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There Are Alternatives to Submarines

Israel, Ma'ariv

By Ehud Eilam

Israel is... getting ready  for both subversion, including by means of attacking Iran, and for deterrence in the case Iran, after all, becomes nuclear-armed.


Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler


12 May 2012



Despite the Israeli obligation to buy additional submarines, it’s worthwhile to consider other alternatives for deploying nuclear weapons, like in underground facilities and aircraft.



A fourth submarine of the Israeli Navy has been recently launched in Germany as a part preparations by the IDF1 in general, and the navy in particular, for conventional war, struggle with guerilla and terror, and the possibility that Iran would attain nuclear arms. 

The IDF, since its inception, is based on land and air forces, as preparation for a conventional war like those that occurred in the past – for instance, in the Yom Kippur War. In these conventional wars, the part of the navy in the campaign was secondary – for example, transportation of the troops, like in the Awali landing in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Today, the IDF has a rather limited capability in this area since it possesses only three landing crafts. 

The central, and to a great extent, designated role of the navy, is safeguarding  navigation lanes for Israel. In the Yom Kippur War, the navies of Egypt and Syria tried to impose a naval blockade on Israel, but they failed. Currently, in the wake of revolution in Egypt, there is a higher probability than in the past of a clash between Israel and Egypt, while the latter has at its disposal a large and a fairly modern fleet including, among other things, Harpoon missiles. 

In Egypt, as the parliamentary elections showed, there is a greatly strengthened Muslim Brotherhood, connected to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Egypt might threaten Israel with some naval blockade if Israel does not remove its sea blockade on Gaza. And also, like at the end of 1955 and on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, Egypt might disrupt the Strait of Tiran for Israeli shipping. 

There is also the Suez Canal. It stands to reason that Egypt will not allow Israeli submarines to pass through the Suez Canal like in 2009. The Israeli Navy, in the framework of the continued coping with guerilla and terror, is playing several roles: protecting the maritime borders of Israel, for instance, in proximity to Lebanon, enforcing a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, foiling arms smuggling, performing raids, gathering intelligence and more.


To Learn from the American Model


Israel has nuclear weapons, according to non-Israeli sources. Iran is aiming to acquire nuclear weapon and in the least to be able to produce them within a short time. Israel is objecting to this and getting ready for both subversion, including by means of attacking Iran, and for deterrence, in the case Iran becomes nuclear-armed after all. 

The Israeli Navy may help with both thwarting and deterring. Its submarines, according to foreign sources, have cruise missiles capable of reaching Iran. If these cruise missiles can carry a nuclear warhead, Israel will have an option of delivering by surprise a first nuclear strike and also respond with a nuclear retaliation in the event Iran strikes first.

Germany, which manufactures Israel’s submarines, provides a partial subsidy for this project. Still, the acquisition cost of the submarine for Israel is at least a billion dollars, and there are other expenses, such as maintenance, training of personell and the like. In total, within several years, Israel will have six submarines. Some of them will routinely be in repairs, exercises and so on. 

During an emergency, should there be a sufficient warning, most of the submarines and perhaps even all of them could be possibly positioned at sea. Despite Israel’s obligation to purchase a fifth and sixth submarine, maybe it makes sense to consider other alternatives of deploying nuclear weapons. [We] can learn from the American model: placing nuclear weapons not only in submarines but also in underground facilities and aircraft.


Submarines Have Alternatives


Israeli submarines maneuvering around the Mediterranean Sea would be in practice immune from attack by Iran, while the delivery vehicles in Israel would be exposed to the Iranian wallop. It’s still possible to build in Israel well fortified and camouflaged underground launching pads. Inside of them, there’ll be hidden nuclear missiles likely to be more reliable and long-range than a cruise missile fired from a submarine.

In addition, the Israeli Air Force can assign a squadron or more exclusively for tasks relating to projecting nuclear weapons. A part of these aircraft would be regularly weaponized and constantly on call for a motion assuming they would have enough time to take off if alarm is received on launching a nuclear missile from Iran, that might hit the airfield where they are stationed. 

Another option is for the aircraft with a nuclear load to stay airborne at the time of a high alert and even permanently, around the clock – in shifts, of course. 

All in all, since the late sixties the main weapon system of the Israeli Navy was the missile boat designed primarily for conventional warfare, as well as achieving superiority at sea. Starting from the nineties, the importance of the submarine grew, especially for the sake of prepping for a nuclear era - although in this aspect, for example, from the standpoint of cost, there may be alternatives to it.


Original Hebrew article:



1. Israel Defense Forces, lit. "Defensive Army for Israel"

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