Spiegel International – 4 June 2012
The Spiegel’s special report on Israel’s German-made nuclear-capable Dolphin class submarines:
Many have wondered for years about the exact capabilities of the submarines Germany exports to Israel. Now, experts in Germany and Israel have confirmed that nuclear-tipped missiles have been deployed on the vessels. And the German government has long known about it. By SPIEGEL
Deep in their interiors … the submarines contain a secret that even in Israel is only known to a few insiders: nuclear warheads, small enough to be mounted on a cruise missile, but explosive enough to execute a nuclear strike that would cause devastating results. This secret is considered one of the best kept in modern military history. Anyone who speaks openly about it in Israel runs the risk of being sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
Research SPIEGEL has conducted in Germany, Israel and the United States, among current and past government ministers, military officials, defense engineers and intelligence agents, no longer leaves any room for doubt: With the help of German maritime technology, Israel has managed to create for itself a floating nuclear weapon arsenal: submarines equipped with nuclear capability.
Top German officials speaking under the protection of anonymity were even more forthcoming. “From the beginning, the boats were primarily used for the purposes of nuclear capability,” says one ministry official with knowledge of the matter.
Insiders say that the Israeli defense technology company Rafael built the missiles for the nuclear weapons option. Apparently it involves a further development of cruise missiles of the Popeye Turbo SLCM type, which are supposed to have a range of around 1,500 kilometers (940 miles) and which could reach Iran with a warhead weighing up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds). The nuclear payload comes from the Negev Desert, where Israel has operated a reactor and an underground plutonium separation plant in Dimona since the 1960s. The question of how developed the Israeli cruise missiles are is a matter of debate. Their development is a complex project, and the missiles’ only public manifestation was a single test that the Israelis conducted off the coast of Sri Lanka.
In his recent controversial poem “What Must Be Said,” Günter Grass describes the submarines, “whose speciality consists in (their) ability / to direct nuclear warheads toward / an area in which not a single atom bomb / has yet been proved to exist,” as the potentially decisive step towards a nuclear disaster in the Iran conflict. The poem met with international protests. Comparing Israel and Iran was “not brilliant, but absurd,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Netanyahu spoke of an “absolute scandal” and his interior minister banned Grass from entering Israel.
For Chancellor Merkel … there was never any doubt that she would do what Israel asked, even at the cost of violating Germany’s own arms export guidelines. The rules, amended in 2000 by the SPD-Green coalition government, do allow weapons to be supplied to countries that are not part of the EU or NATO in the case of “special foreign or security policy interests.” But there is a clear regulation for crisis regions: The rules state that supplying weapons “is not authorized in countries that are involved in armed conflicts or where there is a threat of one.” There is no question that that rule would include Israel. But that did not stop the chancellor from making a deal for the delivery of submarine number 6 — just as she was not deterred by Netanyahu’s unwillingness to make compromises.
These latest submarines are especially important for Israel, because they come equipped with a technological revolution: fuel cell propulsion that allows the ships to work even more quietly and for longer periods of time. Earlier Dolphin class submarines had to surface every couple days to start up the diesel engine and power their batteries for continued underwater travel. The new propulsion system, which doesn’t require these surface breaks, vastly improves the submarines’ possible applications. They will be able to travel underwater at least four times as long as the previous Dolphins, their fuel cells allowing them to stay below the surface at least 18 days at a time. The Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran is no longer out of the operating range of the Israeli fleet, all thanks to quality engineering from Germany.
For the full Spiegel report, including images, click HERE