The Israeli Navy has never been a priority for the Jewish General Staff. Today, its offshore fleet is limited to 3 1000-ton Sa'ar 5 corvettes acquired from the United States more than 26 years ago, and above all 6 Dolphin and Dolphin 2 submarines, enlarged versions of the Type 209 of the German HDW, acquired in two lots, one in 1999 (3 Dolphin) and the other between 2012 and 2019 (3 Dolphin 2). Tel Aviv in fact trusted its air force, its coastal batteries, and its fleet of missile patrol boats to protect access to its ports, otherwise far from being potentially threatened by Eastern Mediterranean actors. that time.
But the discovery of a huge gas field off its coast, in what is similar to its exclusive economic zone, at the beginning of the 2010s, profoundly changed the situation for the Hebrew State. Not only does this deposit now cover 60% of the country's natural gas consumption, but it also allows Jerusalem to export the precious fuel to its Jordanian and Egyptian neighbors. At the same time, Egypt, but also Cyprus and Lebanon, also discovered similar deposits.
In fact, regional tensions quickly increased around this economic windfall, with in the case of Israel, the fear of seeing its off-shore infrastructure attacked by Lebanese Hezbollah, but also by Syrian or Iranian precision attacks. Its gas pipeline project to Europe in cooperation with Greece is, for its part, potentially threatened by Turkish claims in the Eastern Mediterranean , the very ones at the origin of tensions between Ankara and Athens.
There is nothing surprising, in these conditions, that the Israeli Navy has in a short time taken on great importance on the Hebrew military scene, and is being equipped with new, much more efficient means. This was the case of the new Dolphin submarine program announced in 2019, the first example of which will be delivered in 2027. This is today the case with the Sa'ar 6 corvette program, of which the first unit, the The INS Magen was received by the Israeli Navy at the port of Eilat on December 2. The 3 other units of the class will be delivered by 2022. The 4 Corvettes built in Germany will have cost €430 million in Jerusalem, excluding weapons and equipment, a tier of which is covered by the German State , as was the case for the Dolphin 2 program and the next Dolphin program (3).
90 meters long for a loaded tonnage of 1,900 tonnes, the INS Magen does not present, at first glance, any extraordinary nautical characteristics. Derived from the German K130 Braunschweig corvettes , the Sa'ar 6 takes its general appearance and propulsion system. In terms of equipment and armament, on the other hand, the small Israeli corvette simply cannot be compared to any ship of this tonnage. Indeed, beyond the 76mm gun, already imposing for the ship, it carries up to 16 Gabriel V anti-ship missiles anti-ship missiles Barak-8 long-range aerial weapons designed in cooperation with India to shoot down planes, helicopters, drones and missiles up to 100 km away and 16 km in altitude.
To this already more than massive arsenal, are added 20 vertical launchers for the C-Dome anti-missile system, naval version of the Iron Dome system , designed to intercept and repel saturating attacks by missiles, rockets and drones which could target the ship , or the infrastructure it protects. It also has 2 double 324 mm torpedo launchers for anti-submarine warfare, and 2 light automatic Typhoon cannons for close protection. Finally, the corvette can use an MH-60 SeaHawk naval helicopter . The sensors and electronic warfare systems on board are for the most part covered by the seal of secrecy, and only the main radar EL/M-2248 MF-STAR from the Israeli IAI Elta, a radar with flat AESA antennas, capable of detecting an aircraft at 250 km and a missile in a grazing trajectory at 25 km and working in the high UHF band, has been unveiled.
This riot of equipment and firepower was not done without constraint. In particular, the Sa'ar 6s have a low range at sea, given at 4000 km, or almost half that of the K130s from which they are derived. But in the case of Israel, which has no intention of sending military assets, alone or in coalition, a long distance from its own home ports, this low autonomy does not represent a major handicap. On the other hand, the significant concentration of weapon systems in a small hull will necessarily harm the ship's handling in heavy seas. But here again, it is doubtful that an attack on the Israeli gas platforms would occur. in the middle of a storm. Finally, the ship will have a low capacity to withstand hits, for the same reasons. But let's recognize that it will be rather difficult to hit, and that most 2000 ton ships have a relatively limited ability to withstand a strike.
Obviously, the Sa'ar 6 corvettes were designed for perfectly supervised use in a well-defined context. Their significant weaknesses do not, in fact, in any way harm the missions entrusted to them. On the other hand, they will offer the Israeli Navy a capacity gain comparable to the entry into service of several frigates, much heavier and more expensive ships. We therefore understand why Greece was seduced by the model, announcing its intention to build, in cooperation with Israel, its own model derived from the Sa'ar 6, the Themistocles class, called to operate in the same environment and in the same theater of operations as Israeli ships.