A dozen kilometers out to sea, the sailors on board one of the navy’s Super Dvora patrol boats were preparing for one of their nighttime drills, working closely with the air force to simulate the evacuation of a wounded comrade.
These drills, which take place once every few months, are aimed at preparing the sailors for the next war with Hamas. While common, a nighttime drill with the IAF’s heavy transport helicopter is unique.
“It’s not only the sailors who are training. Tonight, the pilot and crew of the Yasur are training with us, as well,” the ship’s commander, Capt. Guy Banspach, told The Jerusalem Post. “We must make sure that we are able to work together, especially at the most critical moments.
“The IDF is either at war, or training for war. Even though we might not be at war right now, one can always break out so we must be prepared,” he said.
With cheers and jokes as we sped out of Ashdod Port on Wednesday night, the camaraderie between the sailors and Banspach, who spend hours together aboard the ship in cramped quarters, was evident.
The usual 12-man crew was up at 20 for the drill the Post was tagging along to observe.
They are part of Squadron 916, which patrols off the coast of the Gaza Strip. The navy has three formations of Dvora patrol boats in service, protecting the northern, central and southern coasts.
The squadron is made up of Super Dvora MK III-class fast patrol boats, older Dvora-class patrol boats, Shaldag-type boats, and the light Tzora Safe Boats, used mainly for port and coastal defense.
We were on one of the squadron’s fastest boats, the Super Dvora MK III, which can travel at nearly 90 kilometers an hour and has a tight turning angle. The ship is mounted with a Rafael Typhoon stabilized precision 25mm. cannon on the bow, an M2 Browning machine gun on its stern and two MAG machine guns on the deck.
The Dvoras also are fitted with advanced anti-missile, early- warning radar systems and intelligence-gathering systems and can be armed with long- and short-range missiles such as the AGM-11 Hellfire.
The squadron’s vessels are linked to the ground forces’ command and control systems, sharing intelligence in order to strike and neutralize enemy targets.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, five Hamas frogmen tried to infiltrate Kibbutz Zikim. Squadron 916 coordinated with IDF electronic observation units that were monitoring the terrorists before all five commandos were engaged and killed by the IDF.
Banspach said the navy has learned a lot from the Zikim incident and is fully aware of Hamas’s capabilities.
“We are training for everything they can throw at us,” he said. “Hamas will never be able to surprise us.”
The Israeli defense establishment has warned that the IDF must pay special attention to Hamas’s strengthening naval-commando unit, which is being trained actively and has increased in size since the conflict two-and-ahalf years ago.
The squadron also secures the country’s offshore natural gas rigs; as we headed southwest, the lights of Ashdod and Ashkelon dimmed and those of the rigs and other ships in the area were the only lights to be seen. The ship’s engine and voice of Banspach, who was giving the ship’s coordinates to the pilot of the Yasur helicopter, were the only sounds to be heard.
“That’s Gaza over in the distance,” one of the sailors calmly said as he pointed to the dim lights in the distance while rolling himself a cigarette, waiting for the drill to begin.
He didn’t have much time for his smoke. Moments later Banspach suddenly roared: “15 minutes until we start!” Then we heard the Yasur.
“Is that it?” one of the sailors asked, pointing toward lights in the distance. “It’s coming in our direction, it must be it!” Moments later, a half dozen sailors were on deck as the Yasur hovered next us, mere meters above the waves.
Then it came even closer.
Close enough that I felt I could touch it and that those onboard could easily jump onto the ship.
As the blades of the massive helicopter sprayed water all over us, Banspach hollered: “Sailors are you ready?” The drill was starting.
The soldiers aboard the chopper had attached a light stick to a rope and were practicing to have it reach its target on deck guided by the sailors.
After several moments, they successfully hit their mark and the Yasur flew off, hovering once again above the waves a few meters away, giving the sailors time to get ready for the second part of the drill.
They were preparing a stretcher to mimic the scenario of evacuating a wounded comrade. When the Yasur came back, the sailors were ready. Banspach directed his sailors who once again worked with those onboard the massive helicopter to lower the rope to his target on deck.
Grabbing it, the sailors quickly attached the stretcher with an improvised body and signaled those in the chopper to raise it. As the stretcher lifted into the air Banspach screamed through his headset that they watch where they were raising it so it wouldn’t strike the hovering machine.
The stretcher came back down. It was time for round three.
The sailors were able to attach the stretcher and raise it to the chopper in record time.
“Good going guys. Great work,” Banspach told his sailors as the chopper flew away.
The drill was over. As tensions eased, the lightheartedness of the sailors returned highlighting their familiarity with daily battle against Israel’s enemy in Gaza.