By TIA GOLDENBERG, Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday received its fourth German-made submarine capable of launching nuclear warheads, expanding a fleet that experts say could be used in an attack on Iran.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the submarine would increase Israel's capabilities and strength "in the face of the growing regional challenges."
The Dolphin-type military submarine is one of six Israel has ordered from Germany, which subsidizes the submarines. Each submarine costs half a billion dollars. The sub was presented to Israeli officials in Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday and is expected to arrive in Israel in 2013, following final tests.
Israel is already in possession of three other German-made Dolphin-class submarines capable of carrying nuclear-tipped missiles. However, there is no evidence that Israel has armed them with such weapons and the country has never confirmed reports that it possesses a nuclear arsenal.
Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons and has hinted that it is ready to strike Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent Tehran from making an atomic bomb. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Iran and the international community are to resume negotiations about Tehran's nuclear program later this month in Baghdad. Israel has welcomed the diplomatic effort but refuses to rule out the use of force, saying often that all options remain on the table. Military experts say the Dolphins could be deployed to the Gulf as part of an Israeli strike on Iran.
The sale of the submarines sparked criticism from German Nobel-winning author Guenter Grass, who in a recent poem blasted Israel's alleged nuclear program. Alluding to the sale, Grass said the submarines were capable of firing "all-destroying" nuclear missiles into Iran.
Since Germany and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1965, Germany has become perhaps Israel's strongest ally in Europe.