Israel is Negotiating the Acquisition of Additional Submarines with Germany

Four years after the heated debate regarding the question of whether or not the IDF Navy needs a sixth submarine – Germany and Israel have initiated negotiations regarding the acquisition of additional submarines

The INS Tanin, a Dolphin AIP class submarine, docks at a naval base in the city of Haifa, Israel (Photo: AP)

Four years after the heated debate within the Israeli defense establishment and political echelon regarding the question of whether or not the IDF Navy needs a sixth submarine – Germany and Israel have initiated negotiations regarding the acquisition of additional submarines. Negotiations have begun at the top political and defense levels and are currently regarded as preliminary.

As previously reported, the suspicions raised by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regarding the alleged acceptance of a bribe by former Defense Minister Ehud Barak were associated with his decision to acquire a sixth submarine from Germany contrary to the position of IDF.

The Dolphin class submarines being manufactured in Germany for Israel are regarded as Israel's long arm in the event of a war with Iran and as the most expensive weapon system in IDF use. Nevertheless, five years ago, IDF officials objected to the acquisition of a sixth submarine from Germany – a subsequent acquisition to the five Dolphin class submarines acquired previously. Three older model submarines had been delivered to Israel in the early 2000s while the transaction regarding the fourth and fifth submarines had been signed about six years ago (the fourth submarine was delivered to the IDF Navy last year and the fifth was delivered in early 2016). The transaction concerning the sixth submarine is the realization of an option that had been included in the transaction concerning the manufacture of the fourth and fifth submarines, signed in 2012 after the German Government had decided to undertake one-third of the financing of each submarine – US$ 180 million out of half a billion dollars.

The delivery of the sixth submarine is scheduled for 2018. According to certain reports, when it has been delivered, the IDF Navy will decommission one of the three older Dolphin class submarines. The commandant of the IDF Navy at the time, Adm. Eliezer ("Chiney") Marom and the IDF Chief of Staff at the time, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, objected to the acquisition of the sixth submarine on the grounds that the procurement would have to be paid for by the ILS portion of the defense budget rather than through US Aid funding. Barak's decision to exercise the option was made contrary to their position (which refuted the allegation voiced even by Olmert that Barak had allegedly been bribed. Barak strongly denied this allegation at the time).

Many had estimated that after the political echelon had forced the sixth submarine on IDF, the IDF Navy intends to employ a fleet of five submarines for many years to come, but as it turns out, Israel is currently negotiating the acquisition of additional submarines. The IDF Navy and present General Staff are interested in the additional submarines. If another transaction is signed for the acquisition of 2-3 additional submarines, Germany is expected to subsidize the cost as it did with the previous transactions, owing to the German interest to maintain the strategic submarine production line in Kiel.

Sources within the Israeli defense establishment noted that the past debate regarding the need for a sixth submarine notwithstanding, no one doubts the fact that the submarines are Israel's primary strategic weapon system.

According to foreign sources, the Dolphin-class submarines offer a second strike capability, namely – they would be able to launch nuclear missiles into enemy territory even if Israel had been previously attacked by nuclear weapons and its ground bases were destroyed. The upgraded version of the Dolphin class submarine is ten meters longer than the older version, which enables the installation of advanced weapon and combat management systems and a longer endurance under water.

The 1,900-ton Dolphin class submarines are based on the German A212 submarine model and each has 10 torpedo tubes. According to various media reports, they can accommodate underwater vehicles. According to foreign sources, Israel adapted the 650mm torpedo tube of the Dolphin submarines so that it may be used to launch cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

The reason for the current negotiations regarding an additional submarine transaction could be the extensive arms race in the Persian Gulf pursuant to the nuclear agreement signed between the superpowers and Iran, and Israel's desire to enable continuous operation of its submarines simultaneously (as each submarine must spend considerable periods of time in the Navy shipyards for servicing and maintenance purposes).