Text size

Israel will take part for the first time in a naval NATO exercise due to begin on Friday in the Gulf of Taranto in Italy.

Frogmen, scuba divers and Israeli navy doctors will participate in a four-week submarine escape and rescue exercise together with forces from 10 NATO nations, including Russia and Ukraine.

"The NATO exercise Sorbet Royal 2005 is the largest and most challenging live submarine escape and rescue exercise ever conducted," according to NATO reports. "It will test international submarine escape and rescue personnel, equipment and procedures to cope with the most extreme submarine rescue missions and will involve ships, aircraft and submarines from 10 nations."

The Israeli contingent observing the drill, which is leaving for Italy this morning, will be headed by Brigadier General Noam Feig, head of naval operations, and submarine commander Colonel Yoni Vart.

The Israeli team participating in the drill is headed by Lieutenant Colonel Oded Gur-Lavi.

During the exercise, four submarines, from Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey, will be placed on the sea bottom, each with up to 52 men on board while rescue forces with a range of sophisticated rescue vehicles and systems from the U.S., Italy, France and the United Kingdom, together with Special Forces divers, medical teams and support and salvage ships from France, the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, Spain and the UK, will work together to solve complex disaster rescue problems in a variety of difficult scenarios.

This year for the first time forces from Ukraine and Russia will also be participating. The Kursk tragedy in August 2000 provided a powerful impetus for internationalization of submarine escape and rescue, a trend that had already begun among the submarine-operating nations of NATO.

More than 40 different nations operate submarines worldwide, and the drill's organizers expect other states - such as China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Chile - to take part in the rescue drill in coming years.

The exercise will be conducted in four phases, culminating in the final week with a large-scale coordinated rescue and evacuation from a pressurized submarine, including many casualties.

Significant emphasis will be placed on the medical problems of removing everyone to safety, as well as the complex logistic and practical problems of compatibility and interoperability between rescue assets, standardization of procedures and coordination and cooperation between nations and military and civilian organizations.