Why Is Israel Spending $500m to Protect Gas Facilities Close to Home?

The navy is ordering ships designed to protect drilling platforms far from the coast, even though they will be just 10 kilometers from the shore

Hagai Amit
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An image of submarines
An image of submarinesCredit: CARSTEN REHDER / AFP
Hagai Amit

The debate under way over how far offshore the natural gas production platforms should be located raises another question about why Israel’s navy is spending 430 million euros ($502 million) to buy four corvettes from Germany’s.

If plans to locate the facility 10 kilometers from Israel’s coast go ahead as planned, despite protests of residents near Dor Beach concerned about the environmental impact, the Israel Navy will be equipped with a fleet of expensive firepower completely disproportionate to the threats it will face.

The platform, which is being built in Texas and is due to arrive in about six months, will service the giant Leviathan field when it goes into production.

When the deal with ThyssenKrupp was announced three years ago, the discussions about defending the installations — namely sea-borne or rocket threats to gas facilities from Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza — related to their being 120 kilometers offshore.

In defense terms, there’s a huge difference in those 110 kilometers. At the further distance, waters are deeper and ships spending much more time out at sea simply to get back and forth from the place they are supposed to be defending.

In terms of international law, the navy has much more freedom to operate 10 kilometers offshore. A that instance, the platform is in Israel’s territorial waters, meaning that a navy vessel can order another vessel to stop and be boarded and is within its rights to shoot if it is disobeyed.

At 120 kilometers, the platform is in the economic waters of Israel, where it can exploit the natural resources contained there but doesn’t have the same right to confronting suspected hostile forces. The ability to maneuver and respond is constricted.

Israeli defense sources said a gas platform located 10 kilometers offshore can be adequately protected by a combination of radar and speedboats stationed on the platform itself that can respond instantly to any perceived threat.

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Sources involved in the discussions, who have asked not to be identified, say that when Israeli defense officials began assessing the defense needs of the platform back in 2012 the conclusion was that a small and lighter boat, made in South Korea, would answer all its needs.

But suddenly in 2014 the plans were reversed and instead Israel awarded the contract with competitive bidding to ThyssenKrupp. The company that is now at the center of a police investigation over possible wrongdoing involving Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and the German shipbuilder Israeli representative and deals to purchase three submarines and the four patrol corvettes.

The ThyssenKrupp order for the corvettes is going to cost the navy a lot more than the South Korean contract. In defense of the deal, however, it should be noted that Berlin is providing financing.

On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman said in response that the navy had been tasked with defending all of Israel’s economic waters “The IDF, through its naval branch, knows how to provide protection for the entire economic waters perimeter. That being said, placing the facilities closer to the shore, up to 15 miles, would improve the level of their defensibility,” said the statement.

With that, it added, “we would emphasize that deciding the location of the rigs along the perimeter is not subject to security considerations alone and is not under the authority of the IDF.” Nevertheless, sources who spoke to TheMarker said they believed the State Comptroller’s Office should examine how the decision to buy the ThysesenKrupp boats was made.