"UPI" reports that the Israel Navy is scrambling to assemble a force of new warships worth some $760 million to protect the country's natural gas fields in the Mediterranean as the production from the first field discovered in 2009 went onstream last weekend. The Navy wants 2-4 patrol-class vessels and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for round-the-clock surveillance to detect a variety of threats, from suicide frogmen to anti-ship missiles.
"UPI" says, "The problem is that Israel's had to slash its defense budget to step up spending on social programs and there's no spare funds lying around. However, there's speculation that since it's a US company - Houston's Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) - that's operating the gas fields, Washington may wind up footing at least a large part of the bill. How the Israelis will be able to pull that off is far from clear but time is pressing."
"UPI" notes that the Israeli government is struggling to avoid a reduction in the $3.1 billion in US military aid as part of the US budget sequester.
"With growing uncertainty in the region stemming from the civil war in Syria, on Israel's northern border; persistent political turmoil in Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, on its southern flank, unrest in Jordan to the east and fallout from the confrontation between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf, Israel's getting jumpy about the gas fields that are about to make it a regional energy power," says "UPI"
"Saturday's start of production from the Tamar field, discovered in 2009, gives added urgency to the efforts to establish an effective protection force. Tamar is 40 miles off the port and naval base of Haifa in northern Israel. It has reserves of some 10 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas. The largest field in Israel's maritime Exclusive Economic Zone is Leviathan, further north. It contains some 16 TCF of gas."
According to "UPI", the Israel Navy wants four 1,200-ton, long-endurance warships equipped with defensive missile systems to intercept anti-ship missiles, possessed by Syria and its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, aimed at production platforms. It quotes naval officials as saying the Ministry of Defense has been in touch with eight or nine foreign shipbuilders, but no decision has been made on contracts, likely because of the cost. Israel Shipyards Ltd., which was previously rejected to build the patrol boats, may be back in the picture.
"UPI" adds that to protect the EEZ, which is larger than the area of Israel, the Navy plans to acquire long-endurance UAVs, such as Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd.'s (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) Heron, or the missile carrying remote-controlled Protector robotic boat, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., which could be useful against suicide boats manned by Hizbullah or Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
"The gas fields spanning a large area west of the coast of Israel significantly broaden the challenges facing the Israeli navy," the Defense Ministry said in a recent a statement. "The protection of these strategic assets requires increased resources and extensive preparations."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 3, 2013
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