Israel wants to purchase four relatively small, frigate-class ships to protect its natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea, at a reported cost of about $100 million per boat. Last week, Haaretz reported that Israel and Germany were at an advanced stage of talks over the purchase. However, a deal has not been signed and defense officials say Israel is looking at various other options for the purchase of boats to meet its needs.
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In the past, Germany funded about a third of the cost of six Dolphin submarines it manufactured for Israel, four of which are already in the possession of the Israel Navy.
A security official told Haaretz on Monday that the plan was to buy frigate-class ships, which are smaller and significantly less expensive than larger missile boats. The cost of an advanced missile boat is estimated at about $250 million. Lighter patrol boats like the Dvora, now in the service of the Israel Navy, are too small for the task because they cannot carry the heavy defense systems required.
Israel is now looking at a variety of ships, at prices ranging from $100 million to $200 million per ship.
The protection plan for the natural gas fields will also include drones and other means of surveillance.
The navy and National Security Council have been working for the last 18 months on the best way to protect Israel’s economic waters in the Mediterranean, especially the gas reserves.
Along with frequent patrols in the huge area where the reserves are located, pinpoint security is required for the gas rigs themselves. Security for the rigs is provided by private companies, but the Israel Defense Forces has overall responsibility for protecting them. To do so, a ship is needed that can carry the anti-missile Barak 8 system, currently at an advanced stage of production as a joint project of Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
The system is meant to protect the rigs from a direct attack by land-to-sea missiles, such as the Russian Yakhont missiles that Syria possesses; the Chinese-made C-802s in the hands of Hezbollah; and C-704 missiles, which Israel has previously successfully prevented Iran from smuggling to Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Last summer, two air strikes took place in the vicinity of the Latakia port, Syria. According to foreign press reports, the attacks were carried out by Israel in an attempt to prevent Syria from sending Yakhont missiles to Hezbollah.
The defense plan for Israel’s economic waters is to be partly funded by the defense budget, with money earmarked for this purpose in the IDF’s multiyear planning. Other funding will come from the Finance Ministry, apparently counting partly on expected royalties from natural gas sales.
Although talks with Germany are at an advanced stage, Israel is still looking at other options, including purchasing ships from either South Korea or Italy. Defense officials said talks were also being held with the United States, although this now seems unlikely because the type of ship the United States is selling does not meet Israel’s security needs.