DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Naval forces from the United States, Israel and two Gulf Arab states are taking part in a joint security drill in the Red Sea, a vital shipping route that feeds into the Suez Canal.

The U.S. 5th Fleet said Thursday that the five-day multilateral maritime exercise with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain began on Wednesday and includes at-sea training focused on search and seizure tactics aboard the USS Portland transport dock ship.

The drill comes a little more than a year after the UAE and subsequently Bahrain normalized ties with Israel despite strong criticism by Palestinians over the formal recognition of Israel.

An Israeli navy officer said it is the first time the three nations have shared maritime training exercises. The UAE also sent a delegation to an Israeli-hosted air force drill last month.

“This is the first time at sea, and actually it’s exciting that young officers are meeting young officers,” the officer told reporters, speaking spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines. “We’ll do it step by step.”

Their participation reflects their shared concerns over Iranian threats to regional shipping. Israel has accused Iran of trying to use the high seas to smuggle weapons to Israel’s enemies. It also has accused Iran of carrying out a series of attacks on civilian ships with Israeli ties.

Israel has acknowledged beefing up its naval presence in the Red Sea in response to what it says is heightened Iranian aggression.

The statement by the 5th Fleet did not specify where in the Red Sea the exercise was taking place. The sea, which connects the Mediterranean Sea by the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean by the Gulf of Aden is one of the world’s key oil shipping routes.

Over the past years, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have targeted oil shipments in the south of the waterway. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have waged war against the Houthis since 2015, in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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