Israeli Submarine Mistakenly Sank Civilian Ship in First Lebanon War

The incident, in which 25 people were killed, has been banned for publication since 1982. The ship was erroneously believed to be carrying terrorists

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FILE PHOTO: An Israeli submarine in the Mediterranean, April, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli submarine in the Mediterranean, April, 2018.Credit:

An Israeli submarine sank a civilian ship carrying refugees during the First Lebanon War, killing 25 people, Channel 10 News reported Thursday. The ship, a Lebanese commercial vessel carrying 56 Lebanese refugees fleeing from the port of Tripoli to Cyprus, was mistakenly believed to be carrying terrorists. 

The submarine, whose mission was to patrol the area and sink Syrian naval vessels, fired two torpedoes, blowing up and sinking the ship. 25 people were killed by the explosion.

Information about the incident had been banned from publication since the incident in June 1982, but the ban was lifted after a petition to the High Court of Justice by the nonprofit Consumers’ Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society and Economy, known in Hebrew as Hatzlacha (Success).

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The IDF conducted an inquiry into the incident about 10 years later. The commander of the submarine testified that he had acted according to the regulations on opening fire. He said he checked the ship and saw that it was not carrying women and children.

The deputy commander of the submarine testified that “there was a fierce atmosphere in the submarine, a desire to attack at all costs. I thought we should hold our fire, because the identification wasn't confirmed, but the only one who looked through periscope was the submarine's commander."

The inquiry took three years and when it was completed, then-Commander of the Israeli Navy Ami Ayalon accepted the findings of the investigation, which recommended against opening a criminal investigation into the matter.  

“The conclusion that the commander of the submarine acted according to instructions is strengthened in light of his actions on the day before the incident. He decided not to fire on a nearby ship out of fear of harming innocent people, even though, according to his view, the people on the ship were terrorists,” he concluded. “This was a case of mistaken judgement during the operation. The incident was not a war crime and no violations were committed. A criminal investigation is inappropriate.”