In first, Israel plans to sell vaunted Merkava tank to 2 countries, one in Europe

Potential sale comes as European nations seek to replenish stockpiles after supplying Ukraine with billions of dollars in arms to fight Russian invasion

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli soldiers take part in an army drill with Merkava Mark 3 tanks, January 22, 2013. (Ofer Zidon/FLASH90, file)
Israeli soldiers take part in an army drill with Merkava Mark 3 tanks, January 22, 2013. (Ofer Zidon/FLASH90, file)

Israel is in talks to sell used Merkava tanks to two countries, including one in Europe, in what would be the first such export of the armored vehicle, a Defense Ministry official said Thursday.

Speaking to the Calcalist financial paper (Hebrew link), Yair Kulas, the head of the ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate — known as SIBAT — said his unit was advancing more sales of surplus equipment from the Israel Defense Forces.

“There is a potential of several hundred million shekels there. The world is chasing systems, and production processes require time, and not everyone has the time to wait,” Kulas said.

He noted that many European countries were seeking to quickly replenish supplies after donating billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Ukraine that have helped it push back Russia’s invasion.

“There are two potential countries with which we are holding advanced negotiations [on a sale of the Mervaka tanks],” he said. “I am barred from naming them, but one is on the European continent.”

The Merkava has been the IDF’s main battle tank since the 1980s. In recent years, the Armored Corps replaced most of its Merkava Mark 3 models with the more modern Mark 4, introduced in 2003.

The potential sales would likely include the older Merkava Mark 2, and some of the Merkava Mark 3 tanks, introduced in the 1990s.

Kulas said other surplus systems, including military boats and armored personnel carriers, would be sold as the IDF has procured more advanced systems. In 2021 Israel sold 29 old F-16 fighter jets to the US and Canada to be used for training.

Israel has so far avoided providing direct military aid to Kyiv since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow.

“European countries are helping Ukraine and supplying it with systems. The stocks in those countries are being emptied, they are renewing them by purchasing more modern and up-to-date systems, and this is where Israeli industries come into the picture,” Kulas told Calcalist.

Annual Israeli arms sales reached a new record of $12.5 billion in 2022, according to Defense Ministry figures released Wednesday. Officials noted the demand for Israeli-made weapons due to Russia’s war on Ukraine, and an uptick in interest by Arab nations that recently normalized ties with Israel.

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