New Navy sub to be called ‘Dragon’ after original choice draws fire

Military initially planned to call its 7th submarine ‘Dakar,’ after a vessel that sank mysteriously in 1968 with its 69-man crew, but families of the fallen sailors were opposed

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An Israeli Navy officer inspects the INS Dragon submarine currently being constructed in Kiel, Germany, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli Navy officer inspects the INS Dragon submarine currently being constructed in Kiel, Germany, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Navy on Wednesday announced that its new submarine, which is due to be delivered next year, will be named the INS Dragon, following opposition toward the originally proposed name, the Dakar, after an Israeli submarine that sank in 1968.

Dragon — or Drakon in Hebrew — is meant to be a compromise after some of the families of the fallen sailors from the original Dakar protested the proposal to recycle the name.

In its announcement, the navy noted that, in Hebrew, Drakon contains the letters that make up Dakar and thus preserves the sunken submarine’s memory.

Last October, the navy said it had accepted the families’ opposition to naming the new submarine the INS Dakar and would instead be reserving the name for the overall class of its new submarines.

Since then, the navy has been working to decide on a new name for the incoming submarine, which will be Israel’s seventh.

In total, Israel is due to receive three new submarines in the coming years, which are currently under construction in Kiel, Germany.

The INS Dragon submarine currently being constructed in Kiel, Germany, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This respectfully and properly memorializes the soldiers of the INS Dakar,” navy chief Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit said during Wednesday’s announcement ceremony.

The name Dragon was chosen from a list of names written up by the first commander of the navy’s submarine fleet.

Israel’s submarines are seen as a key strategic asset for the Jewish state. According to foreign reports, the vessels are able to carry nuclear missiles and grant Israel a “second strike” capability, meaning the ability to launch atomic weapons even if the homeland is attacked. This is meant to serve as a deterrent toward the country’s enemies.

“Submariners are preserving our security stability day and night, with unflappable professionalism, wisdom, dedication and consideration,” Sharvit said at the ceremony.

The original INS Dakar went down, along with its 69-person crew, in the waters between Crete and Cyprus on January 25, 1968.

The submarine, 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.

The Israeli Navy’s Dakar submarine, which sank in January 1968. (Defense Ministry’s IDF Archives)

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.

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.

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