Dolphin-class submarine 248.88.
(photo credit: IDF )
An IDF Navy Dolphin-class submarine that participated in maneuvers off the Eilat coast last week returned to Israel via the Suez Canal on Sunday according to witnesses' reports.
The submarine was spotted returning through the waterway along with an Israeli missile boat.
However, an Israeli defense official told Reuters there would be no permanent deployment in Eilat of the German-made submarines, of which the Navy has three, with two more on order.
"If anything, we are scaling down our naval operations in Eilat," the official was quoted as saying on Sunday.
A senior naval source explained that the "submarines need the open water, and that's just not available at Eilat."
"Also, the navy cannot take on the logistical burden of setting up two bases, with all the specialized needs in terms of equipment, maintenance crews and security safeguards, for a submarine fleet that, at most, will comprise five Dolphins," he told the news agency.
On Friday, The Jerusalem Post was first to reveal that in a possible signal to Iran, the Israeli Navy returned to sailing through the Suez Canal after a long hiatus, and recently sent an advanced submarine through the canal to participate in a drill in the Red Sea.
IDF sources said the decision to allow navy vessels to sail through the canal was made recently and was a definite "change of policy" within the service. In 2005, then OC Navy Adm. David Ben-Bashat decided to stop sending Israeli ships through the canal due to growing threats in the area.
However, the Dolphin-class submarine sailed through last month to get from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Israeli officials said it passed through the canal above water, and that it was not done covertly.
"It is a question of policy," a senior officer explained. "Navy vessels have sailed through the canal on several occasions recently."
The significance of the move was debatable, but it could be interpreted as a message to Iran and a demonstration of strengthening ties between Egypt and Israel.
In the event of a conflict with Iran, and if Israel decided to involve its three Dolphin-class submarines - which according to foreign reports can fire nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and serve as a second-strike platform - the quickest route would be to send them through the Suez Canal.
The only way to get to the Gulf of Oman without refueling would be to go through the canal. With their reported 4,500 nautical mile range, taking the long way, around Africa, would require the Dolphins to make at least two stops for refueling at a friendly port, or for fuel to be replenished at sea.