Israel Navy Faults Humans, Not Technology, for Ship Attack
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME, TEL AVIV
Nearly six months after a Hizbollah-launched missile struck Israel’s premier warship off Lebanon’s coast, an inquiry has validated Navy and industrial contentions that technology was not to blame for arguably the most embarrassing failure of the Summer 2006 war.
Findings from an exhaustive post-war probe into the C-802 attack on the INS Hanit determined that operational readiness deficiencies — rather than technology failings — led to the death of four sailors aboard the Sa’ar 5 corvette.
Despite initial suspicions that a radar malfunction contributed to the July 14 attack, experts here said the glitch in the Elta Pulse Doppler surveillance system affected only detection range, not accuracy. And because the INS Hanit was sailing less than 10 miles from the Lebanese shore, the range-degraded radar would have detected the incoming threat had it been operated properly at the time of the attack.
Moreover, the locally made Barak ship defense system was in optimum condition to track, identify and intercept the Chinese-origin missile, had it not been deactivated prior to the attack.
Similarly, other ship defenses, such as the U.S.-produced Phalanx and the Elbit Deseaver decoy control and launching system, were fully functional but languishing in standby mode the night of the attack.
As for other onboard systems, investigators confirmed that locally produced electro-optical surveillance sensors, communications and combat management systems were in prime condition and fully operational, but that the integrated naval electronic warfare suite designed to track incoming missiles was in standby mode.
“We found no technical errors in the Barak system,” said Nir Maor, a rear admiral in the Israel Navy reserves who led the after-action investigation. Maor on Jan. 3 declined to discuss specifics from his voluminous findings, yet acknowledged that technical issues were negligible compared to conceptual, operational and command deficiencies surrounding the July 14 event.
“Within the first 10 hours after the [Friday night] attack, even before the INS Hanit returned to port, we had a very high level of confidence that technology and engineering were not the problem,” said Rear Adm. Omri Dagul, head of the Israel Navy’s Materiel Command.
“By Monday morning, after running full-up analyses on each individual system and validating the interoperability of all systems, we concluded there were no technical errors that would have been relevant to the July 14 attack,” said Dagul. “Even after the attack, and all the damage sustained to the ship, all systems operated. We found no need to replace technology or order corrective fixes.”
Navy officials said the service operated at readiness rates of more than 90 percent, despite the 8,000 hours of continuous maritime operations in Lebanese waters.
The Barak missile is also used by the Indian Navy, which used it to bring down an incoming missile in a Jan. 4 test.
According to the after-action account, Iranian-assisted Hizbollah fighters launched three Iranian versions of the Chinese radar-guided cruise missiles. One hit the Hanit, another overshot its target and sunk a Cambodian-flagged merchant ship some 60 kilometers away, and another apparently exploded upon launch. The missile that struck the Hanit actually exploded after hitting a railing at the rear of the ship and did not penetrate the aft deck.
According to naval officials here, the impact destroyed the aft electrical switchboard and caused extensive fire damage, but the fully redundant, highly shock-resistant, compartmentalized Sa’ar-5 used its forward electrical power source to return to port.
After 10 days of extensive repairs, the Hanit returned to full operational deployment through Sept. 8, when Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon.
Maor’s postwar probe revealed wholesale deficiencies in the way the Navy assessed, understood and responded to the operational environment that prevailed following Hizbollah’s July 12 cross-border raid that triggered the summertime war. From the Navy’s failure to anticipate the Hizbollah missile threat to improper deployment of the premier warship so perilously close to the Lebanese shore, investigators found that service leaders did not appreciate the fact that the nation was at war.
At the time of the attack, most of the ship’s 80-plus crew members were in the mess room enjoying a Sabbath-eve dinner, an error of complacency that — ironically, in retrospect — ended up saving lives, sources here said.
The report faulted the service’s nonchalant disregard of warnings — however general and inexplicit — issued by Israel Defense Force (IDF) military intelligence to assume that Iranian anti-ship missiles could have found their way into Hizbollah’s arsenal. The report also faulted Navy commanders for not elev