Israel mulls $853 mn budget to procure missile boats

Jerusalem, Dec 9: Israeli defence ministry is seeking a special budget of $853 million to procure four missile boats for protecting the country’s offshore natural gas fields, a media report said Sunday.

The report, which cited unnamed defence officials, the funds may be defined as a “special expenditure” excluded from the annual defence budget that earlier this year was slashed by more than $1 billion, Xinhua reported citing Ha’aretz daily.

The figure comes after German daily Bild Saturday reported that Berlin gave a go ahead to sell Israel two advanced gunboats armed with torpedoes in a 1 billion euros (about $1.37 billion) deal negotiated in recent months.

Israel’s national security adviser Yossi Cohen was in Berlin last week to discuss the deal, a German government spokeswoman confirmed.

While the fields are owned and operated by private companies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet in 2011 tasked the navy with protecting the Tamar, Leviathan and Yam Tethys drilling rigs, as well as five smaller contiguous fields located some 370 km offshore, within Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

The natural gas reservoirs, reportedly the largest discovered in the world in last decade, are slated to turn Israel into a major exporter and reduce its dependency on foreign energy sources.

The navy, however, has complained that it is severely underequipped for the mission, prompting Defence Minister Moshe Ya ‘alon and military chief Benny Gantz to approve the navy’s protection plan for the fields, considered a prime target for militant groups, mainly Lebanon’s Hezbollah which has threatened to attack the platforms.

IANS