Watchmen of the sea

Israel’s northern maritime border is protected 24/7 against all manner of threats by a sophisticated and advanced naval force

Date: 14/05/2013, 11:59 AM     Author: Gabriel Freund and IDF Website

The Israel Navy is charged with the defense of the country’s 190 km-long coastline as well as protecting the state’s vital maritime assets. The IDF’s impressive fleet of patrol boats, missile boats and submarines are eternally vigilant against hostile forces attempting to attack, sabotage and infiltrate sovereign Israeli territory.

With 70 percent of Israel’s eight million citizens settled in the country’s narrow coastal plain, the Navy bears the immense responsibility for their protection. Israel’s northern border with Lebanon – home to the terror organization Hezbollah – extends many kilometers into the Mediterranean Sea. The Israel Navy stands constant guard against the threats from the north posed by Hezbollah which has sworn itself to Israel’s destruction.

In recent years, the Israel Navy has intercepted cargo vessels loaded with weapons intended for terror organizations. In 2009, the IDF intercepted the MV Francop and seized some 500 tons of weapons destined for use by Hezbollah against Israel’s civilians. In 2001, the Israel Navy intercepted and boarded the Santorini – a fishing boat that had sailed from Beirut in Lebanon towards Israel. On board, naval commandos discovered a large cache of concealed weapons including missiles, rockets, mortars and rifles. Also discovered on board were instruction manuals for the manufacturing of explosives.

Weapons discovered aboard the MV Francop. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit archives.

Hezbollah’s endeavor to match the might of the Israel Navy is not limited to the smuggling of weapons. During the 2006 Lebanon War, an Israeli corvette was struck by an Iranian-made C-802 anti-ship missile fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The ship survived, but it was another sign of Hezbollah’s constant attempts – assisted by nations friendly to its cause – to upgrade its arsenal in the effort to destroy Israel.

More than meets the eye

The Israel-Lebanon maritime border appears quiet to the human eye, but in fact IDF naval forces employ state of the art surveillance technology and radar round the clock to monitor even the tiniest of movements on and below the sea's surface.

An Israel Navy helicopter scans the seas. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit archives.

In 1979, Samir Kuntar led a four-man terror squad on a rubber boat from Lebanon into the northern Israeli coastal city of Nahariya. There they murdered three Israeli civilians and a police officer. Kuntar and another attacker were captured by security forces and tried for murder, receiving several life sentences in Israeli prisons.

Hezbollah negotiated for the terrorists’ release as part of the 2008 prisoner exchange which saw the bodies of kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev return to Israel.

Just one month ago, an enemy UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) launched from beyond the northern border attempted to approach Israel’s coast at the port city of Haifa. The craft was shot down by an Israel Air Force fighter jet.

An IDF naval officer and Dvora-class patrol boat captain summarized the feeling of a watchman on the volatile border: “This border has been quiet but things have been sizzling in the north – something could happen any time."

Long arm, clenched fist

The Israel Navy employs a sophisticated and powerful arsenal of advanced machinery and weaponry in order to deal with the unique threats posed in the maritime arena.

The IDF recently unveiled the latest acquisition to its growing fleet: the INS Rahav – its fifth Dolphin-class submarine. The Dolphin is considered to be among the world’s most powerful and advanced submarines. A versatile vessel, the INS Rahav possesses a wide range of stealth, surveillance and strike capabilities which suit it for a large variety of missions.

Israel Navy Dolphin-class submarine, considered among the most advanced in the world. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit archives.

At a ceremony held earlier this year, Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gantz commented on the vital importance of the Navy in ensuring Israel’s security amid regional instability and growing threats from terror groups like Hezbollah. He described the submarine fleet specifically as a “long strategic arm – sophisticated, very quiet, and extremely important in our struggle."

Commander in Chief of the Israel Navy Rear Adm. Ram Rothberg lauded the historical role of Israel’s submarines in defense of the state, referring to “the legacy whose unique and clandestine contribution is an impressive, mostly classified chapter in the war for our existence as an independent and sovereign state."