NATO IDF 248.88.
(photo credit: IDF [file])
The plane dipped in low over the line of warships as they patrolled the Black Sea off the coast of Romania. Picked up by the radar of the INS Eilat, the unidentified aircraft began to make its approach, setting off alarms warning of the possibility of a kamikaze pilot on his way to a suicide attack.
This exercise and others are what kept the sailors of the Sa'ar 5-class missile ship busy on Sunday as it participated for the first time in Israeli history in a tactical NATO exercise on the Black Sea.
The airplane in this case was an IAF helicopter accompanying the Eilat and was posing as a suicide kamikaze jet in an exercise meant to drill how the warships respond to this 9/11-like threat.
Earlier in the day, the Eilat, commanded by Lt.-Col. Ilan Lavi, participated in an exercise together with three other warships - from Spain, Turkey, and Romania - in searching for an "enemy" submarine.
The first hour of the exercise passed quietly but tensely as the Turkish "enemy" sub evaded the search squad. But then the submarine made a mistake and began speaking through an underwater telephone whose signal was picked up by the Eilat and the other ships.
The submarine's coordinates acquired, it was eventually located by the radar and sonar systems and was "destroyed."
The purpose of the exercise, explained Lavi, was to create better interoperability between the Israeli Navy and NATO naval forces. To do that, the exercise practiced communicating between the fleets and emphasized how the different independent systems on each boat worked in concert with one another.
"The idea is to create a better dialogue between us and NATO," explained Lavi. "They use different systems, a different operational language and just do things differently so we have a lot to learn."
Moments before the ship left the Constanta Port in southern Romania early Sunday morning, Lavi crisscrossed the ship nervously while his subordinates inspected the boat's various systems, ensuring that everything was working in prime condition.
"The excitement is great," he said. "We feel like we are making history by becoming the first Israeli ship to participate in a NATO exercise."
Israel was invited to participate in the exercise as a member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - a 10-year-old forum for political consultations and practical cooperation between countries of the Mediterranean region including Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan.
The events in Gaza did not pass over the soldiers here, who, though disconnected from the world, still heard of the capture of one of their fellow soldiers. The mood was one of sadness and pain as the soldiers yearned for any new information.