Fearing missiles, Navy seeking budget for 4 new vessels to improve defense coverage of Mediterranean Sea; Israel concerned Hezbollah will try to attack platforms.
The IDF is considering the deployment of missile interceptors on gas rigs that Israeli companies plan to construct in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the coming years, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Israel’s concern is that Hezbollah will try to attack the platforms with anti-ship missiles or explosives-laden vessels.
Leviathan holds 453 billion cu.m. of gas – Photo: Albatross
The navy is particularly concerned about Syria’s recent purchase of the Russian Yakhont anti-ship missile, which could be transferred to Hezbollah and used to target the gas rigs. Syria already tested the Yakhont in recent maneuvers. The weapon is said to be a sophisticated missile with a range of about 300 km.
Last February, the navy seized an Iranian arms ship whose cargo, Israel said, was destined for Islamic Jihad. The vessel was carrying six Iranian Nasr-1 radarguided anti-ship missiles.
The navy has yet to decide which type of missile defense system it would deploy on the gas rigs, but the two options under consideration are David’s Sling, which Israel is developing for use against medium-range rockets and cruise missiles, as well as the Barak-8, which protects large navy vessels against anti-ship missiles.
The navy has already increased its patrols in the Mediterranean and is also using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to increase the range of its surveillance. It currently operates Israel Aerospace Industries’s Heron UAV, which comes with a special electro-optic payload for maritime operations.
Until now, the navy has focused on protecting Israel’s sea lines of communication (SLOC), which span the length of the Mediterranean and around the Magreb region of North Africa. Some 99 percent of all goods arriving in the country come by sea, including security-related supplies and military hardware.
“The area we will need to protect at sea will significantly increase with the construction of the new gas rigs,” a senior naval officer said.
“We are also very concerned with the military buildup in the region, which is seeing an increase in sophisticated weapons systems like anti-ship missiles.”
In addition, the navy is in talks with the Defense Ministry about the need for four new vessels to more effectively cover its new area of operations. It is seeking a larger platform than the Sa’ar 5-class corvettes it operates.
The vessel will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles.
The navy has also informed the energy companies that it will need to install radars on the gas rigs, and the government is considering ordering the companies to help finance some of the cost.
In February, the Defense Ministry and navy ordered the Israel Electric Corporation to bolster security around a natural gas buoy that is being built off the coast of Hadera. The buoy will enable Israel to import natural gas in place of Egyptian gas, which has come to a near standstill since the revolution in Egypt last year.