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(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson )
A navy commando from the elite Flotilla 13 unit died early Monday morning in a diving accident in the Ashdod Port.
Navy officers said that the commando was diving with a partner in a routine training exercise. All diving exercises have been suspended until an investigation into the incident is completed.
The soldier, 19-year-old Gal Azulai from Zichron Ya'acov, was training for diving maneuvers in enemy ports. He had been in the water for about 90 minutes and was diving at a depth of three meters when his partner noticed that he was in distress, navy sources said.
Azulai's partner grabbed him and the two surfaced. The partner then fired a flare and a standby medic with a team on a nearby dingy evacuated him to the dock, where he was met by an ambulance. Azulai received CPR for 40 minutes but efforts to resuscitate him failed and he was pronounced dead en route to Assaf Harofeh Hospital.
Navy Commander Admiral Eliezer Marom established a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident, and the unit immediately transferred Azulai's equipment to experts to check if a technical failure caused the death. The Military Police has also launched its own independent probe.
The water temperature, navy sources said, was 22 degrees Celsius, within the norms for the maneuvers, and the soldiers were wearing diving suits.
The exercise, Navy sources said, entailed diving at shallow depths from one point to another in the port and practicing the targeting of enemy vessels in an enemy port, one of Flotilla 13's main missions.
Known in Hebrew as "Shayetet 13," Azulai's unit is the Israeli equivalent of the US Navy Seals and is one of Israel's most elite special forces units.
Navy sources said that Azulai was in good physical condition and had four months of training left - out of 20 months - before he was to be certified as a commando.
The last accident in the unit occurred 13 years ago, when two commandos were killed during a routine diving exercise.
Flotilla 13 has conducted dozens of operations over the past year, most recently seizing the Francop, an Iranian arms ship that was illegally smuggling weapons to Hizbullah. Azulai was posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant and will be buried at the Zichron Ya'acov military cemetery on Tuesday afternoon.