The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) general staff does not foresee smooth sailing ahead in Israel’s territorial waters as it recently approved a navy request to buy four new warships at a cost of about $750 million. If the Israeli government gives the green light for the purchase, the last hurdle, the navy hopes to acquire the 1,200 ton vessels, equipped with advanced missile and anti-missile weapons systems, before the end of the year and have them ready for operations in 2013.
Traditionally regarded as the “stepbrother” of the other two branches of the Israeli military, the navy has seen its importance increase with the discovery of massive deposits of natural gas offshore in Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Israel’s two big EEZ gas discoveries are the Leviathan and Tamar fields. The gas rigs erected to exploit these fields, the navy believes, are now attractive targets for Islamist terrorist attacks, especially during wartime.
Described as the biggest natural gas discoveries worldwide in the last decade, the Israeli offshore fields will not only make Israel self-sufficient in energy but also supply the Israeli economy with billions of dollars from export sales when they come on line in the next few years. As a result, the Israeli military is determined to protect this strategically important asset, especially the rigs, from terrorist attacks, which involves the purchase and deployment of more warships.
“The size of the gas reservoirs is larger than the size of the state of Israel and has significant consequences for how we operate and how we grow,” said Admiral Ram Rothberg, head of Israel’s navy. “The main solution is to be in the area to protect the rigs and ensure that the gas reaches Israel.”
The difficulties encountered with Israel’s current source of natural gas, Egypt, indicate how vulnerable and targeted the Jewish state’s energy supply is by terrorist attack. Since Egypt’s “Arab Spring” began in early 2011, terrorists have repeatedly bombed the pipeline that carries the gas through the Sinai to Israel. And Egypt as an energy source will probably not become any securer for Israel if a Muslim Brotherhood government takes power in Cairo.
The Israeli navy views enemy missiles as the major threat to the all-important offshore gas rigs. Israel knows Hezbollah has the capability to fire such weapons as it heavily damaged an Israeli naval vessel with an anti-ship missile, killing four sailors, in the 2006 Lebanon War. And Hezbollah may not be the only Islamist terrorist group possessing such a lethal weapon. Only last February, the navy discovered on an Iranian ship six Iranian Nasr-1 radar-guided anti-ship missiles that it believes were destined for al-Jihad in Gaza. The navy is also concerned about Syria’s acquisition of Russia’s Yakhont anti-ship missile, which has a range of 300 kilometers. Since Syria is a major supplier of weaponry to Hezbollah, the Israeli military fears the Yakhont could wind up in its hands.
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