Germany subsidizes sale of four warships to Israel

 Israel bought four German-made corvette warships on Monday to help secure its Mediterranean gas rigs, with Berlin heavily subsidizing the deal, Israel's Defense Ministry said on Monday.

The ships, worth 430 million euros ($480 million), will be built by Thyssen Krupp and delivered within five years, providing significantly more fire power to Israel's navy.

The German government will pay 115 million euros towards the cost. As part of its atonement for the Nazi Holocaust, Germany is committed to Israel's security and has often helped pay in the past for the cost of military equipment such as submarines.

Thyssen Krupp also committed to buy 700 million shekels ($181 million) worth of Israeli goods under the contract.

“The deal signed today is an event of the utmost significance that dramatically upgrades the navy's capabilities of defending the State of Israel's strategic sites in the gas realm,” Defence Ministry director-general Dan Harel said.

Israel's economy would also be buoyed, he added.

Israel has huge and mostly untapped gas fields that cover some 23,000 square km (9,000 square miles) of sea — more than Israel's territory on land.

Israeli planners see possible sea-borne or rocket threats to gas facilities from Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, making expanding the naval presence a priority for them.

Israel's navy chief, Admiral Ram Rotberg, said in a separate statement that the corvettes would be classed as “Saar 6” missile boats — suggesting a major improvement in capabilities.

According to the navy website, its biggest warships are currently “Saar 5” missile boats. Israel's Channel 2 TV news said the Saar 6 vessels would be significantly larger, with twice the operational range of the Saar 5 class. 

Iranian warships dock in Syria

Two Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal reportedly docked in Syria.

The ships, a frigate and a supply ship, arrived at Syria’s main port at Latakia on Wednesday night after becoming the first Iranian naval ships to pass through the canal since the 1979 revolution.

The ships “carry the message of peace and friendship to world countries,” Iran’s Navy chief, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, said Thursday on Iranian state television, according to reports.

“The Zionist regime had been exaggerating this issue because it wants to create tension among the brotherly relations between countries in the region,” Sayyari said.

The Egyptian Defense Ministry gave permission for the ships to pass through the Suez Canal. They are expected to return to Iran at the beginning of March.

Iran’s sending ships to Syria as uprisings take place across the Middle East was a show of power, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN on Thursday. Sending the ships was an Iranian attempt to assert power in the region, he added.

“I don’t like it, but I don’t think that any one of us should be worried by it,” Barak said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the week that his government took a “grave view” of Iran’s plan send the warships.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had announced Feb. 16 that the ships were en route to Syria via the Suez Canal. His statement called the move a recurring Iranian “provocation” and suggested that Israel would not ignore Iran’s actions.

“The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations,” he said.

According to international rules governing navigation through the Suez Canal, no vessel can be denied passage unless it is at war with Egypt.

Israel watching Syria-bound Iranian warships

Two Iranian warships have left for Syria and plan to sail through the Suez Canal, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

Lieberman in a statement released Wednesday called the move a recurring Iranian “provocation.” His statement suggested that Israel would not ignore Iran’s actions.

“The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations,” he said.

In a conference call Wednesday on new Iran sanctions, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said Iran’s move was legal but “very provocative.”

Iran may be able to cross the canal now that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been deposed.