Israeli forces stationed along the Mediterranean coast recently stopped two Gaza ships involved in weapons smuggling. Meet the elite soldiers of the Israel Navy’s Surveillance Unit.
The challenges facing Israel’s coasts are enormous. The IDF bears responsibility for stopping arms-smuggling operations and bombing attempts along Israel’s vulnerable Mediterranean coast.
Hundreds of vessels enter Israel’s maritime territory every day. Although most ships arrive with peaceful intentions, the IDF must intercept certain vessels before they reach Israel’s shores.
“If a [ship’s] cargo is carrying explosives, and it decides to bomb our coasts, it can do some serious damage,” says Major Shai Aloni, the commander of the Israel Navy’s Surveillance Unit, which monitors activity along the Mediterranean coast. From their control room, soldiers in the unit closely watch every ship in Israel’s waters. When necessary, they send IDF navy ships to confront terror threats at sea.
In addition to preventing terror, the unit handles a range of civilian accidents by locating individuals in distress and sending rescue teams to help them. “Our work deals with a lot with civilians and different authorities”, Maj. Aloni explains.
Thanks to the advanced radar system along the coast, the unit watches the sea very closely. Every ship is tracked on a map, where its movement and speed are monitored.
“We plan everything that happens in the sea in central Israel to be sure no one infiltrates the country,” explains Lieutenant Reut Ben Yaakov, an officer of the unit. “Every ship has to answer our calls, and must understand that by entering our waters they can not do what they wish. A lot of this work requires communication with the ships, usually in English.”
Stopping smuggling operations
At the end of March, two ships left the Gaza strip at high speeds, crossing beyond the authorized area during an attempt to smuggle weapons. The IDF soldiers worked quickly to intercept the ships and prevent them from smuggling weapons into Gaza.
“We knew that these boats were directly involved in smuggling operations”, explains Corporal Amit Ashkenazi, a soldier in the unit. “I had just begun my shift, and I immediately alerted my superiors,” she continues. “It was a big source of pride for me and for all of us. We felt that we directly took part in defending the country.”
Tough work, every day
Soldiers in the Surveillance Unit experience a challenging military service that demands a lazer-sharp focus on potential threats. “It’s hard work, but I’m very happy about it,” explains Corporal Lee Roth, another soldier in the unit. “We handle many different kinds of cases — medical emergencies at sea, fires, goods- and arms-smuggling. There isn’t a week that passes without something out-of-the-ordinary happening.”