US Navy returns to Israeli port in sign of strong ties

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A U.S. Navy warship has docked in the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, the first such visit there in almost 20 years, in what officials from both sides hailed as a sign of their strong ties in the face of shared adversaries like Iran in the region.

Foreign navies generally prefer northern Haifa as their Israeli port of call, so the destroyer USS Ross's arrival at Ashdod potentially signaled Washington's interest in broadened berthing options for its Mediterranean Sixth Fleet.

"This visit has significance. It symbolizes the deep alliance between Israel and the United States," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking from the deck of the USS Ross, together with his wife and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, as reported by Reuters. "We are determined to defend ourselves against the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria," Netanyahu said. "President Trump gave full support to this policy of ours, and the fact that this destroyer is visiting here today is an expression of that support."

Netanyahu and his wife toured the ship, shaking hands with officers and sailors, and then took part in a ceremony onboard.

U.S. Sixth Fleet spokesman Commander Kyle Raines said in a statement the port visit "reinforces the strong and enduring partnership between our two nations." Both Haifa and Ashdod face shelling threats, the former, from Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon and the latter from Palestinian rockets from the Gaza Strip. In his statement, Raines did not refer to any such threat specifically, but said: "We conduct extensive analysis of all port facilities and communities where our ships pull into and have the ability to adjust our force protection measures as necessary to ensure the safety of our sailors." While the U.S. has always been a strong ally of Israel, relations between the two countries have enhanced under the Trump administration. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump signaled his presidency would be a boon for Israel and tough on Palestinians. Trump has steadfastly backed Israel at the U.N., recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the embassy there, reversing decades of U.S. policy. The U.S. decision on withdrawal from the nuclear deal and economic pressure through sanctions on Iran has received significant support from Israel.

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