JERUSALEM — With the purchase of two more German-made Dolphin submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads, military experts say Israel is sending a clear message to Iran that it can strike back if attacked by nuclear weapons.
The purchases come at a time when Iran is refusing to bow to growing Western demands to halt its nuclear program, and after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”
The new submarines, built at a cost of $1.3 billion with Germany footing one-third of the bill, have diesel-electric propulsion systems that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel’s fleet, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The latest submarines not only would be able to carry out a first strike should Israel choose to do so, but they also would provide Israel with crucial second-strike capabilities, said Paul Beaver, a London-based independent defense analyst.
Israel is already believed to have that ability in the form of the Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which are buried so far underground they would survive a nuclear strike, he said.
“The Iranians would be very foolish if they attacked Israel,” Beaver said.
German officials have said the contract for the new submarines was signed July 6, and the Jerusalem Post reported this week the subs will be operational shortly.
Israel, operating on a policy of nuclear ambiguity, has never confirmed or denied whether it has nuclear weapons. It is believed, however, to have the world’s sixth-largest stockpile of atomic arms, including hundreds of warheads.
Iran so far has resisted calls by the U.N. Security Council to halt uranium enrichment, which can produce, among other things, the material for atomic bombs. The council set an Aug. 31 deadline that is accompanied by the threat of sanctions.
The dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program revolves around Iran’s insistence it wants to master the technology simply to generate electricity. Critics say Iran wants to make nuclear weapons.
The Dolphin submarine could be one of the best deterrents, Beaver said. The technology on the subs makes them undetectable and gives them defensive capabilities in the case of attack, he said.
“They are very well-built, very well-prepared, lots of interesting equipment, one of the best conventional submarines available,” Beaver said. “We are talking about a third string of deterrence capabilities.”
Michael Karpin, an expert on Israel’s atomic weapons capabilities who published a book on the issue in the United States, said nuclear-armed submarines provide better second-strike capabilities than missiles launched from airplanes.
“Planes are vulnerable, unlike nuclear (armed) submarines that can operate for an almost unlimited amount of time without being struck,” Karpin said. “Second-strike capabilities are a crucial element in any nuclear conflict.”
In Germany, members of two opposition parties criticized the deal. Winfried Nachtwei, national security spokesman for the Greens, said the decision was wrong because Germany had obtained no guarantee the submarines would not be used to carry nuclear weapons.
“This red line should not be crossed,” Nachtwei was quoted as saying by the newspaper Taz. “Otherwise it is a complete renunciation of Germany’s policy of non-proliferation.”
David Menashri, an Israeli expert on Iran, said Tehran is clearly determined to obtain nuclear weapons and “the purchase of additional Dolphin submarines by Israel is a small footnote in this context.”
What also makes Tehran dangerous, Beaver said, is that it may not understand the consequences of carrying out a nuclear strike.
“They (Iran) have a belligerent leadership and that’s why Israel is prudent in ensuring that it has that deterrent capability,” Beaver said. “What they (the submarines) are is a very good insurance policy.”
THE JERUSALEM POSTS REPORT ON THIS PURCHASE:
In the face of Iran’s race to obtain nuclear power, Israel signed a contract with Germany last month to buy two Dolphin-class submarines that will, according to foreign reports, provide superior second-strike nuclear capabilities, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The submarines will be assembled in Germany and provided with a propulsion system allowing them to remain underwater for far longer than the submarines currently in the Israel Navy’s fleet.
According to sources close to the deal, the submarines will be operational in the near future.
The Post has also learned that the navy is considering installing a Fixed Underwater Sonar System (FUSS) off the coast to detect foreign submarines.
In 1993, Iran bought two Russian Kilo-class submarines and eight mini-submarines from North Korea, although officials said this was not the only reason the system was being considered. In 2005, Israel spotted a Western submarine snooping off its shore.
The contract signing was said to have come after a long dispute over the price and financing of the submarines. According to the details obtained by the Post, Israel will purchase the two Dolphins, manufactured by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG, for $1.27 billion, a third of which will be financed by the German government.
The navy already has three Dolphin-class submarines. They are the most expensive weapon platforms in the IDF’s arsenal. Germany donated the first two submarines after the first Gulf War and split the cost of the third with Israel. The three submarines currently in the navy’s possession employ a diesel-electric propulsion system, which requires them to resurface frequently to recharge their batteries.
The new submarines – called the U212 – will be fitted with a new German technology in which the propulsion system combines a conventional diesel lead-acid battery system and an air-independent propulsion system used for slow, silent cruising, with a fuel cell equipped with oxygen and hydrogen storage.
The submarines will also incorporate specifications gleaned from Israeli experience. The Dolphins currently in the navy’s fleet were tailor-made for Israel’s needs and reportedly have considerable operational capability. They are designed for a crew of 35 and can support 10 passengers. They have a maximum speed of 20 knots, a range of 4,500 kilometers and, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly, the capability to launch cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads.
“With the new German technology,” an official close to the deal said, “the new submarines will be able to remain submerged for much, much longer than the older Dolphin models.”
News of the impending deal first emerged in November after Der Spiegel reported that chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s outgoing government had agreed to sell Israel two submarines at a heavily discounted price.
Prior to then, the German government had repeatedly turned down the request, supposedly because of reports the navy had outfitted the older submarines with Israeli-made, sea-launched cruise missiles.
Sensitive armament sales need approval from Berlin’s Security Council. Several months ago, however, the German government, now headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, approved the deal after, sources told the Post, no significant public opposition was voiced.
Closure of the deal followed on the heels of a warming in German-Israel ties. In 2005, the countries agreed for the first time to hold joint ground maneuvers. In June, the INS Eilat missile ship participated for the first time in a NATO exercise in the Black Sea, together with German Navy.
HERE IS A PRECURSOR ARTICLE FROM DEFENCE INDUSTRY DAILY IN NOVEMBER OF 2005 REPORTING ABOUT THIS IMPENDING PURCHASE:
Defense-Aerospace relays reports from Der Spiegel and Focus that Germany will sell Israel two AIP-equipped SSK Dolphin Class submarines. That deal has now been finalized at a total of $1.27 billion,1 with the German government picking up one-third of the cost. The new boats will be constructed at the Howaldtswerke-Deutche Werft AG (HDW) shipyard, in the Baltic Sea coastal city of Kiel.
The Dolphins are quiet diesel-electric attack submarines that evolved from Germany’s famous and ubiquitous U209 Class. They can fire torpedos and missiles from their 533mm torpedo tubes, perform underwater surveillance, and even launch combat swimmers via a wet and dry compartment.
It is also rumored that Israel has tested a nuclear-capable verson of its medium-range “Popeye Turbo” cruise missile design for deployability from the 650mm torpedo tubes in its Dolphin Class submarines. The 2002 Popeye Turbo launch test location off Sri Lanka suggested that the tests may have been performed in cooperation with India.
The Dolphin subs are reportedly designed for a crew of 35 and can support 10 passengers. They have a maximum speed of 20 knots (though as diesel subs, their endurance at speed is limited), and a maximum range of 4,500 km/ 2,700 miles. The submarines incorporate Atlas Elektronik’s ISUS 90-1 TCS for provides automatic sensor management, fire and weapon control, navigation and operation.
Dolphin submarines are versatile and heavily-armed, with a wet and dry compartment for deploying underwater swimmers and no less than 10 bow torpedo tubes. Four of the tubes have a 650mm diameter, which can reportedly deploy the Popeye Turbo nuclear-capable cruise missiles but are also useful for launching commandos in swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs). The other six 533mm tubes can launch STN Atlas Elektronik’s DM2A3 torpedoes or anti-ship missiles (likely Boeing’s UGM-86 Harpoons). The Dolphin Class also shares the ability to deploy underwater mines which is common to almost all submarines.
The AIP system chosen for the 2 newest Dolphin boats was not specified. While HDW owns Kockums AB and its successful Stirling AIP system, it also has its own technology using Siemens PEM hydrogen fuel cells. This HDW system is used in the U212/214 Class, which the Dolphins resemble and which also derived from the U209 1300/1400 subs.
Germany had already donated two Dolphin submarines to the Israeli navy after the Gulf War in the early 1990s. The first-of-class INS (Israeli Naval Ship) Dolphin was commissioned in 1999, while INS Leviathan was commissioned in 2000. The Israelis later bought a third submarine at $175 million/ $175 million shared cost with the German government, and INS Tekuma (“revival, renewal”) also entered service in 2000.
The rumours concerning Israel’s nuclear-capable cruise missiles had stalled additional sales in 2003, as had Israeli reluctance over the price. Israel’s Navy is widely considered to be last among the services on the spending priority list. The $846 million/ $424 million Israeli-German deal for two more submarines addresses Israeli price concerns to some extent, provides a job creation benefit for the German government, and completes the second major and long-delayed arms sale that the Schroeder government has solidified in its final month in office.
As DID has noted, the outgoing German government recently agreed to sell 298 surplus Leopard 2 battle tanks to Turkey.
1 The original deal was reported at EUR 1 billion, or around $1.17 million. The contract announcement in August 2006 corrected the figure, which may also have changed as a result of the long-running (and reportedly intense) negotiations.