Israel’s receipt of the INS Tannin may be old news already but the constant friction on the waves are making headlines constantly. Most recently with the announcement that the Azeri State Oil Company, SOCAR, has gained a 5% stake in the Med Ashdod field which sits 16km off the Southern coast of Israel. This is as perfect a case of linkage between 2 supposedly unconnected events as can be imagined. The Sunday Times reported in February that Azerbaijan, with its porous border with Iran, is an important staging ground for the Mossad and vital for the espionage activities that they conduct in Iran. The term quid pro quo comes to mind.
At first glance the decision to integrate 5 and probably 6 Dolphin class submarines into the Navy may seem wasteful in terms of resources. With a roughly $500 million price tag on each boat one could easily argue that the cash strapped navy could use the money elsewhere. However the strategic importance that the Eastern Mediterranean now has for Israel means that the role of the Israeli Navy now goes far beyond safeguarding the coastline.
While all of the talk with regards to the new Israeli subs is of a second strike capability and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) there are other factors at play that are receiving less attention.
The discovery of oil and natural gas in the Tamar and Leviathan fields which lie 80 and 130 kms off the coast of Haifa changed the game in the Eastern Med. Being within reach of the Turkish Navy, no longer any friend of Israel’s, and the terror of Hezbollah these fields pose as large a risk as they do opportunity. The collapse of the Turkish Israeli alliance and the end of the Mubarak regime in Egypt ensure that Israel is now faced with the possibility that the 2 strongest navies in the Med (besides theirs) threatening Israeli control of these fields.
Against these 2 navies the Dolphin subs would come in very handy indeed. Especially considering the relative vulnerability of surface vessels. In 2006 a Hezbollah anti ship missile scored a direct hit against the INS Hanit, an Israeli Navy corvette, killing 4 crewmen and causing substantial damage. If a terrorist group are capable of causing such devastation to our most modern surface vessels then imagine what a nation state with far greater resources could achieve. In that environment having the most effective and quietest subs in the region could be a game changer without any suggestion of them having to use the doomsday option. The diesel-electric engines on the subs make them quieter than nuclear powered subs such as those used by the United States.
Each of the subs has 4, 650mm torpedo tubes and 6, 533mm tubes. In addition to being able to launch nuclear missiles these tubes can be used to launch something far less conventional, people. Naval commandoes can exit the subs through these larger tubes on the way to carry out sabotage missions in enemy territory. It is known that the Shayatet 13 unit has a unit responsible for attacking enemy shipping in their home waters and these are perfect for just such operations. It has also been speculated that Mossad agents could use the subs to infiltrate into enemy countries the same way.
Economics and politics go hand in hand with war, the discovery of the Leviathan and Tamar fields have affected the first 2 factors to make the third that much more likely. The Israeli Navy was once the lesser of the 3 arms of the IDF but now, with the oil fields on the way to being exploited to ever greater effect the Israeli Navy is the natural protector of Israel’s strategic interests and needs to be equipped in order to be up to the job. The Dolphin submarines are just the beginning, Unmanned Surface Vehicles are being trialled and more vessels are on the way. The Israeli Navy is the service of Israel’s future and the sea, especially what lies beneath it, the next battlefield.