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Israel Looks to Expand Navy to Protect Gas Interests

With new sea-borne gas finds under threat from Hizbullah, Iran, and Turkey the IDF is looking to expand its naval fleet.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 10/19/2011, 8:28 AM

IDF Naval Vessel
IDF Naval Vessel
IDF

The IDF says it does not have enough ships to protect future gas rigs for new gas finds in the Mediterranean, but who will foot the bill?

Israel’s discovery of large natural gas fields off its coast has raised tensions with Lebanon, which claims that some of the fields are in its sovereign waters.

The Hizbullah terror organization, which dominates Lebanon's present government, and controls the southern reaches of the country, has threatened to attack Israeli natural gas interests.

Turkey, amid the downturn in relations between Jerusalem and Anarka, has also taken an aggressive posture and started staking claims in Cypriote waters near Israeli finds.

To counter these potential threats Israel's government is considering the allocation of $100 million for the purchase of new Naval vessels to bolster its ability to protect its economic interests.

At present, aside from its flotilla of Dolphin class submarines, which are capable of extended long-range operations, Israel's navy is comprised of patrol boats and Saar class cruisers numbered and tasked to protect its territorial waters.

In July, Israel's cabinet approved the demarcation of Israel's northern maritime using an extant, UN-approved agreement between Beirut and Nicosia, which sets the economic rights in offshore territories for the two nations.

The agreement, however, contains a clause that Beirut's economic exploitation zone uner its agreement with Nicosia can be adjusted southward pursuant to negotiations with Jerusalem and insist one day in the future that will be the case.

At the same time, Lebanese officials, who have no formal relations with Israel, have expressed no interest in actually conducting the necessary talks to adjust the agreement. Instead, they insist, Israel is encroaching on their rights.

Israel security officials are concerned Hizbullah and Hamas will try to attack the Israeli gas rigs at sea in explosive-laden ships, or with anti-ship missiles. Iran has also recently announced plans to deploy warships in the Mediterranean.

But while Israel's navy is traditionally responsible for defending Israel’s coast, it is not geared for protecting sea-based natural resources well into international waters.

In an absence of such capabilities Israel has leveraged armed UAVs operated by the IAF, but security analysts warn this is only a temporary solution. Instead, naval officials say, they need more ships, and platforms of their own, to protect Israel's economic interests.

But naval vessels, traditionally some of the highest ticket items any military can buy, do not come cheap. To that end, Israeli officials are considering a plan whereby the companies who will reap the profits of future gas rigs will underwrite part of the vessel's acquisition.

Some government officials previously raised the possibility of hiring private security contractors to protect the fields, but the plan was rejected by the Defense Ministry.

The plan under consideration may result in an expansion of the Israeli navy, but some observers are asking just how independent - and sovereign - a navy whose budget includes private donations can be