Wednesday, November 7, 2018


A topic that is not well studied by academics is the Israeli Navy creation -thanks to the "Civitavecchia Maritime School" (called sometimes in Israel: "Betar Navy Academy")- with help from Fascist Italy in the 1930s. Many of us don't know that Mussolini had links with the Jewish of Italy, when he started his political movement that was later called "Fascism".

In October 1933 there were 4920 Italian Jews who were members of the Italian Fascist Party, nearly 10% of all the Jews living in Italy (please read the interesting essay in Italian:

Jewish Cadets of the Civitavecchia Maritime School near the "Sarah I" stern in 1937
Indeed one of the main fascist authorities was Maurizio Rava, who was governor of Italian Somalia. He was one of the many members of the "Fascist Party" (like Italo Balbo, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Guglielmo Marconi, Giovanni Gentile, to name a few of the most important) who did not like -and tried to reject, but sadly failed- the Mussolini union with the Hitler Nazism after 1936.

Maurizio Rava was born in a Jewish family in Milan. He enthusiastically joined the "National Fascist Party" ('Partito Fascista' in Italian language) during World War I: in 1919 he was a cofounder of the "Fascio" of Roma. In the EARLY 1930s Rava was vice-Governor of Italian Libya and a general in the fascist militia. From 1 July 1931 to 6 March 1935 Rava was the "Governor" of Italian Somalia. But in the late 1930s he faced problems within the party because of Nazi Germany's influences against Italian Jews. However he was always respected by the fascists (read: ). After being nominated "senator", he died in 1941 because of wounds received in Italian Libya, when was a general of brigade fighting the British. In the last years of his life he was very close to Italo Balbo (the second in charge in fascist Italy after Mussolini) and promoted some links with the Israeli Navy.

Links to Jabotinsky Revisionism

Indeed Rava was linked to Jabotinsky (the main leader of the "Zionist Revisionism") who promoted the "Betar" (youth organization of the Revisionism) and who did the 1931 Betar Conference where was decided to promote the so called "maritime idea" of the 'Rodegal association' (read in Italian: ). In this conference the captain Irmiyahu Helpern was allowed to create a jewish "group for maritime selfdefense", that was to be prepared in the Italian navy school of Civitavecchia (located near Rome). Maurizio Bendes, responsible for the Betar in Italy, started to contact the Italian authorities for the authorization to open a section school for Jews in the Civitavecchia military compound.

The Jewish Italian Revisionists obtained the official approval from the Italian admiral Thaon de Revel in January 1935. The same Mussolini agreed with this request since early 1934 and welcomed the contacts with the Jewish organizations (previously he had met 3 times with the Jewish leader Chaim Weizmann). Mussolini never met Jabotinski (who has been a student at the Sapienza University of Rome law school and always showed sympathies for the Italian Fascism before it suffered the influence of Hitler). Jabotinski ordered to the young Jewish members of the "Betar" the use of "brown shirts" similar to the "black shirts" of Mussolini, and was nicknamed the "Revisionism Duce" (LEONE CARPI, "Come e dove rinacque la Marina d'Israele, la scuola marittima del Bethar a Civitavecchia" - Nemi, Roma 1965)

Jewish Cadets over the Sarah I masts in the 1938 Tunisia voyage

In 1933 the Italian Foreign ministry (Mussolini was also Foreign Minister) began writing documents arguing that a possible Jewish state would be in the Kingdom of Italy's best interests, against British control of Palestine and the Middle East .

Although Jabotinsky had still not been able to arrange a meeting with Mussolini it became clear that the Italian government did view the Revisionists as potential ideological partners at the end of 1933. It was this change that facilitated the creation of the Betar Naval Academy in the Italian port city of Civitavecchia.

Nicola Fusco, the nominal head of the Academy, was administrative secretary of the local Fascist Party and the relationship between the cadets and the fascist establishment was close.

Indeed Alberto Bianco in 2003 wrote the « Les Sionistes Révisionnistes et l’Italie » (Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jerusalem: ), showing clearly this relationship. The following are excerpts translated from French:
Moreover, Jabotinsky wants the cruise to serve the propaganda of the Jewish Navy. He is convinced that it is in the interest of the Italian government that this cruise be conducted under the auspices of the fascist regime. But he is also aware that after the problems have occurred, it is necessary to obtain the agreement of the authorities before starting this second trip. The Directorate General of the Merchant Navy asks for the authorization, informing the excellent results obtained by the students and the extreme recognition of the young of the Betar with regard to the regime. In addition, she asks that the students can cruise aboard the Sara I along the Italian coast, stopping only in the foreign ports of Nice and Marseille. She also recalled that previous trips made in April 1936 had not caused any problem. Mussolini gives his authorization on October 20, 1936. The start of the second cruise also looks like a grand ceremony. The speech delivered by Isacco Sciaky is indicative of his attachment to Zionism and fascism: "Students! Greet the Italian flag flying on your Jewish boat. Always remember what Fascist Italy has given you!...The waters of "Mare Judaicum" will mix amicably with the waters of the "Mare Nostrum" of Italy

Brief History of the Academy

In October 1934, the first 28 Jewish official students arrived in Civitavecchia to be trained in the Maritime School; in the next three years there will be almost 200 graduates. On the uniforms they carried an anchor, the Menorah (the seven-branched candlestick) and the lictorian bundle, and in some official ceremonies they hailed in Roman style, as recalled by the then group leader Avram Blass, later become admiral of the Israeli Navy.

In 1936 the Second Course began, inaugurated by the Chief Rabbi of Rome. Meanwhile, a 60-meter motor sailboat was also purchased, the 'Quattro Venti', renamed "Sarah I", which in the summer of that same year sailed towards Palestine, where it was welcomed with great celebrations by the Jewish community. It is the first merchant of the modern history of Israel.

The "Sarah I" in the Mediterranean sea in 1938

First commander of the "Sara I" was a professor of the school, Tiberio Paone. The second course was inaugurated on March 29, 1936, in the presence of the Chief Rabbi of Rome. The members increase considerably, going up to 52, with the Poles who were the largest group. The second educational cruise is limited to the Italian ports and the French airports of Nice and Marseille.

In February 1937, Commander Fusco was invited to London to meet with the leaders of the Zionist movement, including Jabotinsky, and some businessmen. There was a discussion about the creation of a Jewish fishing port to exploit the sea in front of the coasts of Palestine.

The third course opened in February 1937 with about seventy students. In the lessons were introduced fishing concepts. In order for the students to receive practical fishing lessons, a trawler, renamed "Neca", was purchased at a judicial auction in Porto Santo Stefano. It was then joined by a smaller one, the "Lea". The cruise of summer 1937 had Palestine as a destination, where at the arrival of "Sarah I" grand celebrations were unleashed in honor of the students of the school. The Palestine Post reported that visitors from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the settlements visited the ship to greet the "Jewish seagoing pioneers".

But in 1938 the school had to close after the fourth course was held. The sad reason: Mussolini government has now changed its political acceptance towards Judaism, under the terrible influence of Adolf Hitler and his Nazism. But the courses were very successful and the Revisionists also contacted in December 1935 and in April 1937 the Italian consulate in Haifa to see if they could send some youths to train with the Italian air Force (The Jews in Fascist Italy; p.262 )

Future commanders of Israeli Navy and the start of "Skayetet 13"

However in those few years the Academy trained nearly 200 Jewish cadets from all over Europe, Palestine and South Africa and produced some of the future commanders of the Israeli Navy.

A few of these cadets were successively trained by an Italian fascist sailor named Fiorenzo Capriotti to use Italian explosive motorboats and obtained an important sinking during the 1948 Israeli war of independence: the Israelis deployed an underwater demolition commando unit with high speed torpedo boats, that was the first military action of the special unit called "Skayetet 13".

Indeed in late October 1948, the Israeli Navy performed a feat of daring and resourcefulness. For some days a flotilla of Egyptian vessels had been coming very close to the Tel-Aviv coastline. This included the flagship of the Egyptian Navy, the "Emir Farouk". For a number of days the Israeli and Egyptian Navies had been acting in a threatening manner which was liable to escalate at any time. This mini-escalation took place amidst the largest israeli offensive of the war -Opeation Yoav, which was a major Israeli advance into the Negev, all the way down to Eilat and the Red Sea. The Emir Farouk's actions were seen as a threat to Operation Yoav and the Israel General Staff ordered action. The Emir Farouk was to be sunk.

Photo showing the Italian explosive motorboats used to sink the "Emir Farouk"
We have to pinpoint that in March 1948 David Ben-Gurion ordered Ze'ev HaYam (literally, "Sea Wolf"), one of the main figures in Israel's early navy and merchant marine, to go to Italy to find ships that could be procured for the naval service. While Ze'ev HaYam procured two large motor boats and two landing craft, he wanted to acquire the Decima Flottiglia MAS's MT explosive motorboats that had been used in the "Raid on Souda Bay (Crete)" to ram into and destroy larger ships. Ze'ev HaYam believed that these boats could turn the tide of the war. With the help of a relative and Ben-Gurion's consent, he bought six refurbished boats for $3,000 each from an ailing Italian factory, and while the factory owners were told what the boats were for, to the outside they were disguised as racing boats. In June the MT explosive motorboats were deployed in the "Sea of Galilea" lake and there Capriotti (who had received a silver medal for sinking a British destroyer in 1941 using these boats) trained a "commando" group of Israelis to use this navy weapon.

However this would not be an easy operation. The Emir Farouk moved about with two ships for escort, including a minesweeper, "and both usually stayed within protective range of coastal batteries." The small Israeli Navy could not sink it with conventional methods. So, a small assault force would have to be found: it was - a specially trained group of naval commandos using special Italian torpedo-ships.

They had four specially designed crafts filled with explosives which were intended to carry their operator to within 100 yards of their target. From there, the operator would aim his craft at the enemy ship, set the ship speeding off towards its target, and then seconds later, jump out, his legs attached to a flotation device. From there the craft worked something like a torpedo.

On October 22, 1948 the four boats were assembled for action. The first one took aim, fired, and the operator ejected well before the boat struck the Emir Farouk and detonated. The operator was safe, and the Emir Farouk was now badly damaged, but not destroyed. A second boat opted to have another go at the Emir Farouk. The impact and detonation broke the ship in two. Minutes later, it sank.

This was a tremendous feat for the young Israeli Navy.

Some years later, Capriotti was awarded by Israeli authorities, even if he has recently been a member of the neofascist party of Italy called MSI (Fiorenzo Capriotti, "Diario di un fascista alla Corte di Gerusalemme", 2002).

Wikipedia article

The following are excerpts taken from the Wikipedia article "Betar Naval Academy":

"The Revisionists and Italy"

Italy was a source of ideological, historical and cultural inspiration for the Zionist Revisionists of the 1920s and 1930s.The country under Mussolini was seen as a historical reminder of the roots of the Jewish people and as a contemporary example of a once glorious culture reclaiming its role in the world through the affirmation of power and national pride. From the early 1930s onwards Jabotinsky believed that the United Kingdom could no longer be trusted to advance the Zionist cause and that Italy, as a growing power capable of challenging Britain for dominance in the region, was a natural ally. Jabotinsky had been scheduled to meet Benito Mussolini as early as 1922, but for various reasons the meeting did not take place. However, in a letter to Mussolini, Jabotinsky attempted to win his support for the Zionist cause by arguing that for cultural reasons Italy's pro-Arab policy was misguided.Jabotinsky predicted that Italy and the Arabs would inevitably come into conflict and that a Jewish state in the Middle East could act as a buffer between Europe, Asia and Africa. In the second half of the 1920s Revisionism became a growing force among Italian Zionists and the first branch of the movement, the Raggruppamento d'Italia, was founded in 1925. In 1930 the first issues of Leone Carpi's L'Idea Sionistica advanced an anti-British stance and in 1932 the first Revisionist Zionist conference in Italy took place in Milan.

"Mussolini and the Revisionists"

In 1933 the Italian foreign ministry (Mussolini was also foreign minister) began circulating internal policy documents arguing that a strong Jewish state would be in Italy's best interests. Although Jabotinsky had still not been able to arrange a meeting with Mussolini it became clear that the Italian government did view the Revisionists as potential ideological partners. It was this change that facilitated the creation of the Betar Naval Academy in the Italian port city of Civitavecchia. Nicola Fusco, the nominal head of the Academy, was administrative secretary of the local Fascist Party and the relationship between the cadets and the fascist establishment was close. This was perhaps seen most clearly following the drowning of a cadet in 1935. On 28 May 1935 the Italian newspaper Popolo di Roma's report on the funeral ceremony illustrated the closeness of the relationship: an emotional commemoration took place on board the Italian ship the Domenico, which was flying its flag at half mast; all of the cadets were present, as were Halpern, Fusco, the mayor's representative, the port supervisor and all of the cadets from Lazio naval academy. The paper reported: "In the place where the accident occurred, the dead cadet's comrades prayed according to their own tradition, performed a military ceremony, and tossed a bouquet of flowers to the sea. All who were present then performed the Saluto Romano with their heads uncovered." In a clear expression of the solidarity between the Revisionist Academy and the Italian military the official publication of the Italian professional maritime schools, the Bollettino del Consorzio Scuole Profesionali per la Maestranza Maritima, stated, "In agreement of all the relevant authorities it has been confirmed that the views and the political and social inclinations of the Revisionists are known and that they are absolutely in accordance with the fascist doctrine. Therefore, as our students they will bring the Italian and fascist culture to Palestine."

See also (Jews in Campagna internment camp)