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Israeli Navy: Submarine Fleet

(Updated February 2016)

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

Israel has four Dolphin-class submarines in use with a fifth scheduled to arrive in Israel by the end of 2013 and a possible sixth to be added in 2014. The first subs were built in the 1990's at a shipyard in Germany and were shipped to Israel in order to replace three older Gal-class submarines which had been in use since the 1970's.

Since the establishment of the submarine fleet at the end of the 1950's, 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 failed to reach Israel, and remains lost at sea in the eastern Mediterranean. The Israel Navy did not give up trying to locate the missing submarine and, in 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.

The three Gal submarines were in use after the Six Day War until the arrival of the Dolphins in the lat 1990's.

In 1999, the Israeli Navy welcomed its first Dolphin-class submarine from Germany and has since imported three more Dolphins to round out it current submarine fleet.

The Dolphin-class submarines are not only the most advanced and sophisticated submarines that the Israeli Navy has ever used, 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, such as in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Israel’s first walls of defense are its long-range strategic arms – and the most secretive one is the submarine fleet led by the Dolphins.

The Dolphin submarines second-strike capability - in essence, its ability to fire off ballistic missiles against long-range targets in the event of an attack on the Israeli homefront - ensures that Israel's enemies realize that attacking the Jewish state with weapons of mass destruction will definitely be responded to in kind.

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

In April 2013, Israel unveiled it fifth Dolphin submarine, the INS Rahav, at a ceremony in Germany. The submarine was purchased after an extensive development and acquisition process led by the Ministry of Defense's Procurement and Production Directorate in cooperation with the Israeli Navy. The Rahav is scheduled to arrive in Israel by the end of 2013, upon completion of the installation of all of its operational systems, and is already considered to be one of the most advanced submarines in the world. It is the most expensive piece of machinery that the Ministry of Defense has procured for the IDF.

Germany and Israel share a relationship that includes strategic military cooperation as well as economic and political cooperation.  Since 1991 Germany has delivered five Dolphin submarines that can be used to carry nuclear missiles to Israel, and the Germans are a major supplier of Israeli arms and weaponry.  In the 1960's it is believed that Israeli "Operation Samson" was in fact a top secret mission to develop a nuclear missile with France's assistance using German reparration funds.  According to a 2006 US Congressional Research Service report, German supplied arms played an integral role in fortifying the Israeli military through their conflicts in 1967, 1973, and 1982.  German intelligence also played an integral role in the negotiation for the safe return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In July 2014 it was announced that Germany was going to sell Israel two destroyer battleships for $1 billion Euros in order to help Israel protect it's off-shore natural gas holdings.  Germany provided Israel with it's fourth submarine in September 2014.  The submarine, known as the INS Tanin docked at Haifa Naval Base on September 24 and is the first submarine that Israel is recieving from the new generation of Dolphin submarines.  The INS Tanin can stay underwater for significantly longer than the other 3 Dolphin-class submarines that the Israeli military has.  A fifth German built submarine, the INS Rahav, began it's journey from Germany to Israel on December 17, 2015, and arrived on January 12, 2016. 

The Israeli Navy has been putting increased effort and funding into their sumbarine program over recent years. Submarines accounted for approximately 35% of the total operational hours of the Israeli Navy in 2010, and by 2013 that number had jumped to 58%. Israeli based Elbit Systems unveiled their new Seagull unmanned surface vehicle on February 8, 2016, costing tens of millions of dollars. The Seagull is a dual-vessel unmanned vehicle to be used offensively, capable of searching for, locating, and sending out other drones to investigate or potentially neutralize underwater mines, or enemy submersibles. The Seagull is capable of being outfitted with equipment for anti-sumbarine missions, sea and port security missions, and electronic warfare missions. The ship is controlled remotely via a satellite link, has a machine gun mounted on the bow, and can operate for 96 hours continuously.

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);
Schwartz, Amy. "Inside the Germany-Israel Relationship" Moment Magazine.  (June 10, 2014);
Heller, Or. “Peacetime or wartime: Israel's long naval arm,” Israel Defense (October 10, 2015);
Lappin, Yaakov. “Israeli firm's new unmanned sea vehicle hits submarines with torpedoes,” Jerusalem Post, (February 8, 2016);