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Navy takes helm of first new warship from Germany to guard gas rigs

INS Magen, first of four Sa’ar 6 corvettes, to sail to Israel where it will be outfitted with sensors, weapons, anti-missile batteries in coming months before deployment

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Sa'ar 6-class corvette INS Magen is handed over to the Israeli Navy in a ceremony in Germany on November 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
The Sa'ar 6-class corvette INS Magen is handed over to the Israeli Navy in a ceremony in Germany on November 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Navy on Wednesday received the first of four new Sa’ar 6-class corvettes from Germany — its first new missile ships in over a quarter-century — which will be used to defend Israel’s natural gas rigs and shipping routes.

The ship, the INS Magen, will reach Israeli shores next month where it will be outfitted with sensors, weapons and communication systems, before being declared operational.

“The INS Magen, the first of four new Magen-series ships for the Israeli fleet, will answer in the best way possible the future challenges on the naval front,” Israeli Navy commander Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit said at the official hand-over ceremony in Germany.

“The INS Magen will be armed with the best offensive and defensive systems, with fighting systems that are at the forefront of international military technology, the vast majority of which are products of Israeli industries,” Sharvit said.

Commander of the Israeli Navy Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit, right, salutes during a ceremony marking the hand-over of the Sa’ar 6-class corvette INS Magen to the Israeli Navy from Germany on November 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The remaining three ships will be delivered to Israel over the next year.

The Sa’ar 6-class vessels are being constructed by Germany’s Thyssenkrupp manufacturing conglomerate in the port of Kiel. The INS Magen was originally planned to be handed over to the Israeli Navy earlier this year, but this was delayed due to production issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony was presided over by Sharvit and the deputy director-general of the Defense Ministry, Avi Dadon, as well as a number of other senior defense officials, the military said.

The INS Magen was the first new missile ship received by the Israeli Navy
in 26 years, since the Sa’ar 5-class INS Hanit was delivered in 1994.

Israeli sailors on board the Sa’ar 6-class corvette INS Magen salute as the vessel is handed over to the Israeli Navy in a ceremony in Germany on November 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The four Sa’ar 6 ships were ordered after the government tasked the navy with defending rigs built over natural gas deposits in Israel’s territorial waters.

Each nearly 2,000-ton missile ship is equipped with two Iron Dome interceptor launchers — known as the Naval Dome — to intercept rockets and a Barak-8 battery to shoot down cruise and ballistic missiles.

The ships are also covered in some 260 static radar arrays — known as a phased array — that allow them to detect incoming projectiles and aircraft in the sky, as well as ships and low-flying cruise missiles at sea level. In the past, a ship would have needed two separate radar systems, one to detect objects at sea level and one to scan the skies. That the 260 or so arrays stay in place also means that the ship is less easily detectable than vessels with radar systems that rotate.

 

The Sa’ar 6 is large compared to the country’s existing vessels, but Navy officials say it is far smaller than the types of ships that perform the types of missions it is being tasked with. And though it has a helicopter landing pad on its back, is larger than the Israeli Navy’s other two classes of corvettes, the Sa’ar 5 and Sa’ar 4.5, it shows up as far smaller on radar, thanks to advancements in stealth technology in recent decades.

Unlike its predecessors, the Sa’ar 6 is also specifically built to house both male and female sailors. The navy anticipates that roughly a quarter of the crew of the missile ships will be women.

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

The navy sees the protection of the natural gas rigs as one of its highest priorities, believing that a direct strike on an operating extraction platform would be catastrophic. Defending Israel’s shipping lanes in the Mediterranean Sea, which are used to import over 90 percent of the country’s goods, are also seen as a major task.

The Lebanese Hezbollah terror group has in fact identified Israel’s national gas rigs as a potential target, releasing a video in 2018 showing the Leviathan platform in gunsights and threatening to destroy them “within hours.”

The threat from Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which fired a rocket toward Israel’s Tamar gas extraction platform in the 2014 Gaza war, is considered to be far less. The terror group is not believed to have advanced munitions capable of accurately striking a platform at sea. According to Israeli Navy calculations, Hamas would have to fire roughly 10,000 simple, unguided rockets at a gas rig to ensure one successful strike, making such an attack not technically impossible, but highly unlikely.

The decision to purchase the Sa’ar 6 ships from the German industrial firm Thyssenkrupp, along with another deal with the company to buy submarines, is part of a graft investigation in Israel involving several leading Israeli businessmen, including close contacts of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a former commander of the navy, Eli Marom.

Netanyahu, who has been indicted on three other corruption charges, was not named as a suspect in that scandal — dubbed Case 3000 — and no current Israeli Navy officials have been connected to it either.

The Israeli Navy refused to comment on the specific manner in which the tender was issued to Thyssenkrupp or other matters related to the purchasing process, but maintains that the Sa’ar 6 itself was a necessary ship to buy and that decisions over its specifications were made solely out of operational considerations.

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