NATO-Israel Joint Operation: Access Codes

Force-through-Force Operation Opens Access Codes to Israel

In recent days, two bits of information disclosed that Israel is intensifying its cooperation with NATO. One of them is quite trivial, the second implies an unprecedented level of cooperation and has already generated protests from Turkey, a former Israeli ally.

In October 2012, NATO will participate in “Turning Point 6,” a drill simulating a major earthquake in Israel. In the beginning of February, Minister for Israel’s Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai met with NATO Deputy Secretary General Claudio Bisogniero in Brussels to discuss the details of the joint exercise. Matan Vilanai was second in command of Operation Entebbe, and is thus a former commander of Benjamin Netanyahu.

During the drill, NATO Search and Rescue units, as well as supporting units will arrive in Israel and work together with IDF forces (which in this case cooperate also with civilian institutions). “We have a big interest in deepening and widening our ties with the Union and with NATO,” said Vilnai after the encounter. Sure you have a big interest, Mister Vilnai; let’s see why that is so.

On February 10, NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said NATO is considering an Israeli offer to contribute a warship to Operation Active Endeavour, despite Turkey’s opposition. This operation was one of NATO’s answers to the 9/11 events and refers to a naval patrol in the Mediterranean Sea.

Designed to prevent the movement of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, it has monitored since its creation over 100,000 ships, boarded over 100 ships, and escorted to port above 500 ships. It has also tightened control of black market trafficking lines in the Mediterranean. Israel access to it is less innocent than it looks.


Moving Force

Moving Force

Israel has already a liaison officer within the NATO’s Active Endeavor naval force since 2009. However, the dispatch of the missile-ship will mark an important step up in Israel’s relationship with NATO. The Israeli warship will participate in routine security patrols.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Friday (February 10) that the alliance separates such activities from “political events in the Middle East.” The Israeli “big interest” (as defined by Mr. Vilnai) probably has to do with the NATO communications system. 

“Zulu from Alpha; Camel in Eta, Request Beta” 

The mock codified subtitle above captures the schematic shape of a simple communications code. A possible decodification could be: “Naval base, here is the patrol ship; there is an unidentified ship in the port, asking for permission to approach it.”

It could describe a situation in which a ship from the same army, but from a different force, is just crossing through the mentioned port but erred while informing the regional unit monitoring the port, thus becoming an unknown entity to “alpha.” It illustrates a main problem in military operations.

In Hebrew, it is known as “force-through-force” (coah-dereh-coah) and probably it has similar names in most languages. When one military force needs to cross a terrain held by another force, a complex coordinating procedure is needed, “force-through-force” is the result. At least in the IDF, this is the nightmare of every cadet.

In the days of analogue MK77 wireless communications devices, and even with the digital MK91, the coordination of such an event is a nightmare, and not only due to the low quality of the transmitted voice. Only gifted soldiers are capable of understanding the gibberish emanating from the lousy loudspeakers while replacing all the codes in a reasonable amount of time.

Many lose their careers as army officers after failing such an exercise. Even in real life, the event is complex, especially if working against a major headquarters. Imagine a platoon trying to cross terrain controlled directly by the regional division headquarters. The platoon’s communication sergeant would probably get lost just by trying to figure out with whom he is speaking. Errors happen frequently.

At least in the IDF, this is the main reason for deaths caused by friendly fire. If the abovementioned sergeant told the wrong person in the division that his force would cross the division’s area, this may result in the platoon being targeted by the division’s artillery. Until the error is clarified, the platoon may not exist any longer.

It is assumed that in the First Lebanon War, at least 10% of the IDF casualties were inflicted this way. In other words, “force-through-force” is a key element in the operation of an army.


The Camel Train - Emile RouergueThe Camel Train | Emile Rouergue


Understanding the communications system is key in order to avoid such errors. The first step is to comprehend the syntax being used. That means understanding how the sentences are constructed. In the example above, it began with an identification of who is being called, and it was immediately followed by a self-identification; the message came afterwards.

Different systems may be used. No less important is knowing the actual codes.

In the example above “Zulu” was the headquarters; but the following week this code may be changed to “alpha.” Thus, a constant follow up on the syntax and codes used is essential for understanding ongoing communications. This is true even in automated electronic procedures. 

“Alo, Bibi? It’s Vilnai, in NATO!” 

Understanding this, Israeli excitement about getting access to NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour becomes clear. This operation monitors the movements of all ships in the Mediterranean Sea. That includes IDF and ZIM ships. The latter is the commercial fleet of Israel and is closely related to Israel’s military activities.

In other words, if Israel wants to be able to speak directly with NATO’s naval communications system, it needs accurate access to the codes and syntax used at any given moment. The best way of achieving that is getting the information directly from NATO due to its status as Operation Active Endeavour participant. Israel is about to achieve that.

Once Israel gets that, it would be able to manipulate NATO’s communications (for example by disguising one of its missile-ships as an Iranian one) in a credible way, and to mimic a false flag attack on NATO. Is that what Mr. Vilnai defined as “Israel’s big interest?”


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