By Yissachar Ruas
Tazpit News Agency
Israel’s Navy is the IDF’s smallest branch and the least known.
Israel’s navy actually predates the establishment of the State, existing as the Mossad LeAliya Bet, the Haganah’s illegal immigration organization, running ships through the British blockade in an attempt to rescue Jews from Europe and smuggle them into the British Mandate in Palestine. Ironically, currently one of Israel’s Navy’s most important missions is blocking of smuggling into Israel.
Israel’s Navy is tasked with blocking the smuggling of weapons that are shipped to Gaza or to the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Most of the Grad rockets fired in recent years at Israeli civilian targets from Gaza were smuggled by sea or by land through various ways. The prevention of the smuggling of these weapons is top priority. The new Egyptian Administration has recently taken real action against tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza, and as a result smuggling by sea may become a preferred route, and the Navy is constantly poised to contend with this threat.
The Israeli Navy has had many successes in intercepting ships containing weapons in recent years, including the “Karine A”, “Victoria” and “Francop” ships, along with interceptions of various small craft attempting to breach Israel’s borders in order to conduct terrorist attacks against Israel’s civilian population.
Tazpit’s Photographer Yissachar Ruas was given the opportunity to embark with the men of the Israel Naval Ship (INS Eilat), a SAAR 5 class Missile corvette, and spend a day with them as they conducted a Search And Rescue training exercise.
One of the Navy’s tasks is Search and Rescue (SAR). In an event of a ship in distress in the eastern Mediterranean only Israel has the capability of responding quickly and precisely.
The Navy conducts many rescue operations in the Mediterranean every year, saving many civilians in distress at sea, among the more notable one: in 2005 the Navy rescued a group of Syrian sailors along with the assistance of the American and French Navies, even though Syria has been at a state of war with Israel since 1948.
In 2010 an IAF Search and Rescue helicopter rescued ten Turkish sailors during one of the region’s biggest winter storms. Ironically, since the Marmara incident in 2009 Turkey refuses to cooperate with Israel. One of the big exercises both nations used to participate in was the “Reliant Mermaid” a combined exercise including the navies from both countries and the US Navy. The exercise’s objective is to improve the coordination when dealing with the rescue of merchantmen from bordering countries in the Mediterranean.
These exercises are held under the auspices of NATO, of which Turkey is a member. Since the Marmara incident Turkey has refused to allow Israel to participate in exercises of similar sort within the NATO framework. This move has caused Israel to search for reliable allies to train with. Over recent years Israel has conducted joint rescue drills with the Italian and Greek Navies, in an effort to learn, share knowledge and streamline coordination when encountering SAR scenarios.
One of the young officers aboard the ship, Lt. Yonatan Isaac, told Tazpit News Agency about one of his more memorable experiences as a Naval Officer was when he assisted in the rescue of a capsized boat last year and helped rescue the three men on board the ship in distress.
After learning how many ships make distress calls, especially during the winter months, this type of training seems like it should be universal and not bound by political animosities, especially since the Navy treats all rescues the same, regardless of the persons in distress.