The Israeli Navy has never been a priority for the Hebrew State General Staff. Today, its offshore fleet is limited to 3 corvettes of 1000 tons Sa'ar 5 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 indeed trusted its air force, its coastal batteries, and its fleet of missile patrol boats to protect access to its ports, moreover far from being potentially threatened by the actors of the Eastern Mediterranean at that time.
But the discovery of a huge gas field off its coast, in what is similar to its exclusive economic zone, in the early 2010s, has 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, have also discovered similar deposits.
In fact, regional tensions quickly grew around this economic windfall, with in the case of Israel, the fear of seeing its off-shore infrastructures 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, those same at the origin of the tensions between Ankara and Athens.
It is not surprising, in these conditions, that the Israeli Navy quickly took on great importance on the Hebrew military chessboard, and was given new and much more efficient means. This was the case with the new Dolphin submarine program announced in 2019, the first copy of which will be delivered in 2027. This is now the case with the Sa'ar 6 corvette program, of which the first unit, INS Magen, was received by the Israeli Navy at the port of Eilat on December 2. The other 3 units of the class will be delivered by 2022. The 4 Corvettes built in Germany will have cost € 430m in Jerusalem, excluding armament and equipment, one Tier of which is paid for by the German State , as was the case for the Dolphin 2 program and the upcoming Dolphin (3) program.
90 meters long for a loaded tonnage of 1.900 tonnes, the corvette INS Magen does not present, at first glance, any extraordinary nautical characteristics. Derivatives of German corvettes K130 Braunschweig, the Sa'ar 6 take again the general appearance, and the propulsion system. In terms of equipment and armament, on the other hand, the little 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 anti-ship missiles Gabriel V with a range of 200 km and designed specifically to operate near shore, as well as 32 Barak-8 long-range anti-aircraft missiles designed in cooperation with India to shoot down planes, helicopters, drones and missiles up to 100 km away and 16 km above sea level.
To this already more than massive arsenal, are added 20 vertical launchers for the C-Dome anti-missile system, a naval version of the Iron Dome system, designed to intercept and repel saturating attacks by missiles, rockets and drones that could target the ship, or the infrastructure it protects. It also has 2 double 324 mm torpedo launchers for anti-submarine warfare, and 2 Typhoon automatic light guns for its close protection. Finally, the corvette can implement a MH-60 SeaHawk naval helicopter. The sensors and electronic warfare systems on board are mostly covered by the seal of secrecy, and only the main radar EL / M-2248 MF-STAR of the Israeli IAI Elta, a radar with plane AESA antennas, capable of detecting an aircraft at 250 km and a sea-skimming missile at 25 km and working in the high UHF band, has been unveiled.
This profusion of equipment and firepower did not come without constraints. In particular, the Sa'ar 6 have a low autonomy at sea, given at 4000 km, or nearly half that of the K130 from which they are derived. But in the case of Israel, which has no vocation to send military resources, alone or in coalition, at a great distance from its own home ports, this weak autonomy does not represent a major handicap. On the other hand, the large concentration of weapon systems in a small hull will necessarily adversely affect the ship's handling in heavy seas. But here again, it is doubtful that an attack on Israeli gas platforms will take place in the middle of a storm. Finally, the ship will have a low capacity to withstand blows, for the same reasons. But let's recognize that it will be rather difficult to touch it, and that most of the 2000 tons ships have a limited capacity to withstand a strike.
Obviously, the Sa'ar 6 corvettes were designed for perfectly framed use in a well-defined context. Their significant weaknesses do not in fact affect the missions entrusted to them. On the other hand, they will offer the Israeli Navy a gain in capacity comparable to the commissioning of several frigates, ships that are much heavier and more expensive. We understand, therefore, why Greece was seduced by the model, by announcing its intention to build, in cooperation with Israel, its own model derived from the Sa'ar 6, the Themistocles class, called upon to operate in the same environment and in the same theater of operations as Israeli ships.