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How Submarines Are Purchased in Israel

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Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in the fleet, after it arrived in Haifa port January 12, 2016
Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in the fleet, after it arrived in Haifa port January 12, 2016Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The process of acquiring submarines from the shipyards in Kiel for the Israeli navy began during the first Gulf War.  

The West-German government led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl was concerned that the participation of German industries in the construction of chemical plants in Iraq which could be used to produce chemical warfare agents for use against Israel might undo years of efforts to rehabilitate Germany from its Nazi past.  

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, visited Israel during the war. He saw the destruction caused by Scud rockets launched from Iraq, and witnessed the Israeli public carrying boxes of gas masks in preparation for the possibility of an Iraqi chemical attack.  

On his return to Germany we were informed that Germany was inviting an Israeli mission to Bonn to discuss assistance that Germany wished to render to Israel.

I appointed Hanan Alon, at the time the head of international relations in the Ministry of Defense, to head the mission. I instructed him to present an Israeli request that Germany provide Israel with two submarines from the shipyard in Kiel.  

At the time the Israeli navy needed to renew its submarine fleet, and that was the only shipyard that was building diesel-powered submarines in the Western world.

When on their arrival they learned that Kohl himself would be chairing the session it was apparent that he attached great importance to the meeting. He at first demurred when Alon presented Israel’s request, explaining that Germany had intended to present Israel with “defensive” equipment.  

Alon replied that a German contribution of gas masks that could be used in case of an Iraqi chemical attack was not really what Israel needed at this time and might not be greatly appreciated in Israel.  

That evidently made an impression on Kohl and he announced:  “you shall get the submarines.”  

In due time two submarines were built in Kiel to the specifications of the Israeli navy, paid for by the German government, and delivered to Israel.

That is how the program for the supply of submarines built in Kiel for the Israeli navy began. There was no need for intermediaries, agents or commissions.  It was a government–to-government arrangement. It was the beginning of a multi-year submarine acquisition program for the Israeli navy, partially funded by Germany. 

It is not at all clear how agents in Israel, collecting fees and commissions got into the act, of what had started out as a government-to-government arrangement for the supply of submarines built in Kiel for Israel.  

To the best of my knowledge the Kiel shipyards are the only source for the supply of the submarines needed by Israel’s navy.  If there are no alternate sources, the Kiel shipyards do not need agents in Israel to assist them in participating in a competition.  

The contract arrangements can be made directly with the Israeli Ministry of Defense in coordination with German government authorities, without incurring additional costs. 

The submarines are of considerable strategic importance to Israel.  They make up for the lack of Israel’s strategic depth, and are today part of an Israeli defensive shield against the possibility of an attack against Israel.

The submarine project, partially funded by the German government, is also an important element in the relations between Germany and Israel.

Hopefully, the current investigation into the submarine affair will make it clear how a government-to government arrangement between Israel and Germany developed into a business connection involving agents and commissions.

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