Israeli Navy submarine service – isn’t for everybody


Senior recruiting Officer: ‘One doesn’t have to know how to swim, but a good sense of humor is important.’



For the time being, there is no chance for young Israelis to become astronauts, but young men who are highly motivated and intelligent, able to withstand long bouts away from civilization, suited for combat duty, capable of reacting immediately to orders and not disturbed by being cooped up for weeks on end in a small space are invited by the IDF and Israel Navy to apply for military service in a submarine.

Always ‘Watching & Listening” – Photo courtesy: IDF Spokespersons Unit

A 13-month-long preparatory course for the difficult but meaningful job has just been completed. Two such courses are held annually after very careful screening of candidates.

Lt.-Cmdr. Yohai Zeidman, a psychologist who left the IDF after his initial service and education and then joined the professional army, has been responsible for selection of submarine crews for the last two-and-a-half years and is based in Haifa.

The navy currently has three Dolphin submarines, following the use and retirement of British-made subs that were introduced into service in the late 1950s. They were called INS Tanin and INS Rahav by then-premier David Ben-Gurion, based on relevant references in the Bible.

Three more subs, made in Germany, will join the fleet in the next few years. Around 60 meters long, the Dolphin subs are packed with equipment, with no room to spare, and every square meter is utilized to the maximum.

PARTICIPANTS IN the Israel Navy’s preparatory course for submarine service toss their berets

PARTICIPANTS IN the Israel Navy’s preparatory course for submarine service toss their berets – Photo:IDF spokespersons office

As there are very close quarters and no room for a women’s lavatory, only men are accepted for this job, but there are females serving on more roomy navy ships, Zeidman told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Thursday.

Except for the sub commander, who has his own bed, the rest of the crew of a few dozen make use of available accommodations on the “hot bed” routine. As there are not enough for all, whenever somebody gets out of bed to go to work, another soldier can sleep in it.

As it is so demanding, all members of the crew volunteer for this service; no one is assigned to a submarine without wanting it.

Even the ship’s cooks and physician are carefully screened to make sure that they can live in such crowding and without contact with the outside world for some time.

Soldiers serve for four-and-a-half years, with 18 months as part of the professional army. They must naturally be happy working as a member of a team.

“We look for people who enjoy being with others. They can’t call home. There is no Internet or TV, but there are video movies, chess matches, books and other things for their leisure time.

Zeidman noted that obviously, no young man suffering claustrophobia (fear of being enclosed in a small space) can be a candidate to work on a submarine. One doesn’t have to know how to swim, he added, but a good sense of humor is important and welcome.

The Galley – Photo courtesy: IDF Spokespersons Unit

“I don’t recall anyone with claustrophobia – or indeed agoraphobia [fear of large spaces], because such people usually have other anxieties as well – applying for the job.”

Other valued qualities are being organized, meticulous (but not compulsive), able to get along with people, free of moodiness, intelligent, good at studying, and technical abilities.

“We look for very special people,” said Zeidman.

“A submarine is not for everybody. Errors cannot be made, because of the lives at stake, the important work, the cost – some half-a-billion euros per submarine – and even the diplomatic importance. Doing the wrong thing could lead to a declaration of war on Israel.”

While the IDF and the navy do publicize the submarine service somewhat openly as well as quietly, “it is not well known to young people.

Some may be very suited, but they are not familiar with the submarine service. The air force’s school for pilots is much better known.”

The kitchen is kosher, and the navy tries to hire very imaginative good cooks.

“Having enticing food can make an excellent voyage, while having bad food can make it a disappointment,” Zeidman said. “There are religiously observant crew members as well, and their needs are met. Religious men on a sub are about in the same numbers as their proportion in the population.”

The selection process begins with questionnaires, exercises and interviews. Those found unsuitable, or candidates who learn more and think they are not suited, are let go. Those who are chosen for the course go to a special submarine school in Haifa, visit a submarine docked in the harbor, go through simulations and more. Their teachers come with a lot of experience serving on subs.

In Israel, preparing to make way – Photo courtesy: IDF Spokespersons Unit

There are underwater communications for the use only of the commander in operations, and a public phone when the sub is above the surface.

“At home, the crew [members] are used to using cellphones, computers and social networks, and it’s hard being out of contact, but they get used to it.”

The sub commander must be a leader; he has to decide things largely on his own and be able to make decisions in a courageous and sensitive way.

“If not, he could sink the ship,” said Zeidman.

He must be honest and reliable and always report the truth to his superiors. If the crew members are going to a friendly country abroad for a cooperation exercise, they may go on land to visit, but certainly not if they are on a secret mission.


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