|Israel has quietly become a submarine superpower. The Navy's transition into a long-term strategic arm is currently taking place, making this branch of the armed forces of crucial importance to Israel's national security and deterrent capability, with its option to go further, deeper and more quietly, and for extended periods.|
A few months ago, the Navy received its fourth submarine, INS Tanin (crocodile), a German-built Dolphin class submarine. And, if all goes well, the fifth submarine, INS Rahav, is expected to arrive in Israel in about six months.
According to German publication Der Spiegel, "Armed with nuclear weapons, the submarines are a signal to any enemy that the Jewish state itself would not be totally defenseless in the event of a nuclear attack, but could strike back with the ultimate weapon of retaliation."
The sixth submarine, as yet nameless, will be added to the fleet in 2019 at an estimated cost of some $500 million – Israel's most expensive ever tool of war. Only history will judge whether all six subs were necessary, coming at the expense of replacing the Navy's aging warships. But for now, at their home in Haifa port, the new operations base is already in use, the INS Tanin is becoming operational and awaits her two sisters from the new AIP series of Dolphin submarines.
The Navy talks in terms of a quantum leap, providing the most advanced capabilities in the fields of discovery, communication and combat. The new subs also possess greater ability to remain submerged, thanks to a system that is independent of the outside air, thereby eliminating the need to cruise at a lesser depth, which may expose them. This expansion allows the Navy to operate in multiple arenas simultaneously.
"The new submarines know how to dive deeper, further, and for longer, and operate with greater power than we are used to," says the commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Ram Rothberg. As one naval officer puts it, "They changed the rules of the game."
Israeli submarines during exercise (Photo: Gadi Kabalo)
Israel is revising its defense strategy, in light of the imminent nuclear agreement with Iran and a downturn in air strike capabilities due to Russia's sale to Iran of missile defense systems.
Increasing importance is being placed an enhanced maritime arm, which can operate in multiple arenas - and exercise Israel's alleged second strike capabilities if the country comes under nuclear attack.
Israeli Navy vessels (Photo: Gadi Kabalo)
The new submarines are reported to posses such advanced capabilities, and are armed with missiles manufactured by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and adapted to Israeli needs at the planning stage in Germany.
"INS Tanin is not just a force multiplier, but a clear statement about Israel's intentions to tirelessly uphold, preserve and enhance its deterrent capability at sea," says Rothberg.
Shayetet 13 combat soldiers (Photo: Gadi Kabalo)
In this context, the defense establishment is currently holding an in-depth debate (although this is not the place to elaborate further), on striking a balance in the allocation of resources between Air Force jets that could attack Iran and the capabilities of the naval branch.
This is exacerbated by the dearth of young soldiers eager to serve deep underwater, sometimes cut off from family and friends and the real world for weeks on end. In fact, the search for naval recruits is almost as complex the submarines they will operate.