Berlin: The German government on Friday confirmed reports that two German submarines have been sold to Israel, but said the vessels are not equipped to carry nuclear weapons. Deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said the two Dolphin-class submarines, called U212s, were ordered in November 2005 but would only be delivered to Israel in 2010.

“They are not designed to carry nuclear weapons,” he added.

Steg also confirmed that the German government would finance a part of the sale.

A spokesman for the defence ministry said the sale agreement between Israel and the submarine manufacturer, Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG, was concluded on July 6.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that the submarines will be fitted with a propulsion system allowing them to remain underwater for far longer than submarines already in use by the Israeli navy.

It already has three German submarines — the most expensive weapon platforms in Israel's arsenal.

Germany, which believes it has a historic responsibility to help Israel because of the mass murder of Jews in World War II, donated the first two submarines after the 1991 Gulf War.

It split the cost of the third with the Jewish state.

According to Jane's Defence Weekly, the U212s are designed for a crew of 35, have a range of 4,500 kilometres (2,810 miles) and can launch cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

Reports of the sale of the submarines have sparked controversy in Germany because of Israel's military offensive on Lebanon.