50 years after enigmatic sinking, Israel releases footage of search for lost sub

State archives distributes chilling recording of Moshe Dayan telling Dakar sailors’ families their loved ones were likely dead, designated missing

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Footage of an expedition seeking to unlock one of the country’s longest enduring mysteries was released Monday, showing an Israeli-American crew scanning the floor of the Mediterranean for signs of the INS Dakar submarine, which went down, along with its 69-person crew, in the waters between Crete and Cyprus on January 25, 1968.

The rare footage was taken in 1999 during an expedition to find the remains of the submarine in 1999.

Only parts of the video, which can be seen above, have been broadcast before.

The footage was released by the Defense Ministry archives to mark 50 years since the sinking.

The search began on May 24, 1999. It led by an Israeli-American team, with help from the American Nauticos Corporation, using deep sea scanning equipment.

The Defense Ministry footage shows the team’s painstaking efforts to scan the sea floor with a SONAR array.

The Israeli Navy holds a memorial ceremony for the Dakar submarine, which sank in January 1968, at Jerusalem’s Har Herzl Military Cemetery on June 21, 2000. (Defense Ministry’s IDF Archives)

After a few days, the scanning yielded results and a remote-operated underwater vehicle captured the first footage of the Dakar in over 30 years. It was successfully identified by a one-of-kind hatch that had been specially built for the Dakar.

The Dakar, led by Maj. Yaakov Ra’anan, sank as it made its way to Israel from the United Kingdom, where it had received a number of upgrades in the town of Portsmouth.

It left the UK in early January 1968 and last made contact just after midnight on January 25, 1968. Its last broadcasts were from the waters off the southern coast of Crete.

The submarine was declared missing a day later, prompting an international search that yielded no results.

A specific cause for the sinking of the submarine has never been determined, or at least not publicly released.

Israeli sailors search for the navy’s Dakar submarine, which sank in January 1968. (Defense Ministry’s IDF Archives)

The closest was in 2015, when the Israeli military presented its official findings on the Dakar to the families of the fallen sailors, which indicated that the likeliest scenario was that the vessel sustained a catastrophic technical failure or loss of control.

The information presented to the families appeared to refute the possibility that the submarine had been deliberately targeted by an enemy vessel.

Over the years, Egyptian officials have claimed that their navy attacked the submarine with mines. The Soviet Union has also been rumored to be responsible for the sinking of the Dakar. Documents released by Israel in 2013 showed that there was a concern at the time that Moscow was behind the submarine’s disappearance.

A Hebrew audio recording of then-defense minister Moshe Dayan from February 4, 1968, was also released on Monday, in which he can be heard telling the families of the 69 sailors that the army was officially designating the crew as missing — not dead.

The Israeli Navy holds a memorial ceremony for the Dakar submarine, which sank in January 1968, at Jerusalem’s Har Herzl Military Cemetery on January 24, 1982. (Defense Ministry’s IDF Archives)

Dayan explained that this designation was not because the army believed there were survivors, but for more technical reasons.

“By all assumptions that we can make, the Dakar submarine is incapable of still having living people on board. But we have not even a scrap of evidence,” he said.

“I wish we had something to believe in or hope for that we could hide. There’s nothing that we know that you don’t. We’re not hiding anything,” Dayan said.

“We don’t know anything other than that at some point contact was broken and we haven’t heard anything since,” he said.

“If we knew definitively, if we had factual evidence that the crew members or that some of them had drowned or died, we would come to the parents and to the families and tell them,” Dayan said.

Without that evidence, the defense minister said, Israel had to “designate them missing — those who went out to battle and did not return from it.”

We don’t know anything other than that at some point contact was broken and we haven’t heard anything since

The 69 sailors were considered missing for another 13 years before they were officially declared dead. This was to allow their widows to remarry under Jewish law.

In addition to the video and audio recordings, a letter from the then-head of the Israeli Navy Shlomo Erell to his soldiers from the weeks following the disaster was distributed by the archives.

“Despite the size of the loss and the weight of the turmoil, you have demonstrated an ability to go on, a maturity and a camaraderie,” he wrote.

“Today we lower our flag in grief and pride to the memory of the 69 crew members of the INS Dakar — veteran sailors and submariners, wonders of Israeli youth,” Erell said.

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