German submarines ‘very important’ for Israel’s security, PM says

Following Der Spiegel expose, Netanyahu praises Germany’s contribution but keeps mum on nuclear missiles controversy

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Navy sailors aboard a Dolphin-class submarine in Haifa in 2009 (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Navy sailors aboard a Dolphin-class submarine in Haifa in 2009 (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel’s German-supplied submarines are “very important” for national security, but stopped short of confirming a German news report that claimed this week that the submarines are equipped with nuclear missiles.

“Germany expressed its commitment to Israel’s security through the sale of another submarine. It’s a very important addition to our national security,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the German daily Bild.

Earlier this week, a report by Germany weekly Der Spiegel claimed that Israel’s submarine fleet has nuclear capabilities and that Berlin has been aware of this but opted to publicly keep mum about it in order to avoid having to justify itself for the deals. In his interview, Netanyahu did not explicitly comment on the report.

Israel currently uses three Dolphin-class submarines. A fourth was transferred to the Israeli Navy last month, and will be start active duty after a testing period. Germany is due to deliver a fifth submarine in 2018, and the contract for a sixth was signed recently.

In the wake of the 12-page Der Spiegel cover story, some German politicians have demanded more transparency from their government regarding the sale of submarines to Israel. Since governments from both the center-left and the center-right parties have supported supplying the submarines – and other arms – to the Jewish state over the decades, the story has failed to create a major scandal. Most government officials commenting on the deal suggested that Germany supplied conventional submarines to Israel and, although it was aware that Israel might install nuclear missiles on them after delivery, it preferred not to investigate.

In the Bild interview, Netanyahu also commented about a recent debate in Germany about how important guaranteeing Israel’s security is to German foreign policy. During a visit to Israel last week, German President Joachim Gauck said that “Israel’s security and right of existence are determining factors of German policy,” seemingly dialling down on a statement Chancellor Angela Merkel made in 2008 that Israel’s security is part of her country’s “raison d’être.”

While she never explicitly pledged to defend Israel militarily if it ever came to a confrontation with Iran, some commentators took her statement as a guarantee of exactly that. Gauck said last week that he wouldn’t have used that phrase, adding that he didn’t “want to think in war scenarios.”

“I take this very seriously,” Netanyahu responded when asked about this debate. “However, when it comes to Israel’s security, we never asked anybody to come to our help and fight for us. Quite the opposite, it’s a great achievement for the Jewish state that we can defend us against every threat. That’s one of the pillars of our security policy. I appreciate Germany’s concern for our security, but I go by what Churchill said: Give us the tools, and then we’ll be able to defend ourselves.”

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