Open the Fort to Civilians

Flotilla 13's insistence on keeping the Israeli public from the Crusader fort that stands within its home base is questionable.

Flotilla 13, Israel's naval commandos, are at the top of the list of the Israel Defense Forces' elite units. In its operations, many of them clandestine, the unit has contributed a great deal during wars, in preventing terrorist attacks and in collecting intelligence. Five senior IDF admirals and generals have been members and commanders of the unit. There is no debate on its importance to Israel's security.

On the other hand, the unit's insistence on keeping the Israeli public from the Crusader fort that stands within its home base, on the beachfront at Atlit near Haifa, is questionable.

The fort is a rare archaeological site, an educational and tourist treasure. So far, its reputation has not extended beyond professional circles, mostly because only a few people have visited it. The naval commando would like to perpetuate this state of affairs, which would prevent outsiders from taking a closer look at its training grounds and equipment. Opposing them are the residents of the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council and other citizens, some whose military background is no less glorious than that of Flotilla 13's veterans. They demand that access to the fort be granted to all Israelis.

The citizens' demand is justified. The IDF's purpose is to defend the State of Israel and its residents. Preventing access to the fort upsets this relationship. Sometimes geography dictates a certain limitation to the citizens' freedom of movement; for example, when it is necessary to install early-warning radar on a mountaintop. On the other hand, IDF camps in central Israel are often located in British camps built during World War II.

Relocation is mostly a financial issue. The Glilot intelligence compound is expected to be moved to the Negev. The loss of the career military people who will have to move south will be worth it because it will enrich the Negev and its population. Atlit is one of two points that cut off the civilian contiguity of the Israeli coast. Further south lies the Palmahim air base and testing ground. A good alternative to the airfield at Palmahim could be Ben-Gurion International Airport, but the IDF will find it hard to abandon it as long as it needs a western sea outlet for launching missiles (like the Arrow) away from settled areas.

Unlike Palmahim, it is possible to give up on Sde Dov and transfer the military airfield there to the Lod area. IDF live-fire ranges have been evacuated and prepared for housing construction, including in places near Modi'in. Other live-fire ranges, used by the army during the week, are open to the public on weekends and holidays.

All these examples show that it is possible to find a creative solution to the conflict of interest between the people's wish to visit the Crusader fort, and the refusal by Flotilla 13 to risk exposing its secret installations (which are in part visible to anyone trying to look into the base from the hills overlooking Atlit).

This is not a decision for the Defense Ministry, the IDF or the Navy. These are executive organs that must carry out the policy they are given. This may include creating time slots, initially, for tours to visit on Saturdays, and moving the activities of the naval commando to other locations in the base grounds, where they can be hidden. The link between the Israeli public and its country and history is precisely one of the things Flotilla 13 is meant to defend, through the excellence that characterizes it.



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