Spotlight: Israel's navy busy strengthening its forces, adapting to changing threats

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli military announced Wednesday that the construction of four navy corvettes has begun in Germany.

In a statement it said the vessels, coined SA'AR 6, would enter service over the next three years.

At the ceremony, which was held in the German city of Kiel, Navy Commander in Chief Eliyahu Sharvit said the vessels were part of "the fundamental components of the naval protective shield established by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces)."

The Israeli navy, which was always charged with safeguarding Israel's maritime surroundings, has been tasked in recent years with the protection of the country's newly discovered gas reserves in its territorial waters.

At the end of 2010, when the reserves were found, it was a strategic change for till-then energy-dependent Israel. But, it also was the beginning of a new job for the navy, protection of the oil rigs which could easily become a target for many of the country's hostile neighbors.

"Our ability to protect strategic assets has to be very robust," a senior IDF navy official told reporters earlier this week. "The SA'AR 6 has to take all the threats into consideration and protect from them from afar."

The official spoke under condition of anonymity.

Israel is also in the process of upgrading its submarine corps, purchasing six from German corporation, ThyssenKrup.

The submarine deal has been tainted by controversy and a criminal investigation against officials close to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who are suspected of corruption and bribery in order to seal the multi-million-dollar transaction.

Netanyahu has denied all the allegations and reports against him.

Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon resigned from his position in 2016 and later said the submarine deal was one of the reasons behind the act.

The Israeli aspiration for naval supremacy does raise question marks about the necessity of the widespread upgrade.

Israel is currently enjoying relatively calm times. Its main threats are guerilla organizations whose naval capabilities may not warrant such maritime might.

But according to the senior naval official, the unit still needs to be prepared for traditional sea-to-sea battles with enemy navies.

"The navies around us continue to strengthen," he said. "We are in a technological race in an attempt to maintain maritime supremacy."

Egypthas reportedly also purchased four submarines from the same German corporation.

The Israeli media quoted a senior naval officer saying that although Egypt is not a threat to the country, he "would have preferred Egypt not having German submarines."

Once receiving the vessels, be it submarines and corvettes, Israel fits them with its own weapons and other systems.

"We are taking our capabilities to the extreme, pushing the limits of Israeli technology," boasted the senior naval officer.

It is clear Israel faces challenges in the Mediterranean Ocean and in the Red Sea.

As of an Israeli cabinet decision in 2013, the navy is charged with protecting Israel's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), particularly with safeguarding newly found natural gas reserves.

The gas rigs are an attractive target for militant organizations such as Lebanese Hezbollah. The Israeli navy believes Hezbollah has trained suicide divers and a jet ski unit.

The Gaza Strip, with its own waters, also poses a challenge. Hamas, a militant organization hostile to Israel, has already attempted to launch attacks via the seas.

"Hamas is focused on our strategic assets," said the senior naval officer. "Their naval commando is strengthening and they are trying to acquire under water weapons."

Hamas' naval commando unit attempted an attack on an Israeli kibbutz in a daring move that was one of the precipitators of a war between Gaza and Israel in 2014.

"We believe they have shore-to-sea weapons and other capabilities. This is our assumption so that we will not be caught by surprise," said the senior naval officer.

Israel's natural gas is responsible for the majority of the small country's power supply.

"A strike on a strategic asset of ours is akin to a declaration of war," warned the senior naval officer.

Israel's economy is largely dependent on imports through the sea. Therefore, the ability to defend its waters is critical.

This view, shared by many members in the Israeli government, merits the extensive shopping spree.

In an attempt to increase transparency and legislative supervision, Omer Barlev, a member of parliament from the opposition is proposing a law that will require a report to the parliament prior to signing a military acquisition deal above the value half a billion dollars.

The navy, which is relatively small compared to other units of the IDF, is a without a doubt regional maritime superpower, outnumbering neighboring navies in scale and capabilities.

"If I had to pick a side, I'd pick ours," said the senior Israeli navy officer.

[ Editor: meng ]


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