For the first time, IDF troops will actively participate in a NATO operation in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Active Endeavor maritime counter-terror operation. The decision to send an Israeli Navy ship was made recently by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and commander of the Navy Adm. Eliezer Marom. It has not yet been decided which ship would participate in the operation. Last year, the navy sent an intelligence officer to sit in NATO's Active Endeavor operations room based in Naples. NATO launched Operation Active Endeavor in the wake of 9/11 and has succeeded in bringing together a number of countries from the Mediterranean, at a center in Naples to share information concerning naval terror and suspicious ships in the region. Morocco and Algeria - like Israel, members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - are also seriously considering sending officers to the Naples-based project. If that happens, it will be the first time that Israeli, Algerian and Moroccan officers were cooperating at such a high level. Since its inception after 9/11, NATO forces have hailed over 100,000 merchant vessels, and boarded some 148 suspicious vessels. While Israel has over the past decade participated in numerous NATO exercises - mostly at sea - it has never sent troops or navy ships to play an operational role in the military alliance's operations. On Wednesday, for example, the INS Lahav sailed from the Aksaz Turkish Naval Base to participate in the Reliant Mermaid search-and-rescue naval exercise with the Turkish and American navies. The exercise focuses on search and rescue scenarios and is designed to improve interoperability and cooperation among participating countries. Defense officials said that the decision to send a ship to participate in Active Endeavor has already been approved by the defense establishment and that Israel was currently waiting for final approval from NATO before dispatching the vessel.