Israel Submarine Import and Export Behavior

Dolphin Israeli Defense Forces,


In 1988, the Ingalls Shipyard of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was chosen to deliver two Dolphin-class submarines to Israel funded by U.S. military aid. Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) and Thyssen-Nordseewerke (TNSW) were to act as subcontractors. A domestic debate concerning military priorities and fiscal pressures, partially resulting from the first Gulf War, led Israel to cancel the program in 1990. Germany then offered a military aid package to Israel that included the two submarines. This decision has been attributed to the embarrassment caused by the discovery of significant cooperation between German companies and Iraq's arms industry. [1] In 1995, Israel ordered a third submarine with costs shared equally between Israel and Germany, commissioned in 2000. [2]

In November 2005, the outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder approved the sale of the fourth and fifth Dolphin-class submarines for a total of $1.17 billion, with a third of this cost to be financed by the German government. [3] In March 2012, Israel placed an order with HDW for a sixth vessel to further expand its fleet of submarines; the vessel is slated for delivery in 2017. [4] All of these ships are advanced Dolphin-class vessels with air-independent propulsion (AIP); the Israeli Navy received the INS Tanin from HDW in May 2012, and the INS Rahav is scheduled to arrive in Israel sometime in 2015. [5] The sixth submarine, which is also being partially financed by the German government, is currently under construction at the HDW shipyard. [6]

There has been widespread speculation regarding the armament of the submarines. According to HDW, the Dolphin-class submarines it built were equipped with weapon systems similar to those installed on other diesel-electric submarines. [7] However, various sources have reported that upon arrival at Haifa, Israel, the submarines were modified, and fitted with cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. [8] The Dolphin-class submarine was designed in accordance with Israeli demands, including four 650mm torpedo tubes. [9] The German Defense Ministry has stated that upon delivery to Israel, liners were to be fitted to decrease the diameter of the tubes to accommodate 533mm Harpoon containers. But because the Dolphin-class is equipped with six additional 533mm torpedo tubes capable of launching Harpoons, it seems possible that the 650mm tubes might have been designed to accommodate indigenously built, long-range submarine-launched cruise missiles. [10]

The German government argues that it provided the submarines without weapons, and it could not speculate or control how Israel later equipped the submarines. [11] While restrictive German export regulations theoretically bar the sale of weapons to crisis areas, an exception was made in the case of Israel. [12] Referring to its "special responsibility," the German government generally has interpreted its arms export guidelines in Israel's favor. [13] German opposition parties such as the Greens have criticized the supply of submarines to Israel on the basis that Berlin has received no guarantees that they will not be used to carry nuclear weapons, arguing that the exports are "a complete renunciation of Germany's policy of non-proliferation." [14] Germany has also felt some outside pressure to alter its military dealings with Israel. Norwegian officials reportedly demanded that a training course for the Israeli crew, which was to be to be undertaken in Norwegian waters, be cancelled. [15] In 2003, articles appeared in both the LA Times and Guardian that cited Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials claiming that the two countries had collaborated in deploying Harpoon missiles armed with nuclear warheads. [16] Former German Defense Ministry officials acknowledged to Der Spiegel in 2012 that they had assumed at the time of the sales that Israel intended to use the submarines for nuclear weapons. [17]

Before importing the Dolphins, the Israeli Navy depended upon three Gal-class submarines, designed by Germany for Israel, and constructed at the Vickers Shipyard in the United Kingdom between 1973 and 1977. The Gal-class is a modified Type 206A coastal submarine. The Gals were decommissioned when the Dolphins were commissioned into the Israeli Navy, and Israel had planned to sell the vessels. The Thai Navy was reportedly interested in acquiring two vessels, while South African investors were allegedly seeking one submarine as a tourist attraction as well. Ecuador, Poland, Sri Lanka and India had also been mentioned as potential buyers, but negotiations were not successful. [18] In the end, Israel decided to abandon its attempts to sell the submarines. While all three remain decommissioned, one is now being exhibited at the Israeli Naval Museum in Haifa. [19]


Israel is an importer of submarines and does not export them. While there has been some discussion of possible Israeli involvement in the U.S. provision of submarines to Taiwan, such plans are unlikely to materialize.

[1] Stephen Saunders, Jane's Fighting Ships: 2002-2003 (Coulsdon, Jane's Information Group, 2002); "German submarines for Israel," Foreign Report, 27 June 1991;; "Ship profile (III): INs Dolphin," Naval Forces, 1998, Vol. 19, No. 6, pp. 62-77; in ProQuest Information and Learning Company,
[2] "Third Dolphin given joint go-ahead," Jane's Defence Weekly online edition,, 18 March 1995; SSK Dolphin Class Submarine, Israel,"
[3] German Government Approves Sale of Submarines to Israel," Der Spiegel, 20 November 2005; in FBIS Document EUP20051120014001.
[4] Yaakov Katz, "J'lem and Berlin Sign Contract for Sixth Submarine," The Jerusalem Post, 5 February 2012,; "Germany Approves Fifth Israeli Submarine," CBN, 14 April 2015,
[5] Roi Yanovsky, "Rivlin Tours new IDF submarine during Germany visit," Ynetnews, 14 May 2015,
[6] Yaakov Katz, " Israel Gets Fourth Sub from Germany," The Jerusalem Post, 4 May 2012,; Barbara Opall-Rome, "Israel Inaugurates 5th Dolphin Class Sub," Defense News, 29 April 2013,
[7] "HDW liefert drittes U-Boot der 'Dolphin'-Klasse," Pressearchiv 2000, 25 July 2000, HDW Website,
[8] Michael Nitz, "Israel's newest sub sets out for Haifa," Jane's Defence Weekly, Vol. 32, No. 2, 14 July 1999.
[9] Interview with Israel Navy Commander Major General Alex Tal by Alex Fishman, "If Israel wants to hide anything--it will be at sea," Yedi'ot Aharonot, 31 December 1999; in "Israel: Outgoing Navy Chief on subs, Syria, Mediterranean," FBIS Document TA0201154800.
[10] Hubert Wetzel, "Delfin mit übergrossem Kanonenrohr," Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1 September 1999; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe,
[11] David Gordon Smith, "The World from Berlin: 'Helping Israel Defend Itself Is Germany's Duty,'" Der Spiegel, 5 June 2012,
[12] David Rodman, "Isreal's national security doctrine: an introductory overview," Middle East Review of International Affairs, September 2001; in "Academic views evolution of Israel's national security doctrine," FBIS Document GMP20011009000010.
[13] Eckart Lohse, "Israel will get what it needs, when it needs it," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 May 2002; in "Article views German weapons exports to Israel, military cooperation," FBIS Document EUP20020504000081; Middle East Newsline, 18 February 2002; in "Germany reportedly pressured to end secret defense ties with Israel," FBIS Document GMP20020219000192.
[14] Ramit Plushnick-Masti, "Israel Buys 2 Nuclear-Capable Submarines," The Washington Post,, 25 August 2006.
[15] Islam Kamal, "Israeli Navy supplied with German submarines," Rose Al-Yusuf, 13 July 1999; in "New German submarines arrive in Israel," FBIS Document NC2008071099.
[16] Peter Beaumont and Conal Urquhart, "Israel deploys nuclear arms in submarines," The Guardian,, 12 October 2003; Douglas Frantz, "Israel's arsenal is point of contention," LA Times,, 12 October 2003.
[17] "Operation Samson: Israel's Deployment of Nuclear Missiles on Submarines from Germany," Der Spiegel, 4 June 2012,
[18] Arieh O'Sullivan, "Israel to sell used submarines to Thailand," The Jerusalem Post, 6 September 2001; in "Israel - Thailand may buy used Gal-class submarines," FBIS Document GMP20010906000038; Robert Rochowicz, "A gift from Norway," Polska Zbrojna, 10 February 2002; in "Poland assessing submarines to be taken over from Norway," FBIS Document EUP20020211000270; Steve Rodan, "No takers for Israel's Gal-class submarines," Jane's Defense Weekly online edition,, 15 August 2001; "Ecuador/SUBMARINES/Introduction," Jane's Fighting Ships 2001-2001 online edition,
[19] "Israel: Military, Gal," Global Security,

September 30, 2015
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The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.


This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2018.