Along with the expansion of Israel’s intelligence capacity and presence in the air, the peace accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have the potential to upgrade our naval prowess. Even before other countries join the agreements, we can point to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain as a friendly anchor for Israel vis-à-vis Bandar Abbas, Iran’s main port.
This potential requires renewed thinking on both defense and energy. Instead of being preoccupied with the sleeping arrangements and menus on the prime minister’s plane, we should be discussing the opportunities and challenges that will shape our lives in the coming decades. And the peace treaties include the option of channeling oil and gas from the Gulf via Israel as a way to shorten the path to Europe.
Is the benefit inherent in a huge project like this greater than the risk of pollution from oil leaks? And how should the Israel Navy prepare for the new opportunities and the challenges they create?
In effect, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already answered these questions. His plan to lay an underwater pipeline from Israel to Europe would enable the transfer of gas from the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, via Eilat.
In a similar light, we should understand the emphasis by Netanyahu and National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz on the strengthening of the navy, and mainly the 2013 plan to increase Israel’s submarine fleet to nine vessels.
The author of the idea was the late Avraham Botzer, who commanded the navy after the Six-Day War. Botzer believed that to turn the navy into an effective strategic arm, we had to acquire nine submarines: three of them for routine security, three in the shipyard for maintenance, and three to be sent on “secret missions.”
This plan, which at the time was considered a somewhat juvenile fantasy of the esteemed naval commander, has now emerged from the depths. Three submarines are required for missions in the Mediterranean, where the presence of the Russian navy is gradually intensifying; three are indeed needed in the shipyard in the home port; and three are necessary for “secret missions” in the Red Sea and further east to eliminate the Iranian threat.
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At the time, Botzer’s ambitious idea was met by indifference from other defense officials, just as Netanyahu’s plan to equip the navy with nine submarines was described as superfluous during Moshe Ya’alon’s term as defense minister. In addition, when the involvement of Netanyahu’s confidants in the purchase of the submarines was revealed, the plan became indirect evidence of his unacceptable intention to enable his confidants to reap improper profits from the acquisition of three and perhaps even four unnecessary submarines.
In retrospect, it turns out that Netanyahu had foresight where the officials, as is usually the case, couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
So the merry-go-round dubbed the “submarine affair” must be stopped. If the acquisition process was flawed, those who transgressed should be prosecuted. But the plan itself shows foresight and should be brought up again for public discussion, and this time in a businesslike manner.
And since we are now on the eve of Yom Kippur, I must ask Netanyahu’s forgiveness for some of the things I’ve said on this subject in the past.