Watch the Israeli Navy train to rescue hostages by sea

TEL AVIV, Israel – The Israeli Navy is completing its after-action review of a complex two-day hostage rescue exercise conducted at sea earlier this week.

The exercise, dubbed Sea Minister, involved dozens of naval forces, including elite Flotilla 13 commandos, which were deployed in response to a simulated terrorist takeover of a large merchant ship offshore of the northern Mediterranean coast of Israel.

Designed as a war game, the exercise was intentionally unscripted and open-ended to capture the uncertainty that typically surrounds such complex operations, said Rear Admiral Ido, chief of force implementation in the branch of operations. from the Israeli Navy, to Defense News.

“We gave all the actors the opportunity for independent judgment.… I didn’t even know how it would end. We dealt with all of this, in all of its stages, as the mission evolved,” said Ido, the commander. there, whose last name was retained as a condition for the interview.

According to the officer, the scenario began with a distress call from the “civilian” ship, which activated Israeli Navy procedures to collect intelligence identifying the ship and its precise location. At the same time, the Navy began negotiations with the “hostage-takers” to assess their demands and operational objectives.

At this point, the Navy assessed there were 10 hostages and “a similar number” of terrorists on board, he said.

“We knew we were dealing with a seizure of a civilian ship, an act of terror… but first we had to understand what their intentions were. Did they plan a suicide mission or did they have requirements? said the officer. “Our goal, at the end of the day, was to take back the ship, neutralize the terrorists and free the hostages.”

Tactics determined for the operation included a quick drop onto the ship’s deck by an Israeli Air Force helicopter as another unit marched towards the ship by sea. At the same time, relevant “authorities” across Israel’s defense establishment have been made aware of the situation.

“It’s a complicated operational challenge to have an exercise that goes on just a normal day. … Until a moment ago it seemed like we were dealing with a civilian ship, then suddenly it became a national operation, involving the General Staff, Air Force, ground forces, anti-terrorist operators and missile units, ”the commander noted.

The exercise involved coordinated joint force operations. “We practiced full synchronization to determine the right time and the right conditions for our attack,” he said.

“In the end, the activity was successful. We managed to overtake the ship and kill most of the terrorists. One of the hostages was killed and we were injured,” the officer said.

The Israeli Navy conducts several intensive exercises during the year, including with its American counterparts. However, the technologies, tactics, and procedures practiced in the war game are something the Navy has yet to share with other nations, beyond its primary American ally.

“There is a mix of abilities that we don’t tend to share; only with the Americans,” the officer said.

Twitter: @opallrome

Opall-Rome is the Israeli bureau chief for Defense News. She has covered US-Israeli strategic cooperation, Middle East security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit his website at