TEL AVIV, Israel, July 13 (UPI)
The Israeli navy is looking for new long- and short-range missiles systems to support major ground offensives, senior officers say, a strong indication amphibious operations are being planned for Lebanon, Syria or the Gaza Strip if a new war erupts.
Planners are currently in talks with Israel's defense industry and the Jerusalem Post reports they're looking closely at Israel Military Industries' 160mm Accular GPS-guided system that has a range of 25 miles.
The navy also wants longer range missile systems that will allow it to provide fire support for large ground offensives, and to hammer enemy bases or radar stations.
"These missiles will give us the ability to play a more influential role," a senior navy commander said.
The navy has not conducted a major amphibious operation since landing troops on the coast of south Lebanon during the initial phase of the June 1982 invasion of Israel's northern neighbor.
But it's currently undergoing a transformation from a largely coast patrol force to a full-blown deep-water navy with strategic capabilities.
This is largely due to the 1998-2000 purchase of three German-built Dolphin-class submarines that are reputedly capable of launching nuclear-armed missiles. Iran is considered their primary target.
Three more Dolphins, more advanced than the three currently in service, are being built and scheduled for delivery between 2013 and 2016.
The entire fleet of the 1,925-ton subs, built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Weft of Kiel, should be operational by 2017.
As Israeli naval operations expand into the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, as well in the eastern Mediterranean where Syria has given the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet a base at Tartus, navy chiefs are pressing for at least two new major missile-armed surface combatants to protect Israel's vital shipping lanes.
These vessels would reinforce the current surface fleet of three Sa'ar-5 and eight Sa'ar-4.5 class corvettes.
An estimated 90 percent of all goods arriving in Israel come by sea, as do 90 percent of military hardware and security-relayed imports.
Plans to purchase new warships have fallen through because of funding problem, which have been exacerbated by the introduction of severe defense cutbacks for 2012-13.
One proposal has been to buy designs from Germany's Blohm + Voss shipbuilders and construct the vessels at the Israel Shipyards in Haifa, the navy's main base north of Tel Aviv on Israel's Mediterranean coast.
Israel Shipyards, a private concern, already builds the navy's Shaldag-class patrol boats. Another option is to build the new vessels in South Korea.
The navy also wants new patrol craft to protect the natural gas fields recently discovered offshore, and which would be tempting targets for Iran, Syria or Hezbollah.
According to Israel's Globes business daily, the navy is after "fast, long endurance patrol boats ... with large crews, a range of weaponry, state-of-the-art search and warning systems, and helicopter landing pads."
These vessels would have to patrol a wide area of sea, about the size of Israel itself, as the gas infrastructure expands.
Syria and Hezbollah are known to have anti-ship missiles, many provided by Iran and Russia, that are capable of hitting fixed offshore target inside Israel's exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean.
Hezbollah hit an Israel corvette off Lebanon in the opening days of the 2006 war with the Jewish state using a Chinese-designed C-802 missile.
The vessel was severely damaged. Another of the radar-guided missiles sank a passing Moroccan freighter
Israel is currently conducting a major upgrading of its armed forces amid growing concerns it will be involved in a new war with Iran and Hezbollah, and possibly Syria and even Egypt as well.
It's anticipating seaborne infiltration from Lebanon and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean and in the Red Sea, as well as attacks on its emerging gas infrastructure.
"Israel is concerned ... that Hezbollah will try to blockade it by attacking civilian cargo ships," observed the Post's defense editor, Yaacov Katz.
"Stopping ships sailing here would have economic and security ramifications and is therefore the first and primary challenge we will need to confront," a senior naval officer said.
The navy's concerns were heightened earlier this year when Russia delivered supersonic Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria. These have a range of some 20 miles and are capable of sinking large vessels.