Last month, the Israeli navy took control of a Panamanian ship off the coast of Sudan that was carrying Iranian munitions to Gaza. The Red Sea operation underscored the growth of the navy’s role in Israel’s power projection, which has accelerated in the 21st century after many decades in which maritime strategy was something of an afterthought for Israel’s military.
A maritime perspective was central in pre-state Zionist strategic thinking, because the seas were the gateway for Jewish immigration into Palestine. However, once the state of Israel was created in 1948, the seas and the navy lost their significance in the eyes of Israel's security establishment. The wars that followed featured mostly challenges and responses on the ground and in the air.
In these early years, Israel's military leadership defined five goals for the navy: to guard the coast, to protect ports, to "take action" against a possible naval blockade by Arab states, to "land from the sea, against enemy targets," and to secure Israeli "maritime transportation." With these rather minimalist goals, the navy possessed until the early 1970s a small number of platforms, mostly destroyers. The force reflected a haphazard approach to planning and procurement, rather than a clear vision.