Security and defense: Coming up for air

After ten years as head of the navy’s submarine school, Lt.-Cmdr. Y. talks with the ‘Post’ about life under water and his plans for civy street.

Israeli navy training (photo credit: IDF)
Israeli navy training
(photo credit: IDF)
After 31 years in military service, and 10 years as commander of the navy’s submarine school in Haifa, Lt.-Cmdr. Y. (full name withheld for security reasons) is retiring from the IDF.
Over the past decade, Lt.-Cmdr. Y. has played a key role in training generations of navy personnel who staff Israel’s growing submarine fleet – a vital strategic asset, and a major safeguard of Israeli security needs.
“Submarines bring a level of intelligence to Israel that cannot be achieved by other units,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, his last day as the school’s commander.
“Drones that fly in the air can be shot down. But a submarine can stay in enemy territory for weeks, and no one knows it’s there. It can lurk off coastal regions without any problem at all. The level of intelligence this brings is not shared with the public. All of our operations build on past operations,” the commander said.
On Wednesday night, Lt.-Cmdr. Y. attended a ceremony marking the end of his lengthy naval career, after which he plans to travel, then specialize in providing therapy to special-needs children through horseback riding.
He acknowledged that this is a big change, but noted this was the point of his move: to begin afresh.
“Today, I am retiring after 11 years in command of the school. My role was to train all of the sailors for submarine operations, at various levels. Before that, for 20 years, I was in the submarine commando unit. We were part of the process of building the three older submarines in the navy’s possession,” he said.
The officer served in two of the navy’s three Dolphin-class submarines, INS Rahav, INS Leviathan and INS Tekumah, before moving to the submarine school in Haifa.
There, he oversaw the process of preparing sailors for the unique challenges of service in a submarine. “The most challenging aspect compared to other roles involves being in the water of territories of other states. This is very challenging; it demands the highest level of professionalism,” he said.
“We qualify our sailors to be good submarine personnel. Physically, I was responsible for the lives of these kids. I had to ensure that they knew how to respond to situations, because once something goes wrong [underwater], it can’t be fixed.”
The school also trained all naval cadets who take annual officer training courses. In the last stage of the course, the soon-to-be officers study with senior submarine commanders, and spend a number of months with the fleet.
In the coming days, the navy is set to receive its fourth German-made Dolphin-class submarine, the INS Tanin, which will arrive at specialized dock built by the navy at its Haifa base.
Later this year, the navy is expecting to receive its fifth submarine, the INS Rahav, as well. A sixth submarine is under construction in Germany.
“Today, we are teaching the sailors about the new submarines.
We began new courses six months ago, and teach the structure of the vessel and the various roles. Then they divide into areas of specialty, such as managing devices on board, maintaining the engine, sonar systems, detection systems, photographing [targets] and weapons,” said the outgoing commander.
After completing the course, the sailors are qualified to immediately board submarines and begin serving.
“They can begin one day after they complete the course,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Y.
By the time they finish their training, every sailor knows “which crew he has been assigned to, and what he is qualified to do. After a short break, their crews receive them,” he added.
Later, after two years of service, the sailors return to the school to train further, confirming their professional and leadership skills. Most then take command of companies in the submarines, though some stay at the school to serve as instructors; a number of them move to naval headquarters.
The sailors serve for a total of at least four-and-a-half years, of which a year and a half is dedicated to training at the school.
“In the first stage, we don’t tell them about all of the secret aspects. This stage is aimed at sorting those who will stay on from those who will not,” explained Lt.-Cmdr. Y. “After two-and-a-half months we know who will stay, and they receive a first-level security clearance. This means we know they have no dual citizenships, and no problematic history that would prevent them from getting the highest security clearance. After that, we expose them to the activity and operations of the submarines.”
“It’s a lot of responsibility. There is no room for errors; they must be precise. I get kids, and turn them into submarine personnel. I, too, have to be very precise; I must find the balance of training them, physically and mentally, and not harming them. We are dealing with the cream of the crop of the population. I’ve never had any cadets telling me things like, ‘Not now, I’ll do it later.’ They do what is expected of them.”
“All of these years, I’ve dreamed of helping kids with special needs. I thought about combining horseback riding with therapy. I want to be active in something like this now,” Lt.-Cmdr. Y added.