BERLIN – The German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that German-manufactured Dolphin-class submarines delivered to the Israel Navy can be equipped with technology for carrying nuclear warheads.
Over the years there has been a swirl of German media reports about the nuclear capability of Israel’s submarines, ever since the shipment of the first Dolphins arrived in the late 1990s.
In an article in Der Spiegel titled “Made in Germany,” experts from Israel and Germany confirmed that the “ships are armed with nuclear warheads. And Berlin has long been aware of that.”
The magazine asserts that interviews with Israeli and Western security officials and intelligence officers “leave no doubt” that German technology has permitted Israel’s navy to turn underwater vessels into second-strike capable nucleararmed submarines.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak would not confirm the nuclear capability of the Dolphin fleet, but told Der Spiegel “Germany helps to defend Israel’s security.
Germans should be proud that they have secured the existence of the State of Israel for many years.”
The Merkel administration declined to confirm in the magazine’s cover story that the Dolphin submarines are armed with nuclear weapons.
Hans Rühle, who directed the planning department of the German Defense Ministry from 1982-1988, told Der Spiegel that he assumed that “the submarines are nuclear capable.”
The magazine wrote that “Popeye turbo SLCM” missile system exists on the vessels, and the Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems developed the Popeye system. The submarines can carry cruise missiles that reach a destination of 1500 km., noted Der Spiegel. The article added that “missiles can be launched using a previously secret hydraulic ejection system” on board the vessels.
If the vessels contain nuclear warheads, the highly advanced Dolphin and Super-Dolphin submarines can enable Israel to launch a second-strike attack against an aggressor like the Islamic Republic of Iran. The deterrent effect, following the logic of the Cold War nuclear standoff between the former Soviet Union and the US, would prevent a jingoistic country from attacking Israel.
In short, a hostile country should fear the enormous human loss and infrastructure damage resulting from a retaliatory Israeli nuclear strike.
Germany provided the first two submarines to Israel cost free after the First Gulf War in 1991, largely because German industry helped the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein develop chemical/gas weapons, which could be used against the Jewish state. The administration of then-chancellor Helmut Kohl worried at the time about the backlash against Germany’s reputation, because the Federal Republic armed a regime determined to engage in a lethal gas attack against Jews. Israel and Germany split the cost of the third submarine.
Three additional Dolphins are slated to be delivered to Israel by 2017. The Defense Ministry may order three more submarines, resulting in a potential fleet of nine possibly nucleararmed underwater ships.
Der Spiegel noted that the Merkel administration initially demanded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu back off on further settlement construction in the West Bank in exchange for the sixth submarine.
According to Der Spiegel, former Israeli ambassador to Germany Yoram Ben-Ze’ev received a call from National Security Adviser Ya’acov Amidror in November 2011, while he was in Tel Aviv, telling him to return to Germany to sign the contract for the sixth submarine. Merkel ultimately chose not to make Israel’s security hostage to the settlement policies.
The newly advanced Dolphin submarines can remain submerged as long as 18 days, in contrast to earlier models that must reemerge after a few days.
According to some media commentators, the Der Spiegel report noted no new startling revelations.
However, the article delved into post-Holocaust German- Israeli military relations. The magazine produced a historical note documenting a 1961 meeting among the late prime minister David Ben-Gurion, President Shimon Peres and the late German Christian Social Union politician Franz Josef Strauss.
According to the note, Ben- Gurion raised a discussion on the construction of atomic weapons. Der Spiegel noted that there has only been speculation regarding Ben-Gurion’s talk about nuclear weapons.
Melody Sucharewicz, a German- Israeli commentator who frequently appears in the German media, told The Jerusalem Post by email on Sunday, “This article... is an expression of a new quality of subtle but effective incitement against Israel.
Stylistically and semantically disguised as neutral journalism,” she wrote, “they fabricate an image of Israel and German- Israeli political and diplomatic relations that has little to do with reality, but promises good quota given the rising trends of Israel resentment among the German public.
“Germany isn’t ‘largely’ financing the submarine deal as the article falsely claims at the beginning, but subsidizes a third, partially in order to save the the Hamburg shipbuilding company from bankruptcy.”
Sucharewicz added that the Der Spiegel article “falsely creates the impression that Germany grants Israel the capacity for a devastating nuclear attack against Iran with help of these submarines, whereas if at all they would provide Israel second-strike capacity and thus mainly have a deterrent function in the face of Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions and corresponding threats against Israel.”
Sucharewicz noted that “this trend is dangerous not only for the future of German-Israeli relations, but also for the German people – euphemizing the Iranian nuclear threat to the Western world and at the same time forgetting the historic foundations and shared values of freedom and democracy on which this relationship was built would be a self-destructive development.”
Tom Gross, a leading political and media commentator, told the Post on Sunday, “we have seen speculative news reports of this type before, some stretching back decades, and one might wonder why Der Spiegel had decided to repeat this recycled ‘news’ in such a prominent way now.”