Senior navy officer: Hamas and PIJ know of the opportunities at sea

Despite talks of a ceasefire arrangement,the Israeli navy remains on high alert

Israeli Navy boat  (photo credit: FLICKR)
Israeli Navy boat
(photo credit: FLICKR)
Despite talk of a ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s Navy remains on high alert for any attacks by terrorist groups in the blockaded coastal enclave.
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are trying to challenge us and test us all the time,” a senior naval officer told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. “The sea, unlike the ground where there are barriers, is wide open and we have to protect our citizens from any possible terror attack.”
Israel is highly dependent on the sea with over 90% of Israel’s imports arriving via shipping lanes and while the country’s navy is relatively small compared to other IDF corps, it has a significant amount of territory to protect since the expansion of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from 40 miles to 150 nautical miles.
Divided into three areas, Haifa in the north and Ashdod and Eilat in the south, the expansion of the EEZ has changed the face of the navy and has posed a significant challenge for the navy, which must use everything at its disposal to gather intelligence and keep the waters safe from any threat, including working closely with the air and ground forces.
“Communication with ground troops and the IAF is critical,” the senior officer said. “We practice daily so that when we have a joint operation we act as an iron barrier.”
The senior officer explained during the May round of fighting between Israel and terrorist groups in the Strip, the power of the IDF was clearly seen in the joint retaliatory operations.
“In May I remember seeing rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel and then the Iron Dome in action all the while hearing the communications of ground troops over the radio and of course my troops from the patrol boats and missile ships,” he recounted. “To see this whole scene of everyone working together gives you the perfect view of the IDF’s power when all its forces work cooperate. It’s a scene that fills you with pride and responsibility.”
The navy is also tasked with securing the natural gas drilling rigs that are in Israel’s EEZ, clear targets for enemies on Israel’s borders. The IDF believes that Hezbollah has long-range missiles capable of hitting the rigs, which supply a large amount of the electricity consumed in Israel.
On Tuesday Israel’s Leviathan gas platform off of Haifa’s coast began operations. The offshore platform has been threatened by Hezbollah leader Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
And while the threat posed by Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border remains the main focus of the Navy and the IDF in general, the threat posed by terrorist groups on Israel’s southern border remains just as real.
In May, during a violent round of fighting that saw Hamas and PIJ launch 690 rockets and mortars into Israel over the span of less than 48 hours, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz ordered the suspension of natural gas supplies from the Tamar field over concerns that it could be targeted.
Israel receives most of its natural gas from Tamar, whose production platform stands just 20 kilometers off the coast of southern Israel – in clear sight of terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
But it’s not only rocket attacks that Israel has to worry about. The naval units of Hamas and PIJ have expanded significantly since the last war five years ago.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, five Hamas frogmen (naval commandos) tried to infiltrate Kibbutz Zikim before they were engaged and killed by the IDF. Since the conflict, Hamas has significantly expanded its naval commando unit with a reported 1,500 frogmen.
Last year, the IDF destroyed a naval terrorist tunnel belonging to Hamas which would have enabled terrorists who would enter from a Hamas military post in the northern Gaza Strip to exit into the sea unnoticed, making it possible for them to carry out terrorist acts against the State of Israel from the sea.
The route of the tunnel, which was operational but did not actually extend into Israeli waters, reached a depth of 2-3 meters and was 3 km. from the border with Israel. It was identified by the IDF as part of a campaign against Hamas’s naval force in the past year.
The tunnel was destroyed by an air strike, which was part of the IDF’s retaliation to the barrage of mortars and rockets launched from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Since then a number of other naval assets belonging to both Hamas and the PIJ have been destroyed by Israeli airstrikes.
The border with Gaza is Israel’s most explosive, with more than 1,000 rockets fired towards southern Israel over the past year and almost two years of violent protests along the border fence which has seen Palestinians launch numerous incendiary aerial devices and throw explosive devices toward troops.
Thousands of Palestinians have taken part in the protests, which has also seen naval flotillas from Gaza try to cross into Israeli waters.
“We are the maritime power,” the senior officer said, explaining that Squadron 916, which patrols the coast of the Gaza Strip, has played a central role in dealing with the violence stemming from the coastal enclave.
“We are following them. We will stop them before they can carry out an attack,” the senior naval officer said. “You always have to think when an attack can happen, and where, in order to be ready.
“We can’t allow ourselves to fall asleep at the wheel. We have to always think about what’s next,” he warned.