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.