Israel is negotiating the sale of older Merkava tanks to two unnamed countries, one of which is in Europe, the Defense Ministry in West Jerusalem revealed on Thursday. The deal is the first of its kind and is expected to come through within the next three months, if approved by the US.
“There are two potential countries with which we are holding advanced negotiations. I am barred from naming them, but one is on the European continent,” Yair Kulas, the head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s directorate for international cooperation (SIBAT), told the finance outlet Calcalist.
Kulas explained that many European countries have emptied their arsenals to supply Ukraine, and are seeking to replenish them with more modern systems, “which is where Israeli industries come into the picture.” Producing tanks takes time, so it’s easier to buy them used, he added.
“There is a potential of several hundred million shekels there,” said Kulas, which would equate to tens of millions of dollars. On Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Ministry reported $12.5 billion in weapons sales for 2022, amounting to an all-time record.
According to the outlet YNet, the deal involves around 200 “orphaned” tanks retired from active service and gathering dust at maintenance depots. The Defense Ministry had intended to dismantle them and sell them for scrap iron before the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine last year drastically changed the situation on the global weapons market. Israeli inspectors checked on the tanks and found them “serviceable enough to be sold.”
The Times of Israel reported that the deal is “on the verge of a final signature” and is expected to be completed within about three months.
Israel has previously exported the Merkava to one international client. In July 2022, the Philippines received two armored bridge-layer (AVLB) units, based on the Merkava IV chassis. The sale of actual combat tanks would be without precedent, and the first for any European operator.
The tanks in question are Mark II and Mark III models, as the Israel Defense Forces currently operates mainly the Mark IV, with the Mark V starting to enter service. The Pentagon’s blessing is required because the tanks’ engines and several other components are American-made.
The Merkava (“chariot”) is an Israeli design developed domestically in the 1970s, using the lessons of wars with Egypt and Syria. All versions have the engine in the front, with the turret set back and a fighting compartment opening to the rear, enabling dual-use as an infantry carrier. It is designed specifically for urban combat and crew survivability.