Missile attack on INS Spear: IDF probe faults navy, ship's crew
An investigation carried out by the navy into the incident in which the INS Spear was damaged by an Iranian missile during the Lebanon war concluded that there were problems with the operational conduct of both senior officers and the ship's crew.
According to the findings of the investigation, the navy paid only superficial attention to Military Intelligence warnings regarding the presence of such missiles in Hezbollah's arsenal. Furthermore, the ship's officers failed to report problems with various systems on the Spear, a Saar-5 Class missile boat.
At this stage, however, no individuals have been singled out for their actions.
The missile that struck the Spear as it cruised off the Lebanese coast was a C-802, an Iranian version of a Chinese surface-to-sea missile. Hezbollah guerrillas fired the missile at 8:42 P.M. on July 14, the third day of the fighting in Lebanon. The missile hit a crane in the rear of the ship and caused the deaths of four soldiers.
At the time the ship was struck by the missile, it was more than 30 kilometers off the coast of Beirut.
The investigation into the incident was carried out by a team headed by Brigadier General (reserves) Nir Maor. The findings were presented to Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz last week, and were made available to the media yesterday by the commander of the navy, Major General Dudu Ben-Basat.
The main failure identified by the investigation was the navy's lack of appreciation of the possibility that such a missile could target the ship, despite Military Intelligence warnings.
Two months ago, Haaretz reported that the missile threat had been raised informally in a lecture delivered by Colonel K. of MI to navy officers in April 2003. According to the lecture, the possibility existed that Iran had delivered such missiles to Hezbollah.
Colonel K. also sent a letter to that effect to the head of naval intelligence.
Ben-Basat acknowledged that the navy did not reach any conclusions on the matter and consequently did not prepare for such an eventuality.
"From our point of view, the possibility that such a missile was in the Hezbollah [arsenal] was considered imaginary and exaggerated," the navy commander admitted. "This is a missile 6.4 meters long that weighs 715 kilograms and is launched from a truck. It's a monster. We did not think that a terror organization would have such a thing. At that stage, that is how we viewed Hezbollah. We had not yet come to regard it as a forward Iranian division, the way we now see it in the IDF."
In retrospect, he added, the navy should have adopted "a broader outlook" to the intelligence assessments, and "that was certainly a mistake."
In addition to Colonel K., a lieutenant colonel in naval intelligence sent a letter to the chief of naval intelligence following deliberations on July 14 July, and in this letter, he expressed similar warnings regarding the missile threat. But the officer noted in the letter that his warnings, which were not heeded, were based on intuition rather than information.
The investigation has also revealed serious problems on the ship itself, particularly the fact that three of its four defense systems were not functioning. The ship's captain was not aware that the defense systems were down.
An electronics officer with the rank of captain had placed both the electronic countermeasures system and the Barak anti-missile system on two-minute standby mode, arguing that he wanted to avoid their "fatigue," as he knew that the Spear was on a mission of long duration. The same officer had identified a problem with the ship's radar, which was functioning at only 50 percent capacity.
In both cases, he failed to inform the ship's captain of the problems.
The investigation concluded that as a result of the failure in the radar system, the Spear was incapacitated and could not carry out its mission.