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Israeli Navy: The Navy Throughout Israel's Wars

The Navy's story begins on March 17, 1948, when the Chief of the Haganah staff ordered the establishment of the “Naval Service.” It had a forerunner in the Palyam, though the main mission of the Palyam had been in transferring illegal immigrants from Europe to Palestine.

War of Independence (1948)
Sinai Campaign (1956)
Six-Day War (1967)
"The War After the War"
War of Attrition (1968-1970)
Yom Kippur War (1973)
First Lebanon War (1982)

The War of Independence (1948)

During the War of Independence, the Israel Navy undertook a number of actions and campaigns which led to Israel's command of the sea, despite the clear superiority of the enemy naval force. The most impressive Israeli naval operation during the war was the sinking of the Emir Farouk — the flagship of the Egyptian fleet — and the damaging of an Egyptian minesweeper that had been escorting troops and equipment to be landed in the combat areas.

In the post-war years of 1948-1955, the Israel Navy laid the foundations for its buildup. Vessels, guns, radar, and electronic equipment were purchased; combat doctrine developed; sea training upgraded.

The Sinai Campaign (1956)

During the Sinai Campaign, the Israel Navy successfully carried out missions that included:

Supporting the ninth division on its way to Sharm-e-Sheik.

Recovering a complete Egyptian MIG aircraft from the Bardawil lagoon. This recovery by the Navy provided the Israel Air Force with an excellent opportunity to learn about the systems and vulnerable points of their aircraft, which had been used extensively by the Egyptians.

Capturing the Egyptian flagship, the Ibrahim el-Awal, on the night of October 30-31, 1956. This was the crowning achievement of the Israel Navy during the Sinai Campaign. The destroyer's crew were taken prisoner and the vessel was towed to Haifa port, where it was refitted and commissioned as the third destroyer in the Israel Navy, under the name INS Haifa.

The Six-Day War (1967)

When the Six Day War broke out, the Israel Navy was in the midst of the process of replacing its old craft with new ones. The Navy was thus forced to use its antiquated equipment to defend Israel's coastline and to attack enemy craft and their bases. Though Arab countries enjoyed a quantitative superiority in naval assets and equipment. They did not attempt to interdict Israel's sea lanes, and in those cases where they tried to approach the Israeli coastline, they were forced to retreat in the face of the Israeli Navy.

The Israel Navy operated in two theaters, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. In the Red Sea, the Israel Navy took Sharm-e-Sheik, at the southernmost point of the Sinai peninsula.

One of the immediate results of the Six Day War was the addition of 800 km of coastline, which increased five-fold the area which now had to be protected by the Israel Navy,

“The War after the War”

The end of the Six-Day War failed to bring quiet to the new borders. Israel's Arab neighbors did not accept their defeat. Sporadic flare-ups began immediately after the war. These included terror operations and static artillery bombardments. Following a series of incidents, the Navy instituted patrols to ensure Israel's sovereignty and to protect the coastline. Every night, Israeli Navy vessels made sorties along the Sinai coastline up to Port Said. On the night of July 11-12, 1967, the INS Eilat and two Israeli torpedo boats identified two targets as two Egyptian torpedo boats off the Rumani coast. They immediately engaged the vessels and sank them.

In the year after the Six-Day War, the Navy suffered two heavy losses. In October 1967, the destroyer INS Eilat was sunk, and a few months later, the submarine INS Dakar was lost, with its entire crew of 69 sailors, on its maiden voyage from Portsmouth, England to Israel. To this day, the Israel Navy continues its efforts to find the INS Dakar and bring its crew to burial in Israel.

The War of Attrition (1968-1970)

Coordinated by Egypt, the War of Attrition had the aim of engaging Israel in a bloody conflict that would make use of the Arab countries' superior assets. The principal theater of operations for the Israel Navy during this war was the Suez Canal. The Egyptians initiated incidents incessantly using heavy artillery at Israeli positions east of the Suez and accompanied by incursions. These attacks inflicted heavy casualties. The Israel Navy responded by attacking targets on the west coast of the Suez Canal, driving the “war” to enemy territory.

Between December 1967 and January 1970, the Navy took possession of missile boats that were built in Cherbourg. Delivered unarmed, they were outfitted with Israeli- designed and produced Gabriel missiles.

The Yom Kippur War (1973)

On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the Navy was perhaps more ready for combat than any other part of the IDF. When the war began, Navy ships and men were on full alert and at stations. Despite the fact that the Israel Navy was smaller in size than the enemy navies, it carried out successful attacks on enemy vessels and ports and prevented enemy craft from attacking Israeli shores.

The following were some of the main battles of the war:

The first sea-to-sea missile battle in the history of naval warfare, which occurred at the entrance to the Syrian port of Latakia, during which 5 Syrian ships, including 3 missile boats, a mine layer and a gun boat, were sunk.

The battle of Port Said, during which an Israeli missile boat sank an Egyptian missile boat.

The battle of Damietta, in which an Israeli missile boat task force intercepted and sank four Egyptian missile boats.

In these battles, the Israeli Dabur (Hornet) missile boat was the main power of the Navy. In the battles of Marse Telemat, De Castro, and Ras Arib, the Israel Navy attacked and destroyed enemy vessels. In addition, naval commandos were active in Ardaka.

After the war, the Navy extended its deployment of missile boats to Sharm-e-Sheik which enabled the Israel Navy to conduct operations further south. At the same time, the Navy was involved in intensive activities on the northern front due to the infiltration of terrorists and the intensification of security patrols. For this purpose, the Navy acquired a new generation of submarines (Gal) — new missile boats built in Israeli shipyards, and Harpoon sea-to-sea missiles.

The period between the Yom Kippur and Peace for Galilee Wars (1973-1982) was one of the increased terrorist activities against Israel. This required the Navy to find suitable solutions, based on intensive patrol operations along the coastline.

The Peace for Galilee War (1982)

Naval activities in the Peace for Galilee war were highlighted by amphibious operations. In the first days of the war, the Navy succeeded in landing armored brigades, infantry, and paratroopers on the Awali coast. During the war, the Navy also provided support to the ground forces through the bombardment of the Lebanese coastline, as well as raising a siege on Beirut from the sea. The Navy was also responsible for attacking terrorist targets along the Lebanese coastline.

Sources: Israel Defense Forces.
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