Navy Saar 4 248.88.
(photo credit: IDF- Navy)
The Israel Navy has decided to cease sending its warships through the Suez Canal, out of concern they will be targeted by global jihad terrorists, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
"We don't want to draw terror," said a senior naval officer in explaining the move.
In response to the publication of this article, the navy flatly denied making any such decision, but refused to issue a written statement to that effect.
The decision was a unilateral one for the navy, affecting its missile ships and patrol boats such as the Dvora. It has no effect on Israeli civilian vessels. Zim, the Israeli-owned shipping line, said its ships continue to sail through the Suez Canal regularly.
Analysts downplayed the strategic significance of the decision, saying the navy rarely used the Suez Canal. But it does restrict options for the IDF.
Naval authorities said they made the decision recently. It is not clear when the last Israel Navy vessel actually sailed through the canal.
Israel did not have access to the Suez Canal until its peace treaty with Egypt. Prior to that point, the navy maintained a relatively large fleet of Reshef-class missile boats in Ofira (Sharm e-Sheikh) and a smaller fleet of patrol boats in Eilat. The vessels would travel out of the Mediterranean, all the way around Africa, and then up through the Red Sea.
The first Israeli warships passed through the reopened canal to fanfare in May 1979, when three landing craft sailed for three days from Ofira to Ashdod. Periodically, the navy would bring its Red Sea vessels through the canal for service in Ashdod or Haifa and return them.
"At Ismailia, the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, dressed in a naval white uniform and personally saluted the convoy as we passed," recalled Hirsh Goodman, who was military correspondent for The Jerusalem Post at the time. "It took us 71 hours to do the entire 400 kilometer journey."
Goodman, who wrote the official history of the Israel Navy, said Thursday he believes the decision to avoid the Suez Canal today is a prudent move. "Israel would never send a fully armed ship off to fight Arab enemies in such a situation," Goodman said.
The lack of a few Israeli naval vessels will not likely make a dent in Egyptian profits from the Suez Canal. According to the Egypt-based Business Today, canal receipts reached their all-time highest level in the 2004-2005 fiscal year. Egypt gained $3.3 billion as it handled 7 percent of the world's seaborne trade.
But the decision by the navy should be a warning for Egypt, another analyst said.
"The question is, what does it say about our confidence in the Egyptian security services?" asked Michael Oren, author of Six Days of War and senior fellow at Jerusalem's Shalem Center.
Another issue relates to one of Israel's most important strategic weapons - its three Dolphin-class submarines, which according to foreign reports can fire nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and serve as a second-strike platform.
It could prove problematic for Israel to dispatch them to the Gulf of Oman against Iran. The only way they could get there without need for refueling would be to go through the Suez Canal. With their 4,500 nautical mile range, taking the long way around Africa would require at least two stops for refueling at a friendly port or for fuel to be replenished at sea.
"Not using the Suez Canal complicates things," Oren said. "There could a conceivable emergency when [the navy] might want to have this kind of mobility."
However, Goodman doesn't believe the navy would likely, even then, risk sending a valuable submarine through Egyptian waters.
"It is just too sensitive, and I wouldn't put such a sensitive piece of equipment through that vulnerable slot," said Goodman, today deputy head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
Nevertheless, foreign navies still use the Suez Canal quite frequently. The US often sends its nuclear carriers through in a slow, public display of military might. Israel does not yet have any aircraft carriers.