The port of Haifa, known as Israel’s gateway to the sea, is not only home to cargo and commercial vessels. This hub connecting Israel to the Mediterranean Sea is also home to a vast array of Israel Navy Ships, dedicated to guarding Israel’s shores. In order to stay in tip-top shape, navy ships drill their skills and emergency preparedness. Here’s an in-depth look at what goes on behind the scenes on one of the IDF (Zahal)’s most important patrol boats.
The Dvora-class patrol boat is the staple of security on the Mediterranean. Routine patrols, rescue missions, special operations, preventing illegal activities, and counter-terrorism are just some of the many tasks these fast vessels are responsible for.
The Israel Navy Ship (INS) Degel, one of the Dvora-class ships, is manned by an energetic crew and led by Capt. G, a captain both in job and rank. Recently, the INS Degel completed a multi-staged, day-long training exercise in the waters of the Mediterranean off the coast of Haifa.
Capt. G at the helm of the INS Degel
This training, which takes place once a month, is a recurring part of the sailors rotating schedule on the ship. The soldiers, who are considered combat soldiers in the IDF (Zahal), serve in a rotation in which they work for one week on guarding Israel’s maritime border – specifically in the north with Lebanon – followed by one week taking care of their vessel.
Departure from Port
As birds swarm the deck of the INS Degel, Capt. G runs down his final checklist with his soldiers to make sure the ship is ready for its voyage. The crew is made up of eight soldier, each of which has completed intensive training in their position lasting up to nine months.
The crew gathers on the bow of the Degel and calls out the name of their boat in unison before raising the Israeli flag on the bridge of the vessel. After receiving the go ahead from the situation room – located inside one of the many naval bases in Haifa – the crew sets out for sea.
Maneuvering in Open Water
After the brief trip from dock to open sea, the INS Degel maneuvers into formation with four other Dvora-class ships. The five boats practice traveling at high speed and creating different arrangements based on fictitious scenarios.
First the boats position themselves in the “boaz” formation. The five ships travel in a straight row, side-by-side, at full speed heading west. After tight coordination and positioning between the boats, Capt. G leads the others into a “victor” formation. They quickly create a column with about one hundred meters between each ship.
The flotilla moves into the “victor” formation
Capt. G signals the others over the radio, and one-by-one they peel off from the column and, like birds migrating south, create a flying “V” formation. The boats perform these maneuvers several times at top speeds and the professionalism and experience of the soldiers shows, as they do so without a hitch.
After drilling the different formations, the boats practice emergency scenarios on the water. First, they simulate an infiltration from Lebanon. Next, they drill under the assumption that a soldier has been kidnapped on the beach. These fictitious scenarios force the boats to respond quickly and effectively, training them for the certain emergency scenarios they will face in the future.
The last emergency scenario they replicate is a simulation of an injured soldier onboard the Degel. The soldiers work quickly to tie down any loose objects and lower all flags in order to assure nothing will interfere with the blades of the incoming helicopter.
The soldiers take five jerry cans, fill them with water, and tie them together, creating a mock-soldier weighing approximately 175lb. They secure the jerry cans to a stretcher and wait for the chopper to position itself over the vessel. As the helicopter approaches, a soldier from the Israel Air Force peaks out the side to direct the pilot.
Close coordination and communication between the IAF and the navy ensure that the helicopter can safely situate itself over top of the Degel, despite conditions on the water. Using hand signals, the sailors direct the chopper, and the stretcher is raised up to the helicopter from a winch system inside the helicopter.
The air force soldiers signal the sailors and lower the stretcher back down. The transfer of the injured soldier was a success and the helicopter returns to its air force base as the Degel continues its training.
Feeding the Hungry
After long hours of training, the soldiers of the INS Degel are ready to eat. Fried chicken patties, hot dogs, kebabs, and juice – a luxurious meal considering the fighters are located many kilometers off Israel’s shore.
“Anyone know how to make hot dogs?” asks one soldier as the rest wait anxiously for their meal. Despite the Degel’s relatively complete kitchen, none of the soldiers are trained chefs. But that does not seem to phase the soldiers who finish every last ounce of food provided to them. They must energize themselves before the coming part of the exercise: live fire.
Ready, Aim, Fire
The sunset from Israel is a unique one; the sun sets over the sea in the west, creating the illusion that it is sinking into the depths of the Mediterranean. The soldiers on the Degel take the opportunity to enjoy the sunset and take a two-hour break to chat amongst themselves. Capt. G suddenly emerges from the cabin directing each one to their “battle stations.”
It seems there is an imminent threat that they must eliminate in the waters close by. The soldiers begin by preparing a booey with glow sticks attached. By now, it is completely dark outside and the glow sticks will help them identify the target.
After dropping the booey, Capt. G directs the ship in a wide circle many kilometers from the target. The ship comes to a rest and rocks on the waves for nearly twenty minutes while they await the go-ahead from the situation room.
Suddenly, Capt. G’s voice booms over the communications system of the patrol boat, and the ship is heading full speed towards the booey. The weapons systems of the Dvora are extensive. The main armament is a weapons station located on the bow of the ship. This system is composed of a remotely controlled cannon and heavy machine gun. This weapons station is completely controlled from the inside of the ship and the operator uses a camera – which also has night vision – to track and follow targets.
On the stern of the ship is a .50 caliber machine gun with the ability to rotate 360 degrees to defend against any enemy or attacking ship. Similarly, the sides of the ship are flanked with two MAG machine guns and each soldier is equipped with an M-16 for self-defense.
As the ship approaches the booey, the INS Degel opens fire with its biggest armament, and main defense, the cannon on the bow of the ship. The boat then banks left and soldiers positioned on the starboard side of the ship open fire. First the .50 caliber, then the MAG, and lastly a soldier manning an M-16 all fire on the booey, seemingly destroying the target.
Back to Base
After over 12 hours of intense drilling on the Mediterranean Sea, Capt. G’s crew is finally on its way back to the port of Haifa. The ship races back against the growing waves, and as the boat finally approaches the harbor to dock, the captain gets a call over the radio from the situation room.
A larger navy vessel is on its way to port and must be escorted by the Dvora-class patrol boat. Without hesitation, Capt. G turns the vessel around and heads back to open sea and once again the crew is out on their never-ending mission of patrolling the waters of the Mediterranean.