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Navy commandos simulate attack on offshore gas rig

Elite Flotilla 13 soldiers drill retaking platform from terrorists without use of live rounds, to avoid gas explosion

Navy chief Admiral Ram Rotberg poses for a picture near the Tamar gas processing rig 24 kilometers off Israel's southern coast on September 2, 2015. (Flash90)
Navy chief Admiral Ram Rotberg poses for a picture near the Tamar gas processing rig 24 kilometers off Israel's southern coast on September 2, 2015. (Flash90)

Israeli commandos recently simulated a hypothetical terrorist attack on one of Israel’s vulnerable Mediterranean gas rigs, the IDF told reporters on Wednesday.

The drill, involving the Israel Navy’s elite Flotilla 13, took place approximately one month ago. The exercise involved hostile gunmen taking civilians hostage after commandeering one of the offshore rigs. The naval commandos were instructed to reach the rig and retake it from the gunmen without use of firearms, out of concern that gunfire could set the gas alight and cause the rig to explode.

“The opponent that will scale the rig is not one terrorist wearing a keffiyeh” — a traditional Palestinian headscarf, a navy officer told Haaretz. “It’s going to be someone who understands that this is a strategic asset to the State of Israel.”

Israel closed a deal with Germany for naval vessels bought specifically to protect the gas rigs — but these will not arrive until 2019. In the meantime, Navy frigates are patrolling the waters near the sensitive installations. The navy fears also a scenario in which a missiles fired from shore would strike one of the strategically critical rigs. Such a missile would inflict significant damage to the rig, the officer said, but added that even minor damage inflicted by a missile would have significant psychological consequences for Israel.

During Operation Protective Edge last year, Hamas fired rockets at the port of Ashdod. None threatened Israel’s gas platforms, but several impacted only a short distance from them, Haaretz quoted the officer saying.

An aerial view of the Tamar gas-processing rig 24 kilometers off the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, June 23, 2014 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An aerial view of the Tamar gas-processing rig 24 kilometers off the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, June 23, 2014 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Barak 8 anti-aircraft missile defense system, currently deployed on Israel Navy frigates, was recently adapted to intercept incoming projectiles at a range of 70 kilometers (44 miles). While the system is still undergoing tests, Israel hopes to deploy it in the coming months. In the meantime, the Barak system’s radar is installed on one frigate and provides improved detection of ships and aircraft. Once modified, the Barak 8 missile defense system will become “not unlike a naval Iron Dome,” according to Israel Radio, referring to Israel’s land-based missile defense system that proved effective in intercepting rockets fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The military, particularly the navy, is responsible for defending the gas rigs, according to a government decision from 2013. The security personnel currently stationed on the rigs are former soldiers from elite units who receive professional guidance from the military. Criminals or pirates are a threat to oil and gas rigs around the world, the officer was quoted by Haaretz saying, not just Israel.

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