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Israeli Sea Corps
Tzva Hagana L'Yisrael Heyl Ha'Yam

The navy is not designated as a separate service. Officially known as the Sea Corps (Hel Yam), the navy enjoys more autonomy within the IDF structure than the official designation would suggest. The commander has the status of senior advisers to the chief of staff. Along with the ground force area commanders, the commander of the navy holds two-star rank.

By far the smallest arm of the IDF, the Israeli Sea Corps in 1987 consisted of about 1,000 officers and 8,000 enlisted personnel, including 3,200 conscripts. An additional 1,000 reserve personnel would be available on mobilization. The strength of the IN was estimated to include up to 2,500 conscripts. Jews and Druzes serve three years of national service. There is some debate as to the exact number of reserves but Israeli sources claim by 2008 that up to 10,000 reserves can be mobilised.

The fleet operated in two unconnected bodies of water -- on the Mediterranean Sea, where major naval ports were located at Haifa and Ashdod, and on the Gulf of Aqaba, with a naval facility at Elat. The first Reshefs were stationed in the Red Sea but were redeployed to the Mediterranean, via the Cape of Good Hope, after the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. As of 1988, the naval units protecting shipping on the Gulf of Aqaba were primarily Dabur-class coastal patrol boats.

Two Israel Navy warships made a rare crossing of Egypt's Suez Canal in July 2009, heading from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea in a voyage that could be seen as a warning signal to Iran. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the crossings were legitimate in accordance with an agreement between Cairo and Jerusalem. One of the ships, the Hanit, had reportedly already crossed the canal both ways in June 2009, in the first case of a large Israeli warship using the strategic waterway. During the maneuver in June, the Hanit accompanied an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine for a drill off Eilat - the first such voyage for the secret craft and a sign of Israel's growing strategic reach.

The navy had not established a marine corps, although it had created an elite unit of about 300 underwater commandos who have proved to be highly successful in amphibious assault and sabotage operations. Its naval air arm was limited to maritime reconnaissance conducted with Israeli-produced Seascan aircraft and rescue and surveillance missions performed with Bell helicopters. With a moderate number of landing craft, Israel could deliver small forces of troops and armored equipment for beach landings in the eastern Mediterranean. This capability was demonstrated in June 1982, when these amphibious units successfully landed an assault force of tanks, armored personnel carriers, engineering equipment, and paratroops behind PLO positions near Sidon on the Lebanese coast..

The navy is based to a considerable degree on the tactics and doctrine of the UK's Royal Navy. Standards of training are high, not only among serving officers and men but also among the reserves. Ship crews are augmented on a constant basis through the year by a steady flow of reservists, ensuring that reservists also receive a high standard of training. Most training is conducted in the Mediterranean; some is also carried out in Eilat. Commando training takes place at the naval commando base in Atlit.

Long neglected, the navy won acclaim for its successful engagements with the Syrian and Egyptian navies during the October 1973 War, when it sank eight Arab missile boats without the loss of a single Israeli vessel. The Soviet Union replaced Syria's wartime losses and provided an additional nine missile boats. The Egyptian fleet also introduced new and more advanced equipment after the 1973 conflict. With more than 140 units as of 1988, the Egyptian fleet was larger than that of Israel. Nevertheless, foreign observers believed that the balance of naval power still rested with Israel because of its technological and tactical superiority.

The role of the navy is to protect the Israeli coastline and territorial waters and to intercept any seaborne anti-Israeli guerrilla groups trying to infiltrate into Israeli territory from the sea. To this end, the navy carries out regular patrols both in territorial waters and also up to more than 100km from the shore. During the 1980s, sea infiltration by PLO terrorists presented the most immediate naval threat. With few exceptions the navy succeeded in thwarting such attacks, using missile boats to detect mother ships on the high seas, fast patrol craft for inshore patrolling, and offshore patrol aircraft for visual or radar detection of hostile activity. Nevertheless, Israeli defense planners accorded the navy the lowest priority among the IDF's three arms and, although it had been expanded, some Israeli defense experts warned that modernization was lagging behind that of the navies of the Arab states.

Particular attention is paid to the region where Israeli territorial waters adjoin those of Lebanon, off Rosh Haniqra. During 1995 Israeli naval forces mounted a blockade of port cities in southern Lebanon as part of a campaign to deter attacks on Israeli and allied SLA forces and during Operation `Grapes of Wrath' in April 1996 the IN shelled the main coastal road of southern Lebanon. The Israelis claimed the action was taken to prevent reinforcements reaching Hizbullah.

During the years when Palestinian forces in Lebanon posed a major threat to Israel, it was part of the role of the navy to interdict arms supplies bound for those forces. The major maritime threat to Israel today is seen as coming from Syria which, in the 1980s, used Soviet aid to boost its navy's operational capability and its coastal defences.

Because most of the potential maritime threats are found in the region of the Mediterranean, this is where most of the fleet is deployed, the navy's primary bases being Haifa and Ashdod. Just a few vessels are deployed at Eilat in the Red Sea - usually about seven Dabur class inshore patrol boats and a few other craft. The IN had a modest number of landing craft and one of its tasks has been to deliver small forces of Israeli troops and armoured equipment for beach landings. The navy showed its capability in this field when, during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, it successfully landed an assault force of armor and paratroops behind PLO positions near Sidon, on the Lebanese coast.

The discovery of large natural gas deposits in its offshore economic zone in 2009 came as a welcome surprise to Israel, transforming the energy security outlook of a country that had relied heavily on imports. An outburst of exploration followed, and by the end of 2013 at least 18 new wells are expected to be drilled at a cost of $1.8 billion.

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Page last modified: 24-10-2016 19:47:54 ZULU