• By For the time being, there is no chance for young
Israelis to become astronauts, but young men who are highly motivated and
intelligent, able to withstand long bouts away from civilization, suited for
combat duty, capable of reacting immediately to orders and not disturbed by
being cooped up for weeks on end in a small space are invited by the IDF and
Israel Navy to apply for military service in a submarine.
preparatory course for the difficult but meaningful job has just been completed.
Two such courses are held annually after very careful screening of
Lt.-Cmdr. Yohai Zeidman, a psychologist who left the IDF
after his initial service and education and then joined the professional army,
has been responsible for selection of submarine crews for the last
two-and-a-half years and is based in Haifa.
The navy currently has three
Dolphin submarines, following the use and retirement of British-made subs that
were introduced into service in the late 1950s. They were called INS Tanin and
INS Rahav by then-premier David Ben-Gurion, based on relevant references in the
Three more subs, made in Germany, will join the fleet in the next
few years. Around 60 meters long, the Dolphin subs are packed with equipment,
with no room to spare, and every square meter is utilized to the
As there are very close quarters and no room for a women’s
lavatory, only men are accepted for this job, but there are females serving on
more roomy navy ships, Zeidman told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on
Except for the sub commander, who has his own bed, the rest of
the crew of a few dozen make use of available accommodations on the “hot bed”
routine. As there are not enough for all, whenever somebody gets out of bed to
go to work, another soldier can sleep in it.
As it is so demanding, all
members of the crew volunteer for this service; no one is assigned to a
submarine without wanting it.
Even the ship’s cooks and physician are
carefully screened to make sure that they can live in such crowding and without
contact with the outside world for some time.
Soldiers serve for
four-and-a-half years, with 18 months as part of the professional army. They
must naturally be happy working as a member of a team.
“We look for
people who enjoy being with others. They can’t call home. There is no Internet
or TV, but there are video movies, chess matches, books and other things for
their leisure time.
Zeidman noted that obviously, no young man suffering
claustrophobia (fear of being enclosed in a small space) can be a candidate to
work on a submarine. One doesn’t have to know how to swim, he added, but a good
sense of humor is important and welcome.
“I don’t recall anyone with
claustrophobia – or indeed agoraphobia [fear of large spaces], because such
people usually have other anxieties as well – applying for the
Other valued qualities are being organized, meticulous (but not
compulsive), able to get along with people, free of moodiness, intelligent, good
at studying, and technical abilities.
“We look for very special people,”
“A submarine is not for everybody. Errors cannot be made,
because of the lives at stake, the important work, the cost – some
half-a-billion euros per submarine – and even the diplomatic importance. Doing
the wrong thing could lead to a declaration of war on Israel.”
IDF and the navy do publicize the submarine service somewhat openly as well as
quietly, “it is not well known to young people.
Some may be very suited,
but they are not familiar with the submarine service. The air force’s school for
pilots is much better known.”
The kitchen is kosher, and the navy tries
to hire very imaginative good cooks.
“Having enticing food can make an
excellent voyage, while having bad food can make it a disappointment,” Zeidman
said. “There are religiously observant crew members as well, and their needs are
met. Religious men on a sub are about in the same numbers as their proportion in
The selection process begins with questionnaires,
exercises and interviews. Those found unsuitable, or candidates who learn more
and think they are not suited, are let go. Those who are chosen for the course
go to a special submarine school in Haifa, visit a submarine docked in the
harbor, go through simulations and more. Their teachers come with a lot of
experience serving on subs.
There are underwater communications for the
use only of the commander in operations, and a public phone when the sub is
above the surface.
“At home, the crew [members] are used to using
cellphones, computers and social networks, and it’s hard being out of contact,
but they get used to it.”
The sub commander must be a leader; he has to
decide things largely on his own and be able to make decisions in a courageous
and sensitive way.
“If not, he could sink the ship,” said
He must be honest and reliable and always report the truth to
his superiors. If the crew members are going to a friendly country abroad for a
cooperation exercise, they may go on land to visit, but certainly not if they
are on a secret mission.