Advanced Helicopter Equipment Could Have Unbotched Marmara Operation

The Israel Defense Forces lack a simple but smart piece of equipment that could have prevented the botched take-over of the Marmara last week: a chopper-borne "basket" to hold soldiers. Such a carrier, whose American form is called a Heli-Basket, was proposed for use by the IDF years ago for rescue missions and those like the Marmara takeover. The Israel Air Force and the Defense Ministry decided the need for the equipment was not proven, and funding could not be found. Those nixing the use of the basket included the head of the air force helicopter squadron, the Home Front Command and the research and development administration of weapons and technological infrastructure.

Eight to 16 combat soldiers can be carried in the basket, which is suspended from an assault helicopter and lowered to the deck of a ship. According to the manufacturer, soldiers can be lowered to the deck far more quickly than soldiers sliding down a rope. If the commandos who boarded the Marmara by sliding down a rope one by one had been lowered together in such a device, they would not have been so numerically inferior when facing off against a mob.

In descriptions of takeovers of hijacked planes by special forces, with both hijackers and hostages, the need for simultaneous assault by a large contingent is stressed.

The basket is manufactured in the United States in two versions, a 2-ton, which holds 20, and a 3-ton, which holds 30. Another model has been developed in Israel in recent years by Olive Engineering, owned by Nehemia Cohen. Unlike the American version, the Israeli basket is reinforced and equipped with a water canon to combat protesters. The basket's homing device sets it down within a few dozen centimeters from a target location.

The American device, which can be outfitted for combat situations, was designed originally to quickly evacuate disaster victims from high-rise buildings, mountain tops and sinking or disabled ships. It was developed as part of the lessons learned from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

The U.S. National Guard has been using the Heli-Basket since 2003, and the U.S. Air Force authorized its use in 2006.

When the purchase of basket, which can also be used in the cleansing follow-up of chemical or biological attacks, was proposed about two years ago to Unit 669, the head of the Israel Air Force helicopter battalion and the research and development administration conditioned purchase on cooperation with a foreign country, which had studied the idea but had decided against it.

About six months ago, it was determined there was a need for the equipment, but the decision is still being processed. A decision to purchase the Heli-Basket with American aid dollars would bring the equipment fairly quickly, but it would require some outfitting for combat use. Investing in completing development of the Israeli model to suit IDF needs would require about $200,000.

Similar expensive, mistaken decisions have been made over the last decade. For example, a 2004 proposal to the research and development administration to complete development of a rocket intercepter was rejected, leading to greater exposure of the home front to Hezbollah weapons in the summer of 2006. Disdain for proposals to the research and development administration and the Ground Forces command also reportedly prevented the exposure of tunnels, among them the one that led to the abduction of Gilad Shalit.