The Navy’s new submarines provide vital second strike capability.

A Dolphin-class submarine broaches in the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
A Dolphin-class submarine broaches in the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
 THE ISRAEL Navy ship Tanin (Crocodile) will anchor sometime in September shortly before the Jewish New Year at its home harbor of Haifa, after completing an 8,000 km voyage that commenced three weeks before in the German port of Kiel in the North Sea where the submarine was built.
The Tanin is the Israel Navy’s fourth German-built Dolphin-class submarine.
Within four years, two additional submarines are scheduled to enter into service.
Once mockingly called “the bathroom fleet,” the Israel Navy with its fleet of sub - marines is emerging as one of the biggest and most powerful in the entire region from the Indian Ocean via the Persian Gulf to Europe. No less important, the navy, with its advanced technologies, alongside the air force, becomes Israel’s long strategic and deterrent arm.
The upcoming High Holiday season could have marked another significant development for Israel and for the potential strategic use of its submarine fleet, as is the case with other major naval forces. The arrival of Tanin was supposed to coincide with the appointment of a director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) to replace Dr. Shaul Horev, who has served in the position since 2007, and was expected to conclude his tenure by the end of this year.
The IAEC director general is appointed by the prime minister and answers directly to him. The prime minister is also the chairman of the Commission. However, spokespersons for the IAEC, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office, have said they do not know when Horev will leave or who his replacement will be.
The IAEC is one of the most secretive agencies operating in Israel, more so even than the Mossad. It is the body responsible for all nuclear issues, including the jewels of Israel’s nuclear project – the major nuclear reactor at Dimona and the smaller Sorek research facility south of Tel Aviv.
It also is charged with the acquisition of  technology, treatment of nuclear waste and the containment of poisonous leaks.
Al - though, the IAEC controls one of the largest budgets in the country, there is insuffi cient supervision and accountability.
Israel’s nuclear policy has been defined as “nuclear ambiguity” – neither denying nor confirming reports that it possesses such weapons. However, it is widely as - sumed by all foreign sources and intelli - gence communities that it does in fact have a nuclear arsenal.
By the nature of his responsibilities, the IAEC director general is one of the most powerful, influential and mysterious of - ficials in Israel. Horev, who has never agreed to be interviewed, delivers a single public address once a year at the general assembly of the International Atomic En - ergy Agency (IAEA) conference in Vien - na.
In this annual address, he repeats the same statement, setting out Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. He also has repeated in each of these speeches the need for the IAEA to act with utmost urgency against Iran’s budding nuclear program.
Horev began his position in the IAEC after a long career in the navy, where he reached the rank of brigadier-general and served in another secret position within the Defense Ministry. During his time in the navy, he commanded the submarine fleet and was a major force pushing for the acquisition of the Dolphin submarines, lat - er creating Israeli design specifications for the subs.
In the Defense Ministry, he served as special assistant to the defense minister, heading the ministry’s department for “special measures.” The exact tasks of this department have never been published.
Navy chiefs and other leading strategists had already started to think about building a sophisticated submarine fleet in the 1980s.
One of the founding fathers of this strategic drive was Admiral Avraham Botzer, a former commander of the Israel Navy, who passed away two years ago. Back in 1989, Botzer told me his vision was to furnish the navy as a strategic arm with nine sub - marines. But successive prime ministers, defense ministers and chiefs of staff reject - ed the idea either as an unnecessary fanta sy or due to a lack of financial resources.
Eventually, though, the idea to replace and expand the navy’s fleet of two outdated British-made submarines materialized in 1991, as the result of strategic rethink - ing and opportune circumstances.
The opportunity came in 1991 during the Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israel in the First Gulf War. Then German for - eign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher visited Israel in a gesture of solidarity and was confronted with the revelations that German companies had sold equipment, materials and technology to Iraq for Sadd - am Hussein’s chemical program.
The implication was clear. Forty-five years after World War II Germans were once again involved in a program that could have threatened, with gas, the ex - istence of the Jewish people. In response, Genscher agreed to Israel’s request to finance the navy’s first two modern sub - marines.
Initially, Israel wanted to build the submarines in the US, but it turned out that American shipyards were constructing only nuclear-powered submarines. It was pretty clear to all involved parties that this would not be approved by US administra - tions because Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The cost of nuclear-powered submarines, anyway, was far beyond Israel’s financial capability.
Thus, the Israeli submarines were built at the Kiel shipyards in northern Germany.
By the end of the decade, Germany will hand over two more submarines to the Israel Navy. The cost of the six vessels is estimated at 2.5 billion euros and, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, at least half of it is being subsidized by the German government.
Strategically, this was a visionary approach ahead of its time. It can be assumed that at the time decision makers in Israel began to grasp the emerging reality of the Middle East – Iraq already had aspired to - ward a nuclear program only to be stopped twice, first by Israel’s 1981 air assault on the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad and second after the US invasion of 1991.
Anticipating that other nations such as Iran and Libya would follow suit to build nuclear bombs, Israeli leaders, according to foreign analysts, reached the conclusion that the country – which always had tried to keep a strategic edge over its enemies – needed a second-strike nuclear capability.
The Tanin submarine also has a unique air-independent underwater propulsion system, extending its underwater endur - ance, a senior Israeli naval officer has said, refusing to elaborate.
Generally speaking, submarines – Dolphin-class vessels included – are the most effective second-strike platform. Under water, they are almost undetectable. Even if the enemy were to destroy land-based nuclear inventory, nuclear-tipped missiles aboard submarines can retaliate within seconds. According to foreign reports, Israel can launch ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads from the new submarines.
Submarines are also very effective for intelligence missions and special operations – they can approach enemy coasts covertly, and deploy listening and visual equipment and commando forces ashore.
The expected arrival of the Tanin submarine has brought back into the public discourse an old reality.
Despite the recent hysteria over the emergence of the Islamic State as an ad - ditional terror threat to Israel, its pro- Western neighbors, as well as the US and Europe, the Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still mainly concerned that Iran eventually will have nuclear weapons.
This possibility is even more acute because of IS advances in Iraq and Syria. IS military successes would serve Shi’ite Iran as further justification that it indeed needs a strategic deterrent against its enemies – not necessarily Israel, but the Sunni Islamist barbarians.
In the last decade, when it became evident that Iran was rushing toward the nuclear threshold, voices both in Israel and outside advocated for an Israeli rethinking of its own nuclear policy.
Scholars wondered about the causality of the sequence of events and raised the possibility that the Iranian desire to have nuclear weapons was aimed at breaking the Israeli nuclear monopoly. Some suggested that Israel should go public with its nuclear policy, based on the concept of “balance of terror” borrowed from the US-Soviet Cold War nuclear rivalry. Some went even further suggesting that Israel negotiate the creation of a Middle East nuclear-free zone, and thus eventually agree to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
Two prominent voices advocated such ideas. One was the late Dr. Reuven Pedatzur, a journalist turned scholar. The second is Dr. Avner Cohen a US-based former Israeli, who violated Israeli cen - sorship rules by publishing a book on the country’s nuclear policy and since then has been shuffling from one think tank to an - other.
Luckily, this advice was not accepted by the decision makers. With the changes and uncertainties in the Middle East, which now seems to be in the process of redefin - ing its boundaries and national entities, it is clear, once again, that Israel’s founding fathers showed vision when they decided the only way to survive in this rough and hostile neighborhood was to have strategic, state-of-the-art tools.
The ambiguous nuclear policy adopted by Israel must remain in place. It will provide Israel not only with the ultimate insurance policy for its existence but also can give the leadership – though probably not the current government led by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – the self- confidence necessary to take risks in peace negotiations, regional security arrange - ments and territorial concessions.