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Israeli C4I unit's stealth support aids high-seas seizure

Apr. 1, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME   |   Comments
This map depicts the route traveled by a ship carrying arms destined for Gaza. The Israel Navy seized the Panamanian-flagged freighter March 5 in the Red Sea south of Sudan. The information was released in an IDF document that described Operation Full Disclosure.
This map depicts the route traveled by a ship carrying arms destined for Gaza. The Israel Navy seized the Panamanian-flagged freighter March 5 in the Red Sea south of Sudan. The information was released in an IDF document that described Operation Full Disclosure. (Israeli Defense Forces)
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TEL AVIV — Israeli military officers are crediting a shadowy C4I unit as the unsung heroes of Operation Full Disclosure, a months-long mission that led to the high-seas capture of an Iranian arms cache some 1,500 kilometers from the Israeli coast.

From early operational planning through the March 5 seizure of a Panamanian-flagged freighter south of Sudan, the Choshen Brigade provided the pivotal C4I links connecting Israel Navy commandos, airborne assets and intelligence arms to the country’s military high command.

Months of meticulous intelligence collection preceded the Red Sea commando raid of the Klos-C and its cargo of Syrian-produced, Chinese-designed M-302 heavy rockets hidden under Iranian-labeled sacks of cement.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the seized cargo constituted weapons of “strategic significance” destined for terrorist organizations in Gaza. He blamed Iran and its Republican Guard for the smuggling campaign that began with a Damascus flight to Tehran and overland trucking to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where the camouflaged cargo was loaded onto Klos-C.

From Bandar Abbas, Ya’alon said the ship plied a circuitous route — “for purposes of deception” — through the Arabian Gulf to Iraq’s Umm Qasr port, reversing course back through the gulf, and then around Africa before entering the Red Sea en route to Sudan. From Sudan, Ya’alon said smugglers aimed to use a “well-known terrorists transport route” through the Sinai peninsula and underground tunnels to Gaza.

Ya’alon gave credit for the bloodless intercept to Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff; Navy chief Rear Adm. Ram Rothberg; IDF intelligence; Naval Intelligence; the Mossad; and “Air Force pilots who escorted the Naval ships en route to their objective.”

But overlooked for public praise was the IDF’s Choshen Brigade, which provided persistent support from a spectrum of air, space, ground and sea-based assets.

“An operation like this cannot happen without it,” said a former officer in Choshen, the brigade subordinate to the Information Technology Division of the IDF General Staff’s C4I Branch.

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“Flotilla 13 gets the headlines, and justifiably so,” he said of the elite Navy commando force at the point of the spear in the operation. “But credit should also go to our dedicated professionals behind the scenes, who operated over long distances to provide the capacity for command and control.”

From Navy ships far out at sea to the converted executive jets used for airborne telecommunications relay missions, the brigade’s three specialty battalions tapped Israel’s most sensitive C4I systems to link all points in the chain of command.

Col. Eyal Bar, the Choshen Brigade commander, said the unit was intimately involved in the target tracking and verification, as well as the pinpoint operation of seizing the ship.

“The communication package that we developed for this operation was divided into two. We understood that one end of the situational picture has enormous influence over the picture at the other end,” Bar said. “Our task was to come up with creative ways of tailoring technological solutions for all points in the operational spectrum.”

Security restrictions prevented Bar from detailing the many air-, space-, sea- and land-based assets used to transmit huge volumes of data across varied networks in ways that were secure and selectively tailored “for the right users at the right time.

“In the world of operational communications, you can’t rely on only one means of technology,” he said. “We had to combine all of our capabilities at exceedingly long range, and that meant putting people on ships, in the air and in command centers back home.”

Avraham Ben-Shoshan, a former commander of the Navy, hailed the interception, which delivered significant operational, diplomatic and deterrent benefits to Israel.

“It was an exceedingly complicated operation that was masterful in its implementation,” he said. “It exposed Iran’s duplicity, prevented dangerous weapons from reaching our border and once again demonstrated our long-arm deterrent capabilities.”

The March 5 seizure of Klos-C follows a string of high-seas arms interdiction operations in recent years, some of them public and many still classified.

In March 2011, Navy commandos seized 50 tons of weaponry, including Iranian C-704 surface-to-sea missiles, from the cargo ship Victoria sailing from Syria to Egypt.

In January 2009, Israel alerted Cypriot authorities that a Cypriot-flagged merchant ship was carrying suspicious cargo destined for Syria. Authorities in Limassol inspected the ship, which indeed had been carrying Iranian arms caches.

At the end of 2009, Israel intercepted the Francop en route to Syria, confiscating a 500-ton cargo of Iranian-concealed weapons.

“Klos-C is not the first ship smuggling arms intercepted by the IDF, but it is distinguished by the lethality and quality of its cargo,” the IDF said.

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