Israel Looks East for Navy Commander



The Israeli Navy, still recovering from the image of one of its missile ships struck by a land-launched missile during the summer 2006 Israeli assault on the Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, has received a new commander -- of Chinese descent.

The Israeli minister of defense and other senior military officials had earlier stepped down following recriminations and investigations of the ill-fought conflict. Rear Admiral Eli Marom -- with the nickname "Chiney" -- took command of the navy in October after his predecessor, David Ben-Bassat, retired amidst the continuing criticism of his conduct during the Lebanon war.

Marom's mother was a member of the Chinese Jewish community, born to an Israeli and a Russian migra woman. She married Marom's father after he had fled his native Germany for China during World War II. In 1955, the couple moved to Israel, where Marom was born.

Because he looked different, it "forced him constantly to show that he was better. He became one of the very best very quickly," one former comrade told the weekend newspaper Yediot Acharonot, which published a profile of the new admiral.

Marom, age 52, trained as an engineer and ascended through the ranks, overseeing major naval operations such as the 2002 capture of an Iranian-supplied weapons ship en route to Gaza.

The Israeli Navy is currently undergoing a major expansion, with additional German-built Dolphin-class submarines and American-built Sa'ar V-class missile corvettes as well as lesser craft under construction. These new ships will lead to an expansion of the active Israeli Navy, which currently has some 5,500 active duty personnel and about 3,500 reservists.

One of three earlier Sa'ar V corvettes delivered in 1994-1995 was struck by the cruise missile on 21 July 2006. The Hanit was part of the force blockading the Lebanese coast to prevent additional weapons from reaching the terrorists by sea from nearby Syria. At 8:45 P.M. a C-802 cruise missile struck the ship some ten miles offshore. Indications are that one missile was fired "high" to distract the ship's defensive systems and the second was aimed at the Hanit (spear).

The first missile struck a small merchant ship, reported to be a Cambodian-flag cargo ship with an Egyptian crew, steaming about 35 miles offshore. The second missile struck the stern of the 1,275-ton Hanit. The Israeli ship, fitted with a massive array of anti-missile systems, was apparently taken by complete surprise by the missile attack.

-- Norman Polmar

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