The Modern Israeli Navy

In the picture: A Dolphin Class Israeli submarine

By Gideon

The days when the Israeli navy was neglected and all the attention was given to the Israeli massive ground forces, and the large air force, are over. Israel still invests most of its budget and resources in its land and air forces. However, in recent years, more resources and attention are given to its navy.

Submarine operations and capabilities is something that most nations keep out of the public eye. Israel is doing the opposite. More and more pictures, videos, and interviews with Israeli submariners appear on the front pages of Israeli newspapers. It is not a coincidence. Israel is signaling to Iran and its other enemies that it can get to them, no matter how far they are, or how deep they hide their assets.

The Israeli navy currently has five modern submarines capable of carrying, and probably do carry (if we are to believe international media ), nuclear warheads, fast attack boats, and a highly trained and secretive elite naval commando unit. The Israeli navy  will receive soon eight Sea Hawk helicopters from the US Navy. This is a formidable force capable of protecting Israel against threats far beyond its immediate borders.

The infusion of resources and and money into its naval operations is the result of three real threats:

  1. The Iranian nuclear threat
  2. The increased activities of the Russian navy in the neighboring country Syria, which is “too close for comfort” in Israeli terms. 
  3. The need to protect important Israeli assets: The gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. The gas fields are located not far from Lebanon – the home-base of the  large Iranian sponsored terror organization Hezbollah.

Israel has almost no trade across its land borders and transports 99% of its foreign trade by volume via the sea. The Navy is charged with defense of Israel’s 190 km-long coastline on the Mediterranean Sea as well as protecting the state’s vital maritime assets.

The Israeli navy operates primarily in the Mediterranean Sea theater as well as the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea theater. 

Sayetet 13, or Flotilla 13, is an elite naval commando unit which specializes in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage operations, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding. It is among the most highly trained and secretive units in the Israeli military. 

The heart of the Israeli navy is the Sa’ar class of fast attack corvettes – their exceptional offensive capability and high speed make them excellent tools in the navy’s ability to dominate the region.

Israel has five of the state-of-the-art German submarines, with a sixth due for delivery in 2017. In October 2016, it was reported that Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of $1.3 billion. The planned purchase aims to replace within the next decade the oldest vessels in its existing Dolphin fleet, which began entering service in 1999.

Foreign military sources and governments say that the Dolphins class submarines can be equipped with missiles armed with nuclear warheads. “In 2012, the influential German news weekly Der Spiegel quoted former high-ranking German defense ministry officials saying that Berlin always assumed Israel was putting nuclear warheads on the Dolphin-class vessels.” [The Time of Israel]


Israel has signed a contract with the German shipyard ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in May 2015 covering four corvettes. A notification released by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 6 July has revealed that Israel plans to acquire eight surplus US Navy SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopters for its new corvettes. The DSCA said the Sea Hawks would be used to secure the Leviathan Natural Gas Field” in the Mediterranean.The Sea Hawk is a twin-engine helicopter. It is used for anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, drug interdiction, anti-ship warfare, cargo lift, and special operations. The Navy’s SH-60B Sea Hawk is an airborne platform based aboard cruisers, destroyers, and frigates and deploys sonobuoys (sonic detectors) and torpedoes in an anti-submarine role.

The Israeli Navy has begun installing Rafael’s C-Dome system – a maritime version of the land-based Iron Dome anti-rocket system – on board its Sa’ar missile ships, a senior naval officer said on 18 May. A successful test fire saw a system carried by a Sa’ar 5 corvette destroy several incoming simulated Grad-type rockets on 17 February, the officer said. Simulated Grad rockets with a range of 40 km were fired in the direction of the ship, which used the C-Dome to destroy all the threats. The navy now plans to roll out the system to other vessels, including the four Sa’ar 6-class missile ships that are due to arrive in Israel over the next four years. “In the future, this will become an integral part of the ship,” the source said.


Rahav – A Dolphin-class 2 Israeli submarine

Tanin, the first Dolphin-class 2 Israeli submarine arrived in Israel in 2014. Rahav the second Dolphin-class 2 submarine arrived n Israel in January 2016. Israel’s sixth Dolphin-class 2, Dakar, is scheduled for delivery in 2017.

Rahav, the newest addition to the Israeli navy submarine force is 220 feet long, displaces 2,400 tons submerged and is crewed by 35 sailors, but it can hold an additional 10 people for special operations. She is capable of reaching a top speed of 25 knots underwater and can operate without resupply for up to 30 days under normal operating conditions.

What makes the Rahav and its predecessor the Tanin so capable and dangerous to its foes is that it uses Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) to stay submerged for weeks at a time. This opens up an operations envelope that was long only accessible to much more complex and expensive nuclear-powered submarines. Not only that, but the Dolphin 2 class’s version of AIP propulsion uses fuel cell technology, which is extremely quiet even by AIP submarine standards.


Related post:  What happened to Dakar?


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