UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Sa'ar 1 / Sa'ar 2 / Sa'ar 3

The story of the "stealing" of the five Israeli missile boats - which had already been paid for - from the French shipyard of Cherbourg at the end of 1969 is one of great daring, resourcefulness, drama, and ingenuity. Few condemned Israel in the world arena at that time - the massive condemnation Israel was to endure in the world arena came mainly in the wake of Israel's victory in the 1973 War. The Cherbourg boats were, in Israeli military thinking, essential for the modernization of her navy and the security of the state. The point was vividly brought home one day in October 1967 - a few months after Israel's lightning victory in June.

The West had few boats of the kind Israel was looking for, so the Israelis began designing their own boats. These were to be fast and maneuverable, and packed full of on-board instrumentation. The boats were originally supposed to be built in Germany, and indeed production did begin. The Germans were already building the most advanced missile craft until then, called the Jaguar, and the Israelis thought it could be a good match. Israel was also developing her Gabriel missile, which would be perfect for the fast-moving Jaguar missile boats. The Gabriel missile had an advantage over its Soviet counterparts in its ability to fly low over the sea after launching, and thus avoid detection by radar.

Accordingly, in late 1962 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent Deputy Defense Minister Shimon Peres to Germany, where he met Chancellor Adenauer. Adenauer had agreed to supply Israel with arms as part of an attempt to make reparations for Germany's crimes against world Jewry, and now he signed an agreement as requested to supply Israel with twelve of the Jaguar vessels. They were to be built in German shipyards but Adenauer asked that the deal remain secret, so as not to incur the wrath of Arab countries should they find out. By the end of 1964 three of the twelve missile boats had been built and delivered from Germany to Israel. But a German member of the government leaked news of the deal to the New York Times at that time. He apparently still harbored Nazi sympathies and did not wish to help Israel. When the news appeared the Arabs were enraged, and Germany caved in to Arab threats of economic sanctions, and even a boycott, of German goods.

The Germans, however, agreed that the boats could be constructed elsewhere. The Israelis gave the work to Cherbourg shipyards in the southern coast of France. Thus there was little damage incurred by the German renunciation of their agreement to build the boats, other than a lingering feeling that the Germans should have been more considerate of Israeli sensibilities than Arab ones.

In the mid 1960's the French were supplying Israel with perhaps three quarters of Israel's arms. It made good sense to work with the French, and it also gave a boost to Cherbourg's under-employed work force. For the time being everyone was happy. The Cherbourg shipyard workers had little experience of building ships of this kind, but with the German designs and the Israelis on hand, they were able to begin construction of the ships. The Gabriel missiles were being built simultaneously in Israel - and they would cost more than the ships themselves.

Within a few months over 200 Israelis were living and working in the port town of Cherbourg. Many of them were French speakers - often Israelis who were born in and emigrated from the French provinces of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The Israelis, with linguistic and cultural affinity with their French hosts, fitted into their surroundings smoothly.

The first boat to leave Cherbourg did so in April 1967 (it was the fourth ship overall to arrive in Israel, including the three ships delivered from Germany already), and the second left about a month later. These boats arrived too late to be armed and of use during the Six-Day War of June 1967. But that was inconsequential. An event was to occur soon after with much greater implications. On June 2, 1967, just a few days before Israel's preemptive strike on Egyptian airfields on June 5, 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle declared that France would no longer supply weapons of "offensive nature" to the Middle East - which basically meant Israel. On the eve of war, Israel was cut suddenly cut off from her major source of arms.

This event may have hastened Israel's decision to make a preemptive strike, in that a hoped-for quick end to the war would not obviate the need for spare parts and a resupply of weapons from the French - which would not be forthcoming. With the end of the war with Algeria and the French withdrawal from her former Arabic-speaking provinces in North Africa a few short years before the 1967 War, France was interested in rebuilding her relations with Arab states and assuring a free supply of oil and economic concessions in the Middle East. Israel only figured into their calculations negatively.

But no one seemed to have noticed the embargo in Cherbourg. Two more boats sailed for Israel in the Fall of 1967. But things took a turn for the worse. On December 26, 1967, Palestinians attacked an Israeli aircraft at Athens airport. In retaliation, two days later Israeli commandos attacked Beirut airport and blew up 13 Lebanese aircraft on the ground. French Premier de Gaulle was enraged. He "declared that the French arms embargo would now be total." This meant the Cherbourg boats too - de Gaulle was refusing to remove the embargo from the boats that had already been paid for by Israel.

Three more missile boats were almost complete in Cherbourg Harbor. On January 4, 1969, a week after de Gaulle made news with his announcement of the complete embargo on weapons bound for Israel, small crews made their way onto the boats. The Israeli crews spent three hours getting them ready. When all was set, they raised the Israeli flag and set off. No one challenged them. They simply sailed into the English Channel and never returned.

While accusations flew between the government in Paris and the locals in Cherbourg, construction continued on the last five missile boats "as if nothing had happened." The Israelis had no intention of renouncing their boats, and had every every intention of getting them. The question was how to do so - and legally, because Israel did not want to worsen the already aggravated relations between France and herself over the issue.

In November 1969 a man named Martin Siem came to visit Felix Amiot, the French supervisor of the missile boats in Cherbourg, and expressed an interest in purchasing the boats. He presented himself as a Norwegian shipping owner, who was involved in oil exploration off the coast of Alaska. He claimed his company was based in Panama. The two quickly closed the deal, and the French government approved it. The Panamanian-based Norwegian firm had in fact only been created a few weeks before. Martin Siem, who was in truth a very big shipping magnate in Norway, was friends with the Israeli shipping magnate Mila Brenner. Brenner persuaded Siem to work as a front man on behalf of Israel.

It seems quite likely that the French ministerial committee assigned to examine all French arms exports must have contained at least one, if not several, people who were sympathetic to Israel and were willing to help her get the missile boats. This would seem to be so because the cover story Israel used seemed highly improbable. But there was nothing the Israelis could think of which would make more sense.

The Mossad plan was to take the boats on Christmas Eve, when all of France would be celebrating and it seemed very unlikely that many people would be paying attention to the goings-on at Cherbourg Harbor. By late afternoon, about 20 Israeli sailors were aboard each of the five boats. At some point on the night of December 24/25, 1969, the five missile boats engined their way out of the harbor into the English Channel. On December 26 local and then international news picked up wind of the story. The French government soon knew what had happened and were furious again. But with the boats on the high seas already, they recognized there was little they could do.

The Israeli government did not accept direct responsibility at first. The boats did receive attention on the high seas however, as the sailors aboard viewed a myriad of French Mirages flying overhead. Later they encountered American and even Soviet ships. But the boats motored on to Israel unimpeded. As the ships approached the shores of Israel, an escort of Israeli fighter planes accompanied them. They were safe then, and they were received with public jubilation when they arrived in Israel.

The boats reached Israel unarmed and at first were only armed with 40-mm cannon and machine guns in Israel. In this configuration they became later retroactively the the Sa'ar 1 class. Since the armament progressed only sluggishly, some boats were not activated also any longer without rockets. The available statements over the the equipment condition of the individual classes are partially conflicting. This may be because of the fact that the armament of the boats remained always non-uniform.

In any case at the beginning of the 1970s took place a re-armament with Gabriel rockets and partly with 76-mm Oto Melara cannon on the foredeck as well as four torpedo tubes, re-equipment to the Sa'ar-2 class. Beginning in the 1980s the Gabriel rockets were replaced totally or partly by Harpoon missiles. Apparent thereby also a torpedo tube was removed. Half of the boats became so reequipped to the Sa'ar 3 class. The last boats of the former Sa' ar-1 class were deactivated in 1995.

The boats had a beam of 7 meters and were 45 meters long, with a draft of 2.3 meters at a displacement of about 250 tons. On tests without armament, the boats reached speeds of well over 40 knots. The drive was diesel engines on four propeller, the four MTU MD/871 series 16 cylinder turbocharged engines.

The boats had an unusual variety of means for electronic warfare and radio, radar and sonar for time at which they entered service. The armament consisted of two 4 cm guns on the front and the afterdeck and two 12.7 mm machine-guns in double-mounts or a third 4 cm gun behind the bridge structure.

Ahi Kidon was one of 12 Cherbourg boats, a sibling to Ahi Mivtach boat, stationed at the Naval Museum on the western outskirts of Haifa. Tow other Cherbourg boats are the Ahi Miznak, which was sunk west of the Big Raft in Haifa, and Ahi Sufa, the famous missile boat in Eilat. A unique diving resort and a must for all divers wherever they may be, this location serves as an underwater monument for all the soldiers who fell in the battle of Ansaria, Lebanon. On the front deck, twelve school chairs were installed in a semicircle shape, to which signs were attached to indicate the names of the fallen. This year, the original chairs were replaced with stainless steel chairs and the names were engraved into the seats. A commemoration plaque was placed at the base of the semicircle. The maximum depth in the location reaches roughly 29 meters, and the boat "sits" in the heart of what seems to look like "a promenade, if u will, a kind of a road splitting the reef into two sections." Opposite the diving location, at Shavei Zion Beach, is the land based monument attributed to the fallen.

he "Sufa" missile boat was sunken deliberately in 1994 to serve as a dive site. 45 meter long, 5-7 meters wide and a metal structure covered with many soft corals, the "Sufa" has become a home for a wide range of coral fish and sea life. It rests at a bottom depth of 24 meters, about 80 meters off shore.

Type: Sa'ar 3 Missile boat
Displacement: 210 tons (250 tons loaded)
Length: 45 m (148 ft)
Beam: 7.62 m (25.0 ft)
Speed: 42 knots (78 km/h)
  • 1,500 nautical miles (2,800 km) at 19 knots (35 km/h)
  • 500 nautical miles (930 km) at 30 knots (56 km/h)
  • Electronic warfare and decoys:
  • Surface/air search radar - Neptune/S.P.S
  • Fire-control radar - Orion
  • Armament:
  • 4 Harpoon launchers,
  • 6 Gabriel SSN missiles,
  • 76 mm Oto Melara gun
  • BoatLaunchCommfate
    Sa'ar 2
    INS Mivtach Reliance3111969retired
    1974 - converted from Sa'ar 1
    INS MiznakJet branch 3121969retired
    1974 - converted from Sa'ar 1
    INS MisgavStronghold 3131969retired
    1974 - converted from Sa'ar 1
    INS Eilat 3211969retired
    INS Haifa 3221969retired
    INS Akko 3231969retired
    Sa'ar 3
    INS Sa'arTempest33119691970retired
    INS SufaStorm 33219691970retired
    INS Ga'ashRage 33319691970retired
    INS HerevSword 34119691970retired
    INS HanitSpear 342196919701988 - sold to Chile
    INS HetzArrow 343196919701988 - sold to Chile

    Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

    Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:19:42 ZULU