Israel is in talks to sell used Merkava tanks to two countries, including one in Europe, in what would be the first export of such armored vehicles, a Defense Ministry official said on Thursday.
Speaking to the Calcalist financial newspaper (Hebrew link), Yair Kulas, head of the ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate – known as SIBAT – said his unit was making progress on further sales of surplus Israel Defense Forces equipment. .
“There is a potential of several hundred million shekels (Israel’s monetary unit). The world is chasing systems, and production processes take time, and not everyone has time to wait,” Kulas said.
He noted that many European countries were trying to quickly replenish supplies after donating billions of dollars worth of weapons to Ukraine that have helped it repel the Russian invasion.
“There are two possible countries with which we are holding advanced negotiations [on the sale of the Merkava tanks],” he said. “It is forbidden for me to name them, but one is on the European continent.”
Introduced after Israel’s armored corps suffered heavy losses against Egypt and Syria in a 1973 war, and with a view to reducing reliance on foreign arms supplies, the Merkava – Biblical Hebrew for “chariot” – is now in its Fourth generation.
The Merkava has been the IDF’s main battle tank since the 1980s. In recent years, the Armored Corps has replaced most of its Merkava Mark 3 models with the more modern Mark 4, introduced in 2003.
Possible sales would likely include older Merkava Mark 2s and some of the Merkava Mark 3s, introduced in the 1990s.
Kulas said other surplus systems, including military ships and armored personnel carriers, would be sold as the IDF has acquired more advanced systems. In 2021, Israel sold 29 aging F-16 fighter jets to the US and Canada for use as 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 of those countries are being emptied, they are renewing them by buying more modern and up-to-date systems, and this is where the Israeli industries come into the picture,” Kulas explained to Calcalist.
According to Defense Ministry figures released Wednesday, annual Israeli arms sales hit a new record of $12.5 billion in 2022. The officials pointed to the demand for Israeli-made weapons due to Russia’s war against Ukraine and an uptick in interest from Arab nations that recently normalized ties with Israel.