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Israeli Navy: Submarine Fleet


The Israeli Navy’s submarine fleet is currently the third-largest in the Middle East, behind Iran and Turkey which both have fourteen.

Since the establishment of the submarine fleet at the end of the 1950s, the Navy has used at least eleven submarines. The first of them, the INS (Israel Naval Ship) Rahav and INS Tanin, arrived in Israel in 1959 and 1960. INS Tanin participated in the landing of naval commandos in the port of Alexandria and the mine attack at the entrance to the port. Their service in the Israel Navy ended in the Six-Day War.

In 1964, INS Dakar, INS Dolphin, and INS Leviathan were purchased from the British Navy. INS Dakar was lost at sea in the eastern Mediterranean. The Israel Navy did not give up trying to locate the missing submarine and, on May 28, 1999, it was discovered by a U.S. salvage team less than two miles beneath the surface southeast of Crete at a point along the vessel’s original route.

Israel had three Gal submarines, which remained in use until the late 1990’s when they were replaced by Dolphin-class submarines built at a shipyard in Germany. Israel has five of these submarines; the newest, INS Rahav arrived in 2013 and was considered one of the most advanced submarines in the world.

Israel and Germany’s ThyssenKrupkarp Marine Systems signed an agreement in January 2022 for the purchase of three Dakar-class diesel-electric submarines which won’t be delivered for at least nine years. The German government will provide nearly $680 million of the roughly $3.4 billion cost. It is estimated the first submarine won’t be ready for nine years.

The Dolphin-class submarines are not only the most advanced and sophisticated submarines that the Israeli Navy has ever used, but they also play a crucial role in the “game” of deterrence in the volatile Middle East region. At extreme moments of tactical or strategic uncertainty, Israel’s first lines of defense are its long-range strategic arms – and the most secretive one is the submarine fleet.

The Dolphin submarines have a second-strike capability– the ability to fire ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads against long-range targets in the event of an attack on the Israeli Homefront. This ensures that Israel’s enemies know that if they were to attack the Jewish state with weapons of mass destruction, Israel has the capability to respond in kind.

The Dolphin submarines can hold approximately 40 sailors on board at any given time and have been known to take part in training operations around the world. Due to the secretive nature of the submarine fleet, Israel does not permit the Dolphins from docking in foreign ports – even in allied countries.

Sources: Israel Defense Forces.
Fishman, Alex. “Doomsday Weapon: Israel’s Submarines,” Ynet News, (September 10, 2011).
“The INS Rahav, the Israeli Navy’s 5th Dolphin-class submarine, was inaugurated today by the IDF and Ministry of Defense at a ceremony in Germany,” IDF Spokesperson, (May 29, 2014).
Amy Schwartz, “Inside the Germany-Israel Relationship” Moment Magazine, (June 10, 2014).
Or Heller, “Peacetime or wartime: Israel’s long naval arm,” Israel Defense, (October 10, 2015).
Yaakov Lappin, “Israeli firm’s new unmanned sea vehicle hits submarines with torpedoes,” Jerusalem Post, (February 8, 2016).
Anna Ahronheim, “Israel, Germany sign agreement for three new submarines,” Jerusalem Post, (January 20, 2022).

Photo: Ein Dahmer, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.