IDF submarine Dolphin’s journey through the Suez Canal is a historic landmark – but no less importantly, it attests to the improvement in the strategic relationship between Israel and Egypt and to the boosted IDF deterrent power vis-à-vis the Iranian threat.
The fact that an Israeli submarine sailed through the Suez Canal has advantages for three main reasons:
- On the strategic front – it improves Israel’s deterrent power vis-à-vis the various threats produced by Iran.
- On the diplomatic front – it attests to upgraded security ties between Israel and Egypt as well as to the growing trust between the two states.
- On the military-operational front – Egyptian permission for Israeli submarines and other vessels to go through the Canal shortens the timetables required for Israel to effectively deploy its long-distance strategic arm in order to carry out deterrence missions in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
Israel’s three submarines were built for the Navy in Germany in the late 1990s and were designed especially so that they can carry out various missions. The main mission is the detection and monitoring of vessels, as well as the ability to sink them if necessary. In addition, these submarines can stealthily reach distant shores for the purpose of intelligence gathering, to guide the Air Force to targets near the shore, and to bring divers and fighters to shore.
Moreover, according to foreign media reports, our submarines are capable of firing strategic cruise missiles at targets found roughly 1,500 kilometers away (about 950 miles.) According to these reports, these missiles can be armed with nuclear warheads. These submarines are classified as conventional, as they are powered by diesel fuel, yet if the foreign reports are accurate they possess operational capabilities only available to nuclear submarines deployed by global powers such as the US, Russia, Britain, and France.
The Iranians are aware of these reports, and they may conclude that Israel is capable of hitting their cities and their nuclear program with a preventative strike or a “second strike” in a surprising manner and from unexpected directions. A “second strike” would be a destructive reprisal that Israel may direct at Iran, should Tehran strike first.
In order for an Israeli submarine to reach the Red Sea, we can assume that until now the task required long days of exhausting and dangerous sailing through the Mediterranean and around Africa’s shores and the Cape of Good Hope. This would require an exacting and complex logistical effort. Moreover, this long journey would have made it difficult for Israel to quickly deploy its submarines in the Red Sea or Indian Ocean theaters in emergency cases.
However, going through the Suez Canal enables the Israeli submarines to quickly boast a strategic presence in the southern maritime theater – within a few days, and without significant logistical difficulties.
It is clear that an Israeli submarine, or any submarine for that matter, would not have been able to sail through the Suez Canal without the Egyptians knowing about it and granting passage permission. The Canal’s water is shallow and it boasts lively vessel traffic that would endanger a submarine, even if it would dare to sneak in and sail at minimal depth below sea level. It’s likely that the Egyptians would have spotted such submarine easily. This would be even truer if the Israeli submarine sailed above sea level.
The permission granted by Egypt – as agreed during Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s meetings in Cairo about two weeks ago – carries historical significance. We should keep in mind that only a few years ago, the Navy chief forbade military vessels from sailing through the Suez Canal, in order to prevent the possibility of sabotage of espionage.
The Egyptians are also aware of the global reports regarding the submarine’s capabilities and would not have allowed the move in the absence of full trust between the sides. Without this kind of trust, Israel would have thought twice about sending the submarine through the Canal, should it be examined by the Egyptians on various pretexts.
Officially, Israel claims that the submarine’s voyage through the Canal was meant to enable it to take part in a large-scale maritime maneuver held by the Navy in the Red Sea. However, the very fact that an Israeli submarine sailed through the Suez Canal conveys the following message: From now on, Israel and Egypt will be cooperating on issues that go beyond the sealing off of the Sinai border.
This message is supposed to resonate not only in Iran, but also in Persian Gulf states and in Washington. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration will be delighted over the Israeli submarine’s journey through the Suez Canal and view it as proof that its effort to prompt regional cooperation in hindering the Iranian threat is starting to bear fruit.