Navy to receive 3 more Dolphin-class vessels, in $1.3 billion deal overshadowed by corruption allegations surrounding Netanyahu
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF June 30, 2017, 8:23 pm
Germany’s national security council approved the sale of three more nuclear-capable submarines to Israel for a combined price of some $1.3 billion, in a deal marred by controversy surrounding corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli Navy currently maintains a fleet of five state-of-the-art German underwater vessels of the Dolphin Class, which can be equipped with nuclear warheads, with a sixth due for delivery this year.
At this stage, the new submarines are not meant to expand the navy’s fleet and would not actually reach Israel for at least another decade. Rather, they would replace the military’s older submarines, which would be approaching obsolescence around the same time, the Times of Israel reported late last year.
Submarines, unmatched in their ability to hide from enemy navies, have long been a major facet of Israel’s defense policy.
Israeli subs are reportedly armed with cruise missiles topped with nuclear warheads, affording the tiny Jewish state “second strike” capabilities — although the government will not acknowledge the existence of these nuclear weapons, as part of its long-standing policy of “nuclear ambiguity.”
The approval of the deal on Friday was first reported by Der Spiegel which did not cite the source of the information.
The German paper further reported that the council decided the deal would be called off if an investigation into corruption suspicions yielded any indication of wrongdoing, according to Channel 2.
Both Israel and Germany opened separate probes into allegations Netanyahu’s personal lawyer allegedly swayed multi-billion shekel deals in favor of the German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp he represented in Israel. The company was awarded the contracts to build the submarines.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered the Israel Police to formally look into the affair in November 2015 after accusations surfaced that the prime minister may have been swayed to purchase the vessels by business ties David Shimron may have had with ThyssenKrupp. The purchase was opposed by parts of the defense establishment, including then Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
The deal came under intense scrutiny late last year after it was revealed by Channel 10 news that Shimron also served in an advisory capacity for ThyssenKrupp.
Police were checking whether the premier himself may have sought to influence the deals due to his ties to Shimron.
The probe is known in Israel as “Case 3000” and is one of several graft investigations involving the prime minister.
Ya’alon recently testified against Netanyahu in the case, saying the PM was directly involved in negotiating the purchase of at least three submarines with German officials. Those talks were done without the involvement of Israel’s security establishment, Ya’alon reportedly said.
Israeli Navy: Dolphin-class submarines
The Israeli Navy's submarine fleet is currently the third-largest in the Middle East, behind Iran and Turkey which both have fourteen.
Israel has four Dolphin-class submarines in use with a fifth scheduled to arrive in Israel by the end of 2013 and a possible sixth to be added in 2014. The first subs were built in the 1990's at a shipyard in Germany and were shipped to Israel in order to replace three older Gal-class submarines which had been in use since the 1970's.
In 1999, the Israeli Navy welcomed its first Dolphin-class submarine from Germany and has since imported three more Dolphins to round out it current submarine fleet.
The Dolphin-class submarines are not only the most advanced and sophisticated submarines that the Israeli Navy has ever used, they also play a crucial role in the "game" of deterrence in the volatile Middle East region. At extreme moments of tactical or strategic uncertainty, such as in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Israel’s first walls of defense are its long-range strategic arms – and the most secretive one is the submarine fleet led by the Dolphins.
The Dolphin submarines second-strike capability - in essence, its ability to fire off ballistic missiles against long-range targets in the event of an attack on the Israeli homefront - ensures that Israel's enemies realize that attacking the Jewish state with weapons of mass destruction will definitely be responded to in kind.
The Dolphin submarines can hold approximately 40 sailors onboard at any given time and have been known to take part in training operations around the world. Due to the secrative nature of the submarine fleet, though, Israel does not permit the Dolphins from docking in foreign ports - even in allied countries.
In April 2013, Israel unveiled it fifth Dolphin submarine, the INS Rahav, at a ceremony in Germany. The submarine was purchased after an extensive development and acquisition process led by the Ministry of Defense's Procurement and Production Directorate in cooperation with the Israeli Navy. The Rahav is scheduled to arrive in Israel by the end of 2013, upon completion of the installation of all of its operational systems, and is already considered to be one of the most advanced submarines in the world. It is the most expensive piece of machinery that the Ministry of Defense has procured for the IDF.
The Israeli Navy has been putting increased effort and funding into their sumbarine program over recent years. Submarines accounted for approximately 35% of the total operational hours of the Israeli Navy in 2010, and by 2013 that number had jumped to 58%.