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Israel’s Small Navy Is Growing And Becoming Much More Relevant

Long the smallest and least powerful of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) three service branches, the Israeli Navy (IN) is now acquiring new warships and beginning to take on a much more significant role.

“The ground and air services were considered Israel’s main pillar of defense while the IN’s role was little more than that of a strong Coast Guard,” noted a recent report published by the Began-Sadat Center For Strategic Studies (BESA). “For decades, the IN was the little brother of its two siblings and one of the smallest in the world (for the size of the country and its proximity to the sea).”

That has rapidly began to change.

Corvette of the Sa'ar 6 class in Kiel

07 November 2020, Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel: Four Sa’ar 6 class corvettes are anchored at the German Naval Yards shipyard. Israel has ordered a total of four corvettes with stealth technology of this type from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in the

dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

On Nov. 13, Germany handed over the first of four new Sa’ar 6-class corvettes, the INS Magen, to Israel in a flag transfer ceremony in Kiel where ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems are building the warships. The Magen will arrive in Israel by the end of the year. These new corvettes are larger and significantly more advanced than their Sa’ar 5-class predecessors.

Israel will take delivery of four Sa’ar 6 corvettes.

The ships and the predominantly Israeli-made weapons systems they will be equipped with are being built to enable the IN to more adequately deal with specific threats it anticipates potentially facing in the future.

Corvette of the Sa'ar 6 class in Kiel

07 November 2020, Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel: Four Sa’ar 6 class corvettes are anchored at the German Naval Yards shipyard. Israel has ordered a total of four corvettes with stealth technology of this type from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in the

dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

The vast majority of Israel’s trade comes and goes via sea, making the defense of its coast very important. In more recent years, the growing potential threat posed by Hezbollah’s increasingly deadly missiles to Israel’s offshore gas rigs makes defending these rigs a top priority for the navy. That will likely be the main task for Israel’s newest warships.

And they will be well-equipped to do so.

Israel will arm these corvettes with the latest version of its domestically-built Gabriel anti-ship missiles and sophisticated Barak 8 long-range air defense systems, which can shoot down enemy aircraft and anti-ship missiles. Additionally, the corvettes will also be equipped with the naval version of the short-range Iron Dome missile defense system that is designed to shoot down smaller short-range rockets and projectiles.

These naval systems will also be integrated into Israel’s extensive air and missile defense networks to enable effective coordination between sea and land forces against enemy airborne threats. Such capabilities could prove invaluable if Israel finds itself in conflict against one or more adversaries armed with highly accurate missiles. As the BESA report also noted, “The IN can add strategic depth to Israel’s limited land mass, and its missile boats and submarines can provide additional redundancy and allow for enhanced capabilities, both offensive and defensive, against missile attacks.”

In October, Israel’s navy participated in an exercise with the army and air force in which it trained for dealing with potential threats emanating from Lebanon.

The Sa’ar 6 corvettes also have a low radar cross-section, making them stealthy and less vulnerable to radar-guided anti-ship missiles of the kind possessed by Hezbollah. The militia group previously succeeded in hitting the INS Hanit, a Sa’ar 5 corvette, with a Chinese-made C-802 anti-ship missile during the 2006 Lebanon war killing four crew members but failing to sink or permanently take that vessel out of action.

ISRAEL-CONFLICT-NAVY-HEZBOLLAH-HAMAS

“Gabriel” missile launcher onboard the Israeli Saar 5-class Corvette “INS Hanit” during the “Novel Dina 17” training session in the Mediterranean Sea on April 4, 2017. (JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

In addition to significantly improving Israel’s capability to defend its EEZ, the new warships will also make the IN a substantially more powerful naval force in the Eastern Mediterranean. This could prove significant since Israel is one of several regional countries presently concerned by Turkey’s aggressive and forceful maritime and resource claims over vast swathes of that strategically-important sea.

Turkey has sought the establishment of an enormous EEZ between it and Libya in blatant disregard of the countries in-between and has also been drilling for natural gas in the Republic of Cyprus’ EEZ. Its attempts to drill in waters in the Aegean Sea claimed by Greece, but situated just off Turkey’s coast, also increased tensions between Ankara and Athens in recent months.

Israel, along with Greece, the Republic of Cyprus, and Egypt, strongly oppose these moves. On Nov. 12, the defense ministers of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece agreed to increase military cooperation. These countries are also working together on building a pipeline for transporting natural gas from Israel and Cyprus to the European mainland.

With their high-tech weapons systems and impressive 2,500-mile operational range, Israel’s brand new Sa’ar 6 corvettes could significantly enhance the formidable naval power of these friendly nations and help them protect their mutual interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

 

This article was written by Paul Iddon from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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