TEL AVIV – In a visit Monday to the USS George H.W. Bush – docked outside of Haifa after five months of combat against the Islamic State -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened the state of Israel to a "mighty aircraft carrier" of the United States.
Speaking to reporters on the Nimitz-class carrier, Netanyahu hailed ongoing U.S.-led coalition operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and indicated that Israel, too, is contributing to the fight against a common enemy.
"We are both peace loving people, while we recognize that sometimes you need to fight those enemies of peace, those that want to chop the head off our common societies… This is what we do together," Netanyahu said.
"We are here on a mighty aircraft carrier of the United States and a few miles from here, there is another mighty aircraft carrier of our common civilization – it's called the State of Israel," Netanyahu said.
U.S. Navy Captain William Pennington, commanding officer of the USS George H.W. Bush, cited U.S.-Israeli intelligence sharing and other forms of strategic cooperation going back years. "We are very tightly linked with our colleagues and partners and allies from the Israel Defense Forces and have been for many, many years," he said.
He added, "There is a tremendous network of shared intelligence. As you are aware, the airspace in this region is very, very busy with lots of different actors, so the need to deconflict that and make sure that everyone understands their mission is very, very important."
Commander James McCall, head of the carrier's air wing, said his forces have conducted about 1,600 sorties over the five-month deployment; an average of 20 to 25 "events" each day.
"This aircraft carrier and this air wing have been a large part of the war against ISIS in the last five months. We have conducted sustained operations as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, countering ISIS in both Iraq and Syria," said McCall.
According to the air wing commander, whose forces downed a Syrian Su-22 fighter bomber last month, which had been operating perilously close to U.S.-backed forces, there is "a lot of tension" between rebel groups and pro-regime forces in parts of Syria.
He insisted that the Syrian fighter bomber ignored U.S. warnings, and that the shoot-down was executed according to procedure in defense of U.S. and friendly forces. "The Air Force warned the Syrian aircraft they were approaching coalition friendlies and they ignored the warning and even dropped bombs on the friendlies," McCall said.
As for progress in retaking Mosul in Iraq and Raqa'a in Syria, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State, McCall offered this assessment: "We are collapsing in on ISIS… What I have seen over the last five months personally is those lines have moved. Coalition forces have made great gains to push those terrorist elements out."
Meanwhile, in a tour along Israel's northern border with Syria, Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Syrian regime forces fighting rebels in and around the town of Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights that Israel would not tolerate spillover fire into its territory.
Liberman insisted that Israel does not favor any particular side in the ongoing civil war, but will continue to target Syrian regime assets in response to cross-border fire originating from Syrian territory.
"The warfare and events in the area of Quneitra are not connected to us. We are not looking for excuses to get involved in this fight. We will not take part in this civil war on behalf of any side… Neither side are our friends. Just the opposite. But what is for certain, we will not tolerate any violation of Israeli sovereignty," Liberman said.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.