The INS Tanin, Israel's fourth and most advanced Dolphin class submarine – is en route to Israel from Germany, having departed Howaldtswerke-Deutche Werft (HDW) shipyard in Kiel, Germany for the 4000 mile trip to the port in Haifa. The Navy has released video of the vessel and the ceremony in which it was launched.
The 50-man crew that is accompanying the nuclear capable air independent propulsion (AIP) submarine is expected to arrive at the berth is approximately two weeks. It will join three earlier diesel –electric Dolphins that currently operate in Israel’s Navy flotilla.
Reports claim Israel has modified the Dolphin's 650mm launch tubes to allow the launch of missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. Such missiles should give Israel the ability to deter belligerent neighbors like Iran, if it delivers a sufficiently convincing threat to make use of them. However – Israel has thus far maintained a policy of nuclear ambiguity.
Israeli Navy commander Vice Adm. Ram Rutberg said the newest AIP submarine doubles the capabilities of Israel’s existing Dolphin fleet. In a notice released on September 8 by the IDF, he said, “It will be able to reach further and deeper, for a longer period of time, demonstrating force unknown to this day.”
Col. A., identified in the Sept. 8 release as the INS Tanin project director, said the submarine and its crew had been training for months under rigorous conditions in the Baltic and North Seas prior to departing the German shipyard, according to a report on the DefenseNews.com site. The INS Tanin is Hebrew for "Alligator".
The German weekly Der Spiegel reported that the submarines have a nuclear capability and are part of Israel's weaponry to counter the nuclear threat from Iran. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has denied that the submarines have a nuclear capability.
The new Dolphin operates without the need to access atmospheric oxygen by surfacing or using a snorkel. This makes it virtually silent and potentially stealthier than nuclear powered submarines.
It is the most expensive single vehicle in the IDF's arsenal and unlike the first three Dolphins delivered to Israel, is modeled on the German Navy's Type 212 submarine, and not on the export-only Type 209. The AIP Dolphins are 12 meters longer than the Type 212, are nearly 500 tons heavier in submerged displacement, and have a larger crew.
Funded nearly one-third by Germany — with steel, propulsion components and other subsystems covered by annual US grant aid — the INS Tanin and a follow-on INS Rahav are nearly eight years in the making under a 2006 contract, according to the DefenseNews.com site.
Israel has already purchased a a fifth Dolphin-class submarine at a subsidized rate from Berlin, and has an option for a sixth.
In May 2012, during an official ceremony in the Kiel shipyards, the German builders transferred the INS Tanin to the Israeli Navy. However, it did not complete its testing process until now.
Each Dolphin-class submarine is capable of carrying a combined total of up to 16 torpedoes and Submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). The cruise missiles have a range of at least 1,500 km (930 mi) and are widely believed to be equipped with a 200-kilogram (440 lb) nuclear warhead containing up to 6 kilograms (13 lb) of plutonium.
A wet and dry compartment is installed for deploying underwater special operations teams.
Jane's Defense Weekly reports that the Dolphin-class submarines are believed to be nuclear armed, offering Israel both a first strike and a second strike capability. The Federation of American Scientists and GlobalSecurity.org report that the four larger torpedo tubes are capable of launching Israeli built nuclear-armed Popeye Turbo cruise missiles (a variant of the Popeye standoff missile), and the US Navy recorded an Israeli submarine-launched cruise missile test in the Indian Ocean ranging 1,500 km (930 mi).
At a launching ceremony in Germany, Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said that "during Protective Edge, IDF forces operated forcefully and decisively, on land, in air, at sea and underground. The Navy operated offensively out of the territorial waters, integrated in the fighting with air and ground forces, and defended the country's maritime border with the Gaza Strip, in addition to the continuation of its activities in other sectors – near and far."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “If our enemies make another mistake and seek to force war on us, the State of Israel will go back to operating through all means, in near and far circles, to cut off their hands. We will not tolerate attempts to harm our civilians or soldiers, and we will use our force to that end.”
The delivery of the submarine comes as the IDF looks northwards, after a summer of escalation in the south has given way to growing tension along the border with Syria.
Syrian regime forces have been battling with rebel forces in and around Quneitra, on the border with Israel, with the fierce clashes occasionally spilling over into the Israeli Golan Heights.
More worryingly than accidental spillovers is the fact that prominent among the rebels battling regime forces along the border is the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
A sixth Dolphin-class submarine — the third AIP system of Israel’s eventual underwater fleet — is still under construction and years from delivery.
In an interview on Sunday, September 7, Ralf Stegner, the deputy chairman of Germany’s second-largest party said he wants to limit arms exports into the Middle East, including Israel, according to a Times of Israel report. Representing the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD that is part of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, Stegner said, “Germany must not deliver weapons to conflict areas and to dictators. “What about Saudi Arabia? What about Qatar? I am also asking: What about Israel?”
While admitting that Germany supports Israel’s security in an article that appeared in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Stegner said, ”I don’t have the impression that weapons in the Middle East contribute to solving the problem.”
Stegner clarified that his position is not to be understood to be anti-Israel – “I’m just against arms exports into crisis areas and dictatorship!” he tweeted.
The Times of Israel also reported that other German politicians such as Florian Hahn, a defense spokesman for the CSU party, which is close to Merkel’s Christian Democrats said that, “Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and a friendly state. Due to our history, Israel enjoys special care.” Therefore, he said, Israel’s request for arms are being evaluated differently than those from other states in the region.