Book Review: A Raid on the Red Sea: The Israeli Capture of the Karine A

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by Amos Gilboa, edited and translated by Yonah Jeremy Bob

Lincoln: Potomac / Nebraska, 2021. Pp. xxii, 277. Illus., maps, appends, sources. $34.95. ISBN: 1640123571

Israeli Naval Special Operators in Action

At 0400 hours on 3 January 2002, Shayetet 13, an Israeli naval commando unit seized a 4,000 ton freighter, the Karine A, carrying 56 tons of Iranian weapons intended for delivery to Palestinians in Gaza. Registered under the convenient flag of the remote Pacific island kingdom of Tonga, the ship was owned by the Palestinian Authority.

The story begins with a young woman named Anat, an Israeli naval intelligence analyst. (Serving Israeli military and intelligence personnel are generally only identified by first names or nicknames in open source publications.) While reviewing transcripts of communications intercepts, Anat realized that when Palestinian terrorists were talking about buying a “tub,” they were planning to acquire a ship.

Officially, the ship was loaded with a cargo of scrap iron, bound for a shipyard in Bulgaria. Secretly, the ship dropped anchor off the Iranian island of Kish in the Persian Gulf where it was loaded with arms packed in special floating crates that would be pushed over the side and retrieved by Palestinian fishing boats.

It was a challenging task to identify one specific freighter among the thousands of rusty merchant ships that ply the waters of the Middle East, frequently changing their names, flags, and owners. The ship was eventually located with the help of American reconnaissance assets. US naval intelligence was also able to provide the Israelis with the blueprints of the ship, built in 1978 at Vigo, Spain. The high command of the Israel Defense Force was persuaded to approve a daring last-minute plan to intercept Karine A in the choppy waters of the Red Sea, even though most of Israel’s naval assets — and operational experience - were in the calmer seas of the Mediterranean.

In many ways the fate of the nation had not been solely on the broad shoulders of top leaders such as Prime Minister Sharon and IDF chief Mofaz, but also very much on the smaller shoulders of junior officers such as Anat, those who had to dive deeper into the intelligence and on whose judgment the final decision makers had to rely. (p. 97)

The hazardous technique of fast-roping onto the deck of a ship from a hovering helicopter was something that a handful of Israeli commandos had only recently trained to perform. Just two Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopters were fitted with the special platform that made this possible.

At 4:00 AM the commandos in the two boats on opposite sides of Karine A’s stern used a classified device to project a grappling hook with a rope ladder 23 feet above and onto the ship… (pp. 213-214)

As with so many military operations, the weather forecast was a critical factor in planning. With a storm rolling in, the intercept point was shifted far to the south, at the extreme limit of the helicopter’s endurance. The operation achieved complete surprise; no shots were fired and the ship was secured without casualties on either side. Interrogation of the crew provided valuable intelligence.

The capture and exploitation of Karine A, helped to persuade-American president George H.W. Bush that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority could not be trusted, despite the strong pro-Arab bias of the US State Department and many elite Washington policy makers. The Israelis used the ship for training for a few years, and eventually sold it for scrapping in India.

A Raid on the Red Sea is the kind of story that Tom Clancy might have written (if Tom Clancy had been Israeli). The author, Brigadier General Amos Gilboa, was head of Analysis and Production for IDF intelligence. The translator and editor, Yonan Jeremy Bob, is a journalist with the Jerusalem Post. Readers with an interest in contemporary special operations will enjoy this book.

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Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWorld and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors). His previous reviews in modern history include To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War, Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler’s "Final Solution" Undermined the German War Effort, Governments-in-Exile and the Jews During the Second World War,Admiral Gorshkov, Comrades Betrayed: Jewish World War I Veterans under Hitler, and Rome – City in Terror: The Nazi Occupation 1943–44.

 

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Note: A Raid on the Red Sea is also available in several e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with the New York Military Affairs Symposium (www.nymas.org)

Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   


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