Former Israel Navy Chief: Israel can defend its gas fields

Rafael's unmanned naval patrol vehicles are among means being introduced to protect Israel's offshore rigs.

Unmanned naval patrol vehicles produced by Israel's security industries will protect national interests at sea, with a focus on the gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. Sources inform "Globes" that among the means that the Israel Navy has designated to protect sensitive installations are unmanned naval patrol vehicles produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.. The IDF has already received a number of these "Protector" unmanned naval patrol vehicles over the last year, and the security establishment is looking to purchase additional ships. This will double the Navy's manpower that regularly patrols near the gas fields, and provide a response to terrorist attempts to attack them. The Protector meets the challenge of declarations by Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations in the past that view these fields as possible targets for attacks.

Sources inform "Globes" that Rafael's unmanned naval patrol vehicles are equipped with advanced radar systems that enable them to warn security forces about suspicious movements approaching the rigs using sophisticated night and day vision equipment and an independent firing system. The Protector is 11 meters long, is capable of going 70 km/h, and to remain in operation for many hours.

These unmanned naval patrol vehicles are routinely carried on board large ships and are sent out to sea in times of need. In this way, they have the ability to react to warnings at short notice. According to foreign reports, Singapore's navy uses such vessels in its routine operations. Rafael director of naval warfare systems Moshe Elazar will soon unveil some of the new applications of the unmanned naval patrol vehicle at a special conference to be held by the technology group, which will mainly focus on homeland security.

The conference, which will take place at the Airport City Avenue Conference Center, will display new developments and approaches for sensitive installation protection, as we reach the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Elazar said that a number of companies worldwide involved in offshore oil and gas drilling have already bought and begun operating: "Automatic weapon systems can be installed on the deck of the ship that are activated from a remote location, for example a control station on the coast. A water cannon system can also be installed on the ship to deal with hostile parties that approach the sensitive installation by boat," Elazar said. Elazar intends to display a large number of the capabilities during the conference, for example, its innovative optic systems and its advanced sensory systems.

The Protector is not the only solution to the threats on the gas fields: just a few weeks ago, the foreign media reported that the Israel Air Force routinely operates unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to protect gas fields located off Israel's coast. The UAVs, which fly above the gas fields, are equipped with advanced identification and detection systems, most of which are classified. The systems supply real-time information to the command and control center about all unusual behavior that might be part of a possible terrorist attack. These reports refer to the Heron UAV, produced by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1).

Senior security officials have recently told "Globes" that gas discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea have intensified the need to expand IDF activity in the maritime sector. They believe that it is a real possibility that these threats will turn into attempted attacks. A few months ago, Minister for Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai warned that that there is a threat to the gas fields from Syria's missiles. Vilnai did not elaborate about what type of missiles, but the "immediate suspect" is the Russian Yakhont Cruise Missile. The Israeli security establishment is concerned about the Syrians owning these missiles and the vulnerability of Israel naval vessels. However, when a missile can hit accurately at 300 km, it is more capable of hitting a fixed target, like a gas rig. One of the security establishment's assumptions is that whatever Syria has will eventually reach Hizbullah, so it is possible that harm will come from Hizbullah. It is some consolation to know though, that the IAI's Barak 8, is capable of intercepting the Yakhont.

A missile attack is just one threat among a wide variety of threats that have been preoccupying security leaders this past year. Here are a few scenarios:

  • Launching a Torpedo missile from a submarine.
  • Planting underwater explosives on rigs.
  • Takeover of a rig by a band of terrorists, and then explosion of rig.
  • Suicide booby-trapped boat or aerial vehicle attack on a rig.

And the list goes on. "Israel has the capability to protect its gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea," said Former Israel Navy Commander Vice Admiral (res.) David Ben-Ba'ashat, in an attempt to calm fears, in an interview with "Globes". "We must protect our installations out at sea. We must protect them since they are considered easy prey by Hizbullah and others. Of course the need to protect these sites will expand as Israel relies more and more heavily on natural gas. This will have wide range ramifications over the next few years on the way the Israel Navy will equip itself, including building active air and sea circuits. I have no doubt that the Navy's power structure will be affected by this need and that significant steps are being taken on the matter."

Head of the conference's steering committee Colonel (res.) Amnon Ben David, an expert in developing and marketing systems for security purposes, said that, "Recently more attention has been put on maritime space, and I predict that it will receive more resources as a result of understanding this great threat in this area. Unmanned aerial and naval patrol vehicles are involved, as well as other means, which cannot be discussed."

There is financial significance to expanding maritime security activity. Senior security officials estimate that the cost of establishing a security system that will provide a realistic solution to the situation at sea is high, and will anyway require thorough consideration by the IDF in its equipment planning for the 2012 and 2016 five-year plan. Even now when the Mediterranean Sea's gas infrastructure is far from being developed, Israeli officials estimate the cost for preparing for their protection at tens of millions of shekels. These officials believe that when the number of locations needing protection will grow, the cost for protecting them will rise accordingly.

The security establishment has considered the issue of responsibility to protect gas fields in the past, including participation in costs by the businesses that will earn a fortune from the fields. Recently a security official stated that in any case, the state of Israel is responsible for the security of the fields since they are located in Israel's economic waters. At any rate, the businesses will be need to pay large royalties to the state's coffers.

According to Ben-Ba'ashat, following upheaval in the region, the Middle East "is entering a new chapter in the evolution of Israeli control over its maritime region, which is a step up that will require the current naval establishment to adjust to the new needs. These requirements sharpen the need to enlarge a security presence at sea, to create deterrence, to achieve complete control over intelligence gathering, to streamline the monitoring and control capability of boats that approach Israel's maritime border, and when there is an unusual occurrence, to have control over the breaking situation swiftly, and to react quickly," he said.

Worst case scenarios:

  • Volleys of accurate missiles on rigs.
  • Explosion of booby-trapped boats at a rig.
  • Takeover of a rig by armed terrorists.
  • Planting of powerful explosives.
  • Crashing of booby-trapped aerial vehicle on a rig.
  • Torpedo missile fired by enemy submarine.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on September 4, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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