Israel’s Navy is the Mediterranean’s Life-Line
Israel’s Navy is the IDF’s smallest branch and the least known. But the Israeli Navy actually predates the establishment of the State, existing as the Mossad LeAliya Bet, the Haganah’s illegal immigration organization, which ran ships through the British blockade in an attempt to rescue Jews from Europe and smuggle them into the British Mandate in Palestine. Ironically, one of Israel’s Navy’s most important missions currently is preventing smuggling into Israel.
Israel’s Navy is tasked with blocking the smuggling of weapons that are shipped to Hamas in Gaza or to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Most of the Gaza rockets fired in recent years at Israeli civilian targets were smuggled by sea or by land into the Hamas-controlled territory. 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.
The Israeli Navy has had many successes in intercepting ships containing weapons in recent years, including the “Karine A,” “Victoria,” and “Francop,” along with various small craft attempting to breach Israel’s borders in order to conduct terrorist attacks against Israel’s civilian population.
Recently, Tazpit News Agency 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.
The Navy conducts many rescue operations in the Mediterranean every year, saving many civilians in distress at sea. Among the more notable ones, in 2005 the Navy rescued a group of Syrian sailors with the assistance of the American and French navies, even though Syria has been in a state of war with Israel since 1948.
In 2010, a search and rescue helicopter rescued 10 Turkish sailors during one of the region’s biggest winter storms. Since the flotilla incident, Turkey’s relations with Israel have been strained, but one of the big exercises both nations used to participate in was the “Reliant Mermaid” – a combined exercise whose objective was to improve the coordination when dealing with the rescue of merchantmen from bordering countries in the Mediterranean.
In 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 search and rescue scenarios.