The Mediterranean is fast filling up with bigger and more sophisticated warships than ever before, leaving the Israeli Navy lagging behind and short of the new kind of vessels needed to meet the changing challenges to its shores and marine assets, notably from seaborne terror.
Israel’s naval edge has melted down rapidly in the past year.
Egypt took delivery in June of the first of two advanced French Mistral-class helicopter carriers, the Gemal Abdel Nasser, with the second due in two months. Each carries 46 attack helicopters. And Russia has moved over to the Mediterranean its aircraft carrier, as well as a fleet of cruisers and nuclear surface and submarine vessels.
Israel’s small and dated fleet is less than ready for the kind of asymmetrical warfare posed by new enemies, such as terrorist organizations, including Hamas’ naval commandos from the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah’s rubber rafts from Lebanon and the small submarines operated by various jihadist organizations in the Red Sea. The jihadists acquired them from South American gangs which used them to smuggle drugs and upgraded them to carry terrorists with their weapons and equipment, or be rigged like a car bomb.
The Israel Navy, in addition to defending Israel’s shores, is responsible for protecting commercial ships heading to and from Israel; defending drilling platforms, gas pipelines and undersea optic cables; enforcing the blockade on Gaza; and securing Israel’s ports.
In a hurry to restore the IDF’s naval edge, the Defense Ministry and the Navy are pressing US defense contractor Lockheed Martin to produce the results for the tender it won in July to evaluate the operational viability of a new battleship, in terms of its compatibility with Israel’s military needs, suitability to its naval theater of operations and ability to contend with the types of threats Israel faces in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
The high price set for this evaluation (about $5.2 million) and the short timeline (nine months) given Lockheed Martin researchers to come up with results attest to the urgency of the Israel Navy’s need for a new type of vessel, namely the littoral combat ship (LCS), which the United States has introduced to guard its shores.
These ships have a minimal radar signature and are capable of high speed relative to their size. They can also land and store helicopters, transport troops, operate drones and carry and store armored vehicles.
These LCSs are armed with artillery, missile and electronic warfare systems.
The LCS would fill the gap in Israel’s defenses against asymmetrical threats to its shores.
At present, the Israel Navy’s most sophisticated and costly craft are three Dolphin-class submarines. Two more of them are scheduled to join the fleet in 2018 and 2019. They are the spearhead of the Israel’s secret warfare capabilities. According to foreign media, some of those subs carry missiles with nuclear warheads.
Their shortcoming is that they run on diesel engines which are outdated compared to nuclear-powered subs.
The Navy also uses a wide range of other vessels of various sizes and capabilities in terms of speed, visibility, troop transportation, weaponry and intelligence systems.
None provide an adequate response to the new type of terrorist warfare that could threaten Israel’s shores. Israel tends therefore forego the additional two Dolphin subs on order from Germany and instead update its Navy with the purchase of a pair of the littoral combat ships that are better suited to its changing needs.