exercises. During this period, the naval forces will carry out all of the scenarios specified above.
 
Part 4 (June 30) – Entrance to the port, initial debriefing, jointly-held final debriefing and departure of the forces.
 
In addition, memorial events will include the placement of bouquets of flowers in the Black Sea during two ceremonies that will be conducted by the crew of the Eilat. One ceremony will be at the site where the Struma, a ship carrying Jewish immigrants from Romania to Palestine, was sunk. On board were 769 Holocaust survivors of the Romanian Jewish community.