A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, July 6, 2009

Israeli Submarine Passed Through Canal

Speaking of Israel and Iran, the way this Haaretz story (Jerusalem Post version here) was reported in the Israeli press is a bit misleading. Another version here. They all tend to emphasize that though an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine joined exercises in the Gulf of Aqaba off Eilat, it will not be stationed permanently in Eilat and has returned through the Suez Canal to its Mediterranean base. The AFP report does a better job of getting at the real story: This is the first time one of the Dolphins has passed through the Suez Canal, which means it had to do so on the surface. There have been rumors that the subs have operated in Red Sea waters before, but if they did they apparently went around Africa to do so. (And there are questions about whether Israel could tend them on such a long voyage: they aren't nuclear powered, after all. Though I'll belatedly add — because someone may comment anyway — that there are (unconfirmed) rumors of Israeli military support bases in the Red Sea region.) The reason they were never sent through the canal before this, at least according to the conventional wisdom in defense circles, was that Israel did not want Egyptian or other observers getting a good look at the exterior of one of their most modern subs, the German-built Dolphins. There are rumors they carry Harpoon and perhaps Israeli ship-to-shore missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. And the Suez Canal is narrow and shallow, with three major cities along it full of people of all natonalities, so a sub passing through it is visible to the world.

So, up to now, Israel never sent its Dolphins through the Suez Canal. This time it did, presumably as a signal to Iran. That's the real story here, not the fact that the sub won't be based in Eilat: the Gulf of Aqaba is a narrow, easily closed waterway, and not where you'd want to bottle up one of your few state of the art subs, which may be your second-strike capability.

No comments: