Strategic submarines

At a time of increased threats to Israel, the procurement of three new submarines is of critical importance.

President Reuven Rivlin meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Germany’s decision last week to approve the sale of three new submarines to Israel is a strategic boost for the country and its military capabilities in an increasingly volatile region.
The three submarines, which will be delivered sometime next decade, will replace the first three Dolphin- class submarines Israel received from Germany in the 1990s. Those three – the Dolphin, Leviathan and Tekuma – were the most advanced diesel-class submarines in operation at the time and replaced Israel’s aging fleet of Gal-class vessels.
At the time, Germany came under harsh criticism for the alleged role German companies played in the development of Iraq’s chemical weapons. In response, it decided to give Israel two submarines free of charge.
The cost of the third was split between Jerusalem and Berlin.
Since then, Germany has continued to uphold its commitment to Israel’s security. In 2006, after the Second Lebanon War, Berlin agreed to sell the Israeli Navy another three submarines with a significant subsidy.
The subsidy is given since it is good for Germany to keep business in the country and ensure that the work is done at local shipyards but is also in Israel’s interest when considering the significant discount it gets when buying the IDF’s most expensive military platform.
The new deal, approved over the weekend in Berlin, is valued at over $1.5 billion of which Israel will receive a 27% discount. There is one caveat, as Jerusalem Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon wrote Sunday, that no criminality be found in the conduct of the senior decision makers involved in the sale.
The attorney general and National Security Council are working closely with the Germans and are keeping them up to speed on the ongoing police investigation – dubbed Case 3000 – into corruption allegations on the part of former top defense officials and confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At a time of increased threats to Israel, the procurement of three new submarines is of critical importance.
Beyond their use in gathering intelligence and being able to covertly infiltrate enemy waters, Israel’s submarines are an important component of the country’s deterrence due to foreign media reports that they can carry and fire cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. If true, this means that Israel’s submarines are the country’s second-strike capability.
German approval of the deal now will boost Israel’s deterrence at a time of growing uncertainty. President Bashar Assad is riding high in Syria amid the defeat last week of ISIS in Raqqa. Thanks to Russia and Iran, Assad is almost back in control of his entire country. Iran is also making an effort to establish a permanent presence along Israel’s northern border while it tries to establish a land route connecting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Israel needs to wrap up the investigation into the corruption allegations as quickly as possible. Firstly, it is important that the deal with the Germans be able to progress without a cloud of uncertainty hovering above. Secondly, it is important for Israelis to know whether the most sensitive of the country’s arms deals has been tainted with corruption. If so, the Knesset and the defense establishment will need to take measures to ensure this does not happen again.
Lastly, Israel needs to be able to conduct deals with other countries and companies. India, for example, recently selected the US over Israel for its new spy plane.
The ongoing probe into the submarine deal was not necessarily a key reason for its decision but it might have played a role and will likely continue to in other potential arms deals.
Israel’s relationship with Germany has known its ups and downs over the years. While Germany remains one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe, Angela Merkel, who was recently reelected as chancellor, has been critical of Netanyahu’s policies on settlement construction.
Her agreement to sell the submarines and grant Israel a significant subsidy, cannot be taken for granted.