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Dakar Discovery Leaves Questions

June 1, 1999

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Egyptians on a war footing, Soviets on the hunt, even Americans bearing a grudge: The conspiracy theories surrounding the disappearance of an Israeli submarine 31 years ago have dissipated with its discovery and the likelihood that its 69 men were the victims of a tragic accident.

But Israelis are still seeking answers.

``The reaction was one of closure, that we know they found the submarine,″ said Micha Marcovici, whose brother was a mechanic aboard the Dakar. ``But until they pull it out, we won’t be satisfied.″

The Dakar was identified on Saturday by search and salvage experts working for Nauticus _ a Maryland-based company that identified the Titanic. The Israeli sub was found about 300 miles off the Israeli coast, near the Greek island of Crete.

Israeli navy officers, who accompanied the U.S. salvage experts on the search, believe the Dakar’s periscope was swiped by a cargo ship.

``There is no formal declaration by the navy yet,″ Doron Amir, a captain in the naval reserves, said Tuesday. ``But it was an accident.″

Israeli officers believe the Dakar’s sonar failed to detect the cargo ship until the last minute because of stormy weather. The crew dived to avoid the hull, but it was too late: a huge tear sent the sub plunging nearly two miles to the ocean floor. The 69-man crew was dead within minutes.

They base their conclusions on the way the submarine wreckage is strewn across the sea floor and the way the jagged metal pieces look. The cargo ship would have been unaware of the accident, unable to distinguish the impact of the submarine hit from that of a strong wave, the officers say.

Conspiracy theories had raged for years.

Some believed the Egyptian navy had hit the T-class sub, on its way home from Britain, where it had been purchased and where the crew had been trained.

Egypt in 1968 was still smarting from its humiliating 1967 defeat at the hands of Israel, and some Egyptian generals readily fueled the theory.

It was bolstered when the Dakar’s emergency buoy was washed up a few miles north of Egyptian waters in 1969. The location was off course, but naval researchers theorized at the time that the sub _ known to be making better time than expected _ embarked on an exploratory adventure before docking.

Others speculated that one of the many Soviet military vessels plying the Mediterranean at the time sunk the Dakar as a favor to Arab allies. Still others reckoned an American hit _ revenge for the accidental Israeli strafing of a U.S. spy ship during the 1967 war.

The Israeli navy clearly hopes the discovery of the sub on its designated route kills all the talk of conspiracies and adventurism.

``It was an accident,″ Amir said.

Amir wants to bring the families out to the site of the Dakar for a final ceremony, and rejects calls to raise the sub.

``Why should we lift it up, what good will it do to spend an enormous amount of money to expose pieces of metal to the atmosphere?″ he said.

Such talk demonstrates a patronizing attitude that has infuriated the victims’ families, said Marcovici, who chairs a committee of families.

``Parents were going to their graves not knowing what happened to their sons,″ he said.

Among the questions the families want answered are why the Remote Operated Vehicle that identified the sub, available since 1995, was not hired for the search sooner? And why did it take until 1999 to search the ship’s designated route?

``The mysteries are over, now the questions begin,″ said naval researcher Mike Eldar, whose book on the Dakar has been censored under the official secrets act.

Eldar _ like many of the families _ believes that military arrogance is behind the delays. He says the Dakar is unlikely to hold any secrets.

Aside from answers, the families want to bid a final farewell to their loved ones.

``You can’t leave them there, it’s unbelievably cruel,″ said Nurit Manor, whose husband Dan was aboard the Dakar.

The chances of finding bodies is remote, said Nauticus operations director Tom Dettweiler, who screened a few minutes of video images Tuesday of the Dakar’s detritus _ a roll of cord, a smashed ladder.

Dettweiler said he had never encountered human remains in all his deep sea searches.

He said finding the Dakar moved him even more than the discovery of the Titanic.

``They were sailors like us who were doing their job and doing it well,″ he said.

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