The last report on the whereabouts of the Klos C cargo ship on Marine Traffic, the website that tracks maritime traffic in real time, was registered at 5:41 p.m. on February 22. The site indicated that the ship was last seen in the Strait of Hormuz just south of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Its planned route was supposed to take it around the Arabian Peninsula towards the Red Sea. Finally, it was due to unload its shipment of cement in Port Sudan.
Israel’s F-16I “Sufa” – Photo courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit
The route was quite routine. Yet, as we all know, the trip it actually took was anything but routine. This seemingly innocent ship, with a crew that had no idea what it was really carrying, was an arms-carrying freighter, a floating arsenal that included 40 M-302 rockets which can reach distances up to 160 kilometers (99 miles); 181 mortar shells measuring 122 millimeters in diameter; and 400,000 7.62 millimeter bullets.
In a joint operation, which was code-named “Full Disclosure” and which was executed flawlessly, the Israel Defense Forces tracked the ship throughout its voyage. It decided to stop the ship in the southern Red Sea on March 5, one day before it reached Port Sudan. Two navy gunboats (one of them being the INS Hanit, which was damaged during the Second Lebanon War but has since been repaired and redeployed for full duty) accompanied the rafts carrying commandos from the elite Shayetet 13 unit far from the country’s shores. The captain of the Klos C acceded to the Israeli Navy’s orders to stop the ship, and the troops boarded the deck. They uncovered the suspicious cargo and then ordered the captain to follow it to dock in Eilat.
This isn’t the first time that the IDF has intercepted an arms ship out at sea. There were other precedents, the most famous of which was the Karine A freighter, which was captured on January 3, 2002. This incident exposed the duplicitous conduct of the Palestinian Authority, ushering in a strategic change in Washington’s relations with Ramallah which lasted years afterward.
Let us now hypothesize that the Klos C had succeeded in unloading its lethal cargo at Port Sudan. That would have meant that dozens of rockets, more than a hundred mortar shells, and hundreds of thousands of bullets would have been loaded onto a convoy of trucks that would then set out for a 1,700-kilometer (1,100-mile) journey up the Sudanese and Egyptian coasts, through the Sinai Peninsula, and finally through the weapons-smuggling tunnels that lead into the Gaza Strip.
Truth be told, even if such a scenario came to pass, neither the Quds Force operatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who planned the delivery nor the Hamas men who were due to receive it could sit comfortably in their chairs. As has been proven in the past, Israel is capable of acting far from its shores to free hostages (Operation Yonatan in Entebbe being the most glaring example); bombard strategic targets (the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Operation Opera in 1981); hit enemy command headquarters (the 1985 raid, code-named Operation Wooden Leg, that destroyed Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters near Tunis); and many other operations, the details of which cannot be revealed.
According to foreign sources, Israel has also launched attacks inside Sudan on a number of occasions. In September 2012, a weapons convoy similar to the one described earlier was destroyed just south of the capital of Khartoum. At the time, the Sudanese government accused Israel of the attack, which obliterated 200 tons of armaments, including rockets that were destined for terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip. A month later, a weapons-manufacturing plant just outside of Khartoum was attacked. In May of that year, a vehicle carrying ammunition from Port Sudan was bombed.
Israel has never officially acknowledged being behind these strikes, but its defense policy mandates that it make every effort to halt the spread of weapons to terror groups, including Hezbollah. In January 2013, an arms shipment headed for Hezbollah, which included advanced SA-17 missiles, was hit just as it was crossing the Syria-Lebanon border. The Syrians blamed Israel. Foreign media reported that another convoy was attacked in February of this year.
All of the operations described here are indicative of a very high level of creativity, initiative, daring, an ability to think outside the box, a limitless imagination, and an impressive ability to execute. How are such operations planned? How are they implemented in practice? How are the wide array of forces and means controlled from one spot?
The readers of Israel Hayom are invited to an exclusive, in-depth glimpse into the planning and execution of such operations. The highlight of this journey is a visit to one of the most secret, sensitive sites in the Israeli defense apparatus: the Israeli Air Force’s Central Command Post, or “the Pit.”
Thinking outside the box
One of our guides will be Lt. Col. S., the commander of the IAF’s Central Command Post. He has an impressive resume — a married father of three children from a moshav; a former pilot of the Apache attack helicopter; and a college graduate with bachelor’s degrees in industrial engineering and management as well as mathematics, and a master’s degree in political science.
Photo courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit
He will be joined by two intelligence officers, Maj. B., a unit commander in the Operational Intelligence department; and Maj. C., a unit commander in the Research Department of the IAF’s Intelligence Directorate. We were not permitted to divulge any other details about these two officers.
The scenario that was discussed is a hypothetical one. It is a pre-emptive operation to stop a weapons convoy that is making its way from Port Sudan northward to Gaza. Naturally, many of the details remain confidential, but the operational thinking is clear.
The operation’s starting point, naturally, is intelligence, which first alerts the officers to the convoy’s existence. The means available to a modern intelligence apparatus are more sophisticated and advanced than ever — from satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles to human intelligence sources to electronic intelligence to intelligence agencies to openly available sources. There’s no end.
The intelligence outfit responsible for obtaining information is the Gathering Department. Two other departments are tasked with handling the intelligence — the Research Department, whose job it is to analyze and process the information; and the Operational Intelligence Department, which “translates” the information for the relevant agencies that will carry out the operation on the ground.
“The operation could begin to move forward in the middle of the night,” said Lt. Col. S. “Often times, it begins with lower-ranked soldiers and officers, 22-year-old junior officers. Somebody either saw something or heard something. They talk with the operations people and the red light is lit. They physically sit side by side, and this is no accident. We’ve already had large-scale operations which began with a normal, corridor conversation between a junior intelligence officer and a junior operations officer.”
The revelation begins to climb the chain of command. Within an hour, all of the relevant officers gather in the Pit. “There’s never a need for a motivational pep talk,” Lt. Col. S. said, smiling. “On the contrary, there’s a need to rein in wild horses.”
Lt. Col. S. tries to combat the widespread lack of appreciation for those soldiers serving in the Kirya compound. These men and women are often viewed as those who contribute little while enjoying the benefits of luxurious conditions. Throughout our conversation, he placed special emphasis on the soldiers’ enthusiasm as well as their operational capabilities.
“They’re just waiting for the opportunity to turn a piece of intelligence into an operation,” he said. “From this standpoint, there is no let-up until they reach the rank of major-general. The quality quotient of the soldiers serving in this capacity is particularly high relative to the rest of the army. In any other army, these kinds of jobs are taken by captains.”
At this stage, soldiers from the Research Department enter the picture. Here, a kind of back-and-forth develops between the intelligence personnel and the operational troops. This process culminates in a recommendation on how to act from an operational standpoint.
The trauma from the Yom Kippur War, which was precipitated by a faulty intelligence approach which led up to that watershed event, is still felt to this day.
“As far as our daily conduct goes, there is almost no difference between a newly recruited soldier and a veteran captain,” said Lt. Col. S. “Everyone is welcome to voice their opinions. We encourage freedom of thought and pluralism and we also encourage opinions that run counter to the majority view. We attack our conclusions from every angle constantly. Does new information that arrives change my thinking in any way? Do I need to change my thinking?”
“We are careful not to devour the material,” he said. “We constantly examine the theory relative to the reality on the ground. In large-scale operations, we will be subject to outside scrutiny from external agencies that aren’t prejudiced by the thought process. This opens our eyes to other possibilities.”
“Risk management is an inseparable part of the planning process, as are careful, solid analysis of information and other possible courses of action,” he said. “If we are not fully confident with what we have, the operation is not put into motion.”
Ultimately, a coherent picture comes into focus. It is a puzzle which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Finally, there’s an operational recommendation regarding what should be done with an arms convoy that is now moving forward along the coast of the Red Sea. The operational ideas are submitted for approval by the decision-makers — the IAF commander, the chief of staff, the defense minister, and the prime minister. It all depends on the scale of the operation as well as its strategic importance.
“Despite the negative connotation of the word, an intelligence officer needs to put together an overall concept,” said Maj. B. “There has to be a framework, a narrative. Otherwise, you’re just handing the decision-makers random pieces of the puzzle. Intelligence officers are trained to taking responsibility for the story they are putting together, and they know they need to express the truth as they see it in order to reach the recommendation stage.”
Here, too, a lieutenant can offer his findings to the commander of the air force. It’s the operation that counts, not the rank.
Finally, the approval comes. The operation is put in motion. The IAF will stop the convoy at a designated point and hour. The flight squadrons charged with carrying out the mission have been chosen. Now the time has come to put the operation’s go-ahead orders in writing.
“In the Operational Department, the orders are written down,” said Lt. Col. S. “The operation is supposed to be divided into a number of relevant parts. There’s the part which the squadrons carry out the operation. There’s the technical aspects. There’s the aerial defense’s portion of the operation. There’s the staff headquarters’ work.”
The plan is written by both operational and intelligence experts.
“An officer from the IAF’s Intelligence Directorate is an operative intelligence officer,” said Maj. B. “He wears two hats. On the one hand, he’s an IAF man. On the other hand, he’s an intelligence man. In every intelligence story, there needs to be clarity and purpose that gets to the point, which in turn leads to a realistic suggestion. You need to have an in-depth understanding of the operational significance of the recommendation.”
The time devoted to writing the command of the operation depends on factors related to the timetable that is available to the IAF in embarking on the operation. In this operation, the convoy is moving ahead, and it isn’t allowing for too much dilly-dallying.
In other operations, on the other hand, the planning could stretch on for years. Operation Focus, the initial air raid on the Egyptian air fields that set off the Six-Day War, is one example.
“The operation command is the anchor that synchronizes all of the relevant factors,” Lt. Col. S. said. “It synchronizes the planning personnel with the operational personnel. This creates a team that is well-versed in the details and knows how to translate those details for all of the operational personnel. Every operational man has a planning man beside him who knows how to speak his language and provide the necessary solutions.”
Gathering in the Pit
This is the moment in which all of the painstaking work of gathering, processing, and translating intelligence information before it is shown to those responsible for making the decisions who then must send it back for the orders to be written and the forces to be deployed, all comes down to one location: the Pit.
Israeli Air Force F-16s – Photo: AFP
It’s not a large room. It is shaped like a theater, with a cluster of computers huddled in the front. A large glass wall stands between the computers and another black wall with three large screens hanging on it. These screens show the data for the operation in real time.
“Just like ‘the greens,’ we also have war rooms and forward command centers in the air force which works according to the principle of overseeing the operation from a central command center with ‘cells,'” said Lt. Col. S. “If all goes according to plan, the brains behind the operation do nothing except for monitor the events as they happen in the cell. Usually, though, this isn’t what happens. More often, they need to provide solutions in real time.”
“Today we have the means to intervene from the cell, and these means are virtually limitless,” he said. “Technology enables this, but we prefer to intervene as little as possible and to allow the pilots to carry out the operation the best way they know how.”
The planes are deployed, and the large screens show colored dots throughout a map. A tense silence falls over the command post. The chief of staff and the IAF commander, together with the others present, are on the highest of alerts. Every team member is monitoring the aspect of the operation for which he or she is responsible. At a certain point, silence is also heard from the cockpit, as the radioed voices of the pilots gradually are drowned out.
A short time later, the leading pilot spots the target. This is the most sensitive juncture, the moment in which the attackers are liable to be identified. The tension from within the post continues to rise, and the air conditioners do their best to cool it down again. One, two, three, four — the planes have completed their mission and are returning home. All report direct hits. The results could be seen on the television screens — according to foreign sources, of course.
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=16909