SECURITY and DEFENSE: The navy’s missile ships have changed goals, reorganized, and now prepare for war on all fronts.
Operations carried out by the Israel Navy in what is dubbed the “war between wars” have been kept in the shadows, until recently.
But a series of leaks to the media, and reports on Iranian attacks against Israeli-owned civilian cargo ships, revealed the intensity of the ongoing shadow war between Jerusalem and Tehran in the areas of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as the role of the Israeli Navy in that war.
The Navy is comprised of three main active units: the 3rd Flotilla (Shayetet 3), the missile ship unit; the 7th Flotilla (Shayetet 7), the submarine unit; and the 13th Flotilla (Shayetet 13), the Navy commando unit.
While the last two enjoy the fame of prestigious, secret elite units that carry out missions beyond enemy lines, the 3rd Flotilla is an integral part of the Navy’s activities during routine times, during emergencies, and also during war.
“We are working in synergy,” Cmdr. Guy Barak, OC deputy commander of the 3rd Flotilla, told the Jerusalem Post in an interview on the deck of INS Romah. “Each unit holds abilities and capabilities that the other one lacks. What allows the Navy to be successful in its missions is the connectivity between the units.
“Each flotilla knows how to bring its advantages to the battlefield, and to compensate the disadvantage of the others.
Shayetet 13 knows how to secretly operate in the sea and onshore; Shayetet 7 knows how to operate very close to enemy shores, what our flotilla won’t do; and Shayetet 3 knows how to gain control over a large sea area, and to deal with a variety of threats. Each unit is essential – the submarines with their fabulous intelligence-collecting ability, the commando with their covert activities in enemy territory, and us, with our ability to dominate the sea.”
The 3rd Flotilla is based on six fighting troops that use the different kinds of battleships: the Sa’ar 4.5, Sa’ar 5, and the new Sa’ar 6. All ships, including the older ones that are constantly updated and re-outfitted, use cutting-edge technologies in all naval fields.
The ships are equipped with missile defense systems, sea-to-sea, sea-to-air, and sea-to-surface missiles, cannons, light weapons, and advanced intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities. Some have unique capabilities, such as submarine exposure and attack weapons.
“I’ve worked with other navies around the world,” Barak said. “Our small ships are considered to be the densest ones, but they have the same capabilities, if not more, of the big ones that are used by foreign navies.”
Among the tasks of the flotilla are maintaining maritime superiority, protecting Israel’s economic sea, defending essential infrastructures such as the gas and oil platforms, and keeping the country’s trade routes open.
IN RECENT YEARS, the Navy has been undergoing major changes. It started by redefining its goals, which led to a change in its formation and in the way it operates, prepares for war, and works with the rest of the army.
Barak said that the attack on the INS Hanit in the Second Lebanon War was a turning point in the way the Navy sees modern warfare.
“The rocket that hit the ship was launched from the coast, not from another corvette,” he said. “We understood that gaining maritime superiority also includes eliminating threats onshore. We made maritime superiority the core issue. That affected the formation of the navy and the way we apply force.”
As part of the change, he said, “we developed new systems and combat doctrines that help us apply our new perception. We also created new operational plans that combine our new perception with the new technologies and weapons, and they are being exercised.”
Another aspect added to the equation is the multi-domain abilities and the connectivity that the entire army is undergoing, as part of the Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s “Tnufa” multi-year plan.
The plan aims to strengthen the ability of different units of different branches to be interoperable, to use their different capabilities in day-to-day activities and in times of war.
“We bring with us two main qualities,” Barak said. “We have cutting-edge intelligence abilities that enable us to create a live, thorough intelligence image that includes discovering enemy forces in the sea, under the sea, in the air and on the shore.
“The other quality is our firepower. In this context, I would like to address the way the next war with Hezbollah will look like, the way I see it.”
A recent IDF Intelligence Directorate assessment held that the Israeli front most likely to erupt and develop into a campaign is the northern front. It is believed that Hezbollah is still seeking to avenge the death of its operatives last summer in Syria, in an airstrike that is attributed to the IAF.
“In the next war in the North, there will be such an amount of fire coming from the sea that was never seen before,” said Barak. “It will be a severe blow to the enemy, not only because the IDF focuses on this front, and not only because of the IDF’s munitions, but because of the intelligence abilities and the lethality that it brings with it.
“Within this frame,” Barak continued, “the Navy in general and the 3rd Flotilla in specific hold a big role, first and foremost in maintaining the maritime superiority, and also in its commitment to making sure that the army’s tasks are carried out.
“I am not sure that the enemy understands how severe the fire strike in the next war will be. It would be disproportional in comparison to what it saw in the past. We are ready for this. We are not happy to go to war, but we are ready for the war that could break out even tonight.”
THE BATTLESHIP flotilla carries out routine drills on a daily basis.
Earlier this week, Barak’s 32 Troop carried out a drill that involved almost all of its battleships.
Among them were INS Yaffo, INS Kidon, and INS Romah, which has special anti-submarine capabilities.
The exercise included dealing with a fire that broke in the corvette, a ship that needs to be dragged by another one, and eliminating a threat of small vessels attacking the ship.
The routine that is used onboard while engaging a threat is called “the terror-attack melody,” in which the ship’s weapon’s officer and his soldiers who operate the weapon systems are using the radio to constantly provide details regarding the threat, such as the distance from it and the weapons that are needed to be used.
“We call it a melody because the details that are constantly updated are said so fast, it creates kind of a melody,” said an officer in INS Romah. “There are so many elements that need to be taken in account in such a short time, and it is up the corvette’s commander to make the decision.”
Barak said that what makes the Navy so powerful is not only the advanced technology and munitions, but the people.
“There are over 20 different professions here on the ship,” he said. “From operation different weapon and intelligence systems, through maintaining advanced electronic systems, to technical engine and mechanic systems… We have soldiers here, in regular service, who are doing the job of three soldiers in a standing army in other navies.
“I am very proud of this place. I believe the people of this unit. I know that if there will be a war, the combat soldiers here will be a significant factor in the IDF’s ability to win it.”