Sailors take the war to Hamas from new front

By Yaakov Katz, January 14, 2009
Israeli soldiers on the bridge of the Navy ship Keshet as it patrols off the south Lebanese coast

Israeli soldiers on the bridge of the Navy ship Keshet as it patrols off the south Lebanese coast

The Navy ship approaches the Gaza Strip quietly under the cover of darkness.

It is 2am and the ship is patrolling the coast of Gaza in search of Palestinians who use the beaches as launch pads for Kassam rocket attacks into the western Negev.

Using a high-tech thermal camera, the sailors scan the shore to ensure that no Israeli soldiers are in range of the Typhoon artillery cannon.

Suddenly, as the camera focuses on a hotel under construction, one of the soldiers says: “Wait a second, there is something there.” The camera zooms in on what turns out to be a pack of dogs.

Later, Lt Yoni picks out a section of land from which Kassams have been fired and a volley of artillery shells pounds the area.

“There are indications that terrorists fire rockets from that area to Ashkelon and Ashdod,” explained Yoni, commander of the 25m Shaldag-class Fast Patrol Boat, which can reach a cruising speed of up to 45 knots.

“We sit off the coast and hunt down rocket cells,” explains a senior Navy officer. “We also maintain the sea blockade on Gaza and ensure that no weapons are shipped into the Strip from overseas.”

Ships have some advantages over air and ground forces. Navy weapons are not limited by the weather — a ship can hit its targets even through fog and clouds — and carry very precise weapons. In some cases, the navy fired shells through a window into a building where Hamas gunmen were spotted.

Several other Israel Navy vessels sail in the area, including Sa’ar 4.5-class boats.

“We can get to places where no one else can get,” a senior navy officer said. “We have weapons with great accuracy as well as the ability to stay at sea for an extended period of time.”

Last updated: 4:48pm, January 14 2009