Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Death of the Dakar

On January 25, 1968, contact with the Dakar was lost. The Israeli navy's newest acquisition, a submarine manned by a crew of 69, was on its maiden voyage from the UK, where it had been purchased, to Israel. The crew may or may not have known what happened to them; the rest of us will never know. As the submerged ship was on course somewhere between Crete and Cyprus, something malfunctioned and it sunk to the bottom; its remains were found only 31 years later, in 1999.

But none of this was known in January and February 1968. All that was known at the time was that contact with the submarine had been lost, and a flurry of diplomatic activity, international military cooperation, wild rumors, and malicious disinformation filled Israel's media. It turns out, now that the ISA has published a trove of documents from the inner circles of government, that exactly the same was going on there. The generals, diplomats and politicians knew exactly not an iota more than anyone else.

Our (Hebrew language) publication this morning includes more than a dozen documents. There are diplomatic cables to and from Israeli delegations involved in coordinating search operations with the participation of the US, British and Greek navies; the Turks didn't allow foreigners into their territorial waters but searched on their own. A Dutch clairvoyant reported to the Israeli embassy in the Netherlands that the submarine seemed to have been hit by a torpedo and was lying on the sea floor west of Cyprus; for lack of anything better to say, the embassy sent a cable about this back to Jerusalem, marked "Urgent".

The top admiral of the navy, Shlomo Erel, reported to the government about the searches and speculations: had the Dakar perhaps been sunk by the Egyptians? By the Soviets? Did the Americans have information about a Soviet attack which they were withholding?

In early February, even the Israelis understood it was too late to save anyone, and the searches were called off; the crew was declared Missing in Action. On March 6, 1968, the cabinet declared the ship officially lost and the crew dead; the decision was announced in the Knesset later that day.

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