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Israel gets missile boat to defend gas rigs, ‘dramatically’ help counter Iran

First of four Sa’ar 6-class corvettes arrives at port in Haifa from Germany; naval officer says ships will boost ability to counter regional enemies

President Reuven Rivlin, center, and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attend a ceremony celebrating the arrival of the first of four new Sa'ar 6 ships in Haifa, on December 2, 2020. (Heidi Levine/Pool Photo via AP)
President Reuven Rivlin, center, and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attend a ceremony celebrating the arrival of the first of four new Sa'ar 6 ships in Haifa, on December 2, 2020. (Heidi Levine/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel received the first of its new missile boats on Wednesday, with a top naval officer telling AFP the fleet upgrade “dramatically” improves the country’s ability to counter regional rivals, including Iran.

The ships form a key part of a major naval upgrade in the Jewish state, Israel’s head of naval operations, Rear Admiral Eyal Harel, said in an interview last week.

Harel said the new fleet of four Sa’ar 6-class corvettes would bolster the navy’s capacity to defend increasingly lucrative offshore natural gas assets from rivals like Lebanon’s Shiite terror group Hezbollah, which receives backing from Iran.

According to Harel, Israel’s offshore rigs “are the main objective on the Hezbollah target list for the next war.”

A view of the Leviathan natural gas processing rig from Dor Habonim Beach Nature Reserve, January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

The vessels are equipped with “the (most) sophisticated radar on board any vessel in the world,” he said.

The first Sa’ar 6, the INS Magen, arrived at Haifa’s port on Wednesday.

The procurement of the four ships and three submarines from German industrial giant Thyssenkrupp has been the subject of long-running corruption probes involving top allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Strike Iran?

According to a September article by the Center for International Maritime Security, a Washington-based think-tank, the ships and new submarines will enhance Israel’s capacity to launch a direct strike on Iran.

Concern about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program is constant in Israel, but tensions between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic have spiked again.

Iran has accused Israel of assassinating one of its leading nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran last week. Israeli officials have declined to comment on the allegations.

Israel is also concerned about US President-elect Joe Biden’s stated goal of reviving the nuclear deal agreed between Tehran and world powers in 2015.

US President Donald Trump scrapped that deal, earning widespread cheers in Israel.

The first of four new Sa’ar 6 ships, left, is docked in Haifa on December 2, 2020. (Heidi Levine/Pool Photo via AP)

Asked if the Sa’ar 6 will enable Israel to strike Iran directly from the Mediterranean Sea, Harel said: “Directly to Iran is a complicated question and it is not for this interview.”

But he said the ships will help counter the Iranian threat more broadly as “Iran is the main sponsor of Hezbollah.”

The corruption allegations surrounding the naval procurement, known locally as “the submarine affair,” returned to the headlines last month when Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a new inquiry.

Netanyahu is not accused of wrongdoing in the case, but several of his close associates are suspected for financial impropriety in the procurement process.

Gantz said this week he would pause his inquiry at the request of the attorney general, who is conducting his own probe.

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