Israel buying 4 new warships from Germany, PM confirms

Sa’ar-class corvettes may help protect off-shore gas rigs; Netanyahu vows to respond to threats on borders

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The INS Hanit enters Eilat on Saturday, March 08, 2014. (photo credit: Yuda ben Yitach/Flash90)
The INS Hanit enters Eilat on Saturday, March 08, 2014. (photo credit: Yuda ben Yitach/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday confirmed that Israel had acquired four new Sa’ar-class warships from Germany, reportedly to help protect off-shore gas extraction facilities.

Speaking to graduating air force cadets, Netanyahu also vowed that the country would continue to respond to threats on its borders, a day after a soldier was seriously wounded by a Gazan sniper sparking a cross-border exchange of fire.

Netanyahu said the deal with Berlin for the corvettes was reached earlier in the week. According to a Channel 2 report, the deal was signed in Germany on Monday by the Defense Ministry director and the head of Israel’s National Security Council.

A spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office said that for the time being the deal remained an understanding, and that Germany would be footing a “nice” part of the cost. He refused to detail the cost of the ships.

The prime minister did not say when the ships were to be delivered to the Israel Navy. Channel 2 reported they would arrive in Israel in two years.

Netanyahu said the ships would add “an important element to our defensive force.”

“The State of Israel is building our defense force year by year, from decade to decade, with planes, submarine, air defense systems like Iron Dome and the Arrow missile, and with some of the most sophisticated offensive weapons in the world,” he said.

Reports have indicated that the fleet would be used to help protect Israel’s array of off-shore gas extraction facilities in the Mediterranean.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said in a March report that the IDF’s capability to defend its offshore gas rigs was “partial, due to the inadequate means the IDF has available to assign to this task.”

The IDF Spokesperson told The Times of Israel that the government tasked the Navy with defending Israel’s off-shore gas extraction facilities in the Mediterranean, and that “in this framework there will be a defensive array in which there’ll be the acquisition of four defensive ships.”

The missile frigates will be constructed at German shipyards, and will complement the fleet of four German-made Dolphin-class submarines currently in service with the Israel Navy.

A fifth Dolphin-class submarine is slated for arrival in 2015, reported earlier this week, and the contract for a sixth was signed earlier this year. All have been fully or partially funded by the German government.

“I want to thank German Chancellor [Angela] Merkel for the constant commitment and help for our security,” Netanyahu said Thursday.

The deal, reportedly worth €1 billion, was struck in November, according to a report in German newspaper Bild am Sonntag earlier this month.

According to the report, Berlin will contribute €115 million to the deal.

The deal still needs to be approved by the German parliament.

Germany subsidizes defense projects for Israel as part of its post-Holocaust commitment to help ensure the country’s security.

Israel’s existing top-of-the-line Sa’ar-5 class missile corvettes were constructed by the American firm Northrup-Grumman.

The prime minister also said Thursday that Israel wouldn’t tolerate any aggression from its neighbors, responding to Wednesday’s exchange of fire with Gaza, which left an IDF soldier seriously injured and a Hamas commander dead

“We won’t tolerate attacks upon us, not from the Gaza Strip, not from the Golan [Heights], not from the border with Lebanon — from any place, and therefore the IDF responded with force, responded with force immediately to the attempt by terrorist groups to rise in recent days,” he said.

Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the recent violence and said that the IDF worked to thwart terrorist groups from acquiring arms, particularly from Iran.

“We are determined to prevent our enemies from acquiring deadly weapons that can threaten our security, and we are determined to do everything in order to prevent Iran, which calls for our destruction in these days, from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Israeli Navy was reportedly finalizing a deal to acquire three unmanned naval warships, reported. The report said that the Navy aims to launch Israeli-made Protector unmanned surface vessels by mid-2015.

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