combatting 88 298.
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Just hours after two soldiers were kidnapped by the Hizbullah in the North, Capt. Dani and his Third Flotilla were off to Lebanon to begin imposing a naval blockade on the country. The blockade was twofold - on the one hand to pressure the Lebanese government into releasing the abducted soldiers as well as prevent Syria from smuggling new weapon supplies to the Hizbullah.
"This is an Israeli missile ship, please follow my instructions," Lt. Yoav called into a microphone on the bridge of the INS Lahav (Blade) Tuesday. "Stop at your current position and do not proceed any further."
The Lahav, a Sa'ar 5-class missile ship like the Eilat, has become Capt. Dani's command post, from where he oversees all the navy's operations in Lebanon in his command post, including the blockade and the shelling of Hizbullah outposts near Beirut.
"Our operations range from stopping ships from entering Lebanon to bombing Hizbullah outposts and rocket launchers," he explained. "Per the instructions of the political echelon, our main focus is on destroying Hizbullah infrastructure and in maintaining the naval siege imposed on Lebanon."
Ten miles away, the navy has set up a "waiting area" for ships that have tried to leave Lebanon, said Lt. Zviel, one of the ship's deputy commanders. On Tuesday, eight ships were there, waiting for the navy to let them leave the region. The navy has yet to fire at a ship that has refused to heed orders, but officers on board the Lahav insist that they will do so if necessary.
Previously, during the NATO drill, Spanish Rear Admiral Teodoro Lopez Calderon had toured the INS Eilat with an almost mystified look on his face. The missile ship, he said, was smaller than those employed by the Spanish Navy, but contained far more weapons, missiles and advanced technology than his boats did back home.
"We have ships the same size," he said of the Eilat, a Sa'ar 5-class missile ship corvette weighing in at 1,200 tons with a maximum speed of 33 knots. "But we were told that we had to choose between the Harpoon missiles and a helicopter. The Eilat has both."
Over the years, the Israeli Navy has succeeded in building up a force to be reckoned with in the murky Mediterranean waters. In conjunction with Israeli defense industries, the Navy has developed some of the most advanced weapons systems available on the naval market today.
Since Israel's establishment in 1948, the Navy has always been something of a military stepbrother. While the air force was consistently budgeted to acquire new platforms on an almost annual basis, the Navy has had to fight for funding while working to convince the politicians that defending Israel's coastline was a critical mission that could not be forsaken.
The Navy got off to rough beginnings with the sinking of a destroyer by Egypt in 1967. A year later, the submarine Dakar was lost as it sailed to Israel on its maiden voyage from Great Britain. But tragedy quickly turned to heroism and success and in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the Navy proved its might in a decisive victory over the Syrians in the battle of Latakia. In 1982, the Navy again proved its supremacy during the war in Lebanon, where it played a critical role in the fighting.
Last week however, the Navy was again dealt a harsh blow after four sailors were killed when a radar-guided missile fired by Hizbullah operatives with Iranian assistance struck the INS Hanit (Spear) patrolling off the Lebanese coast.
The missile, developed by China and upgraded by Iran, was not known to be in Hizbullah hands, senior military intelligence officers said last week, and the Navy admitted that it was taken completely by surprise with the missile attack. In addition, the Navy admitted that the Barak anti-missile system was deactivated at the time of the Hizbullah attack. The Rafael-developed missile defense system, industry sources said this week, has a 99 percent success rate and would have easily intercepted the Hizbullah-fired missile.
But despite the recent setback, the Navy has come a long way and today is at a crossroads as it turns to face new challenges in the coming years. For now, its most advanced missile ships are the Sa'ar 5 corvettes, which became operational in the early '90s. They were constructed with stealth specifications and carry a heavy payload of Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles as well as the Barak anti-missile defense system. The ship also carries torpedoes as well as a sea helicopter that officers said helps extend the boat's range in targeting enemy vessels.
Led by Admiral David Ben-Bashat, the Navy is currently working on trying to convince the IDF to finance the purchase of faster and more agile missile ships.
Israel has already invested several million dollars in the development of a new ship together with the US Navy and is considering pressing forward with a new ship under construction by Lockheed Martin. The vessel, which is being called the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), will cost several hundred million dollars, but with the Navy set to sign a billion-dollar deal with Germany over the purchase of new submarines any day now, the chances that the Defense Ministry will okay the LCS deal, officials acknowledged, were slim to none.
But with sea terror a growing threat to Israel and the rest of the world, Israel desperately needs new vessels to maintain its military deterrence against its neighbors and enemies, senior Navy officers stressed.
"Sea terror is a real threat," a high-ranking Navy officer told The Jerusalem Post recently. "And to combat that threat we need more and better ships."