The Israeli Ministry of Defense has sought approval from the US Department of Defense for the export of surplus Merkava tanks to two foreign countries, including one in Europe. This request follows expressions of interest from several European nations after the war in Europe. Although no agreement has been reached yet, the Israeli Ministry of Defense is awaiting approval from both the concerned countries and its own ministry. The Merkava tanks, which are manufactured in Israel, are currently decommissioned and stored in various bases. Since these tanks are equipped with engines made in the US, Israel requires the approval of the US for their export. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Armoured Corps currently operates the advanced Merkava Mk 4 tanks, with an upgraded version known as the Merkava Mk 5 being introduced into service.
The Merkava (chariot) is a series of main battle tanks used by the Israel Defense Forces and the backbone of the IDF’s armored corps. The tank began development in 1970, and its first generation, the Merkava mark I, entered official service in 1979. The lead organization for system integration of the Merkava’s main components is Israel Military Industries (IMI). The Israeli Ordnance Corps are responsible for final Merkava assembly. More than 90% of the Merkava tank’s components are produced locally in Israel by Israeli defense industries. The Merkava Mark I and II were armed with a 105 mm IMI M64 gun, a license-built variant of the M68. The Mark III, Mark III Dor Dalet BAZ kassag. All Merkava tanks are fitted with a remote-controlled M2 Browning .50 heavy machine gun, aligned with the main gun and controlled from within the turret. The .50 machine gun has proven to be useful and effective in asymmetric warfare.
Industry sources suggest that the upgraded Merkava 4 “Barak” (Lightning) will feature enhancements such as an improved Trophy Active Protection System (APS) developed by Rafael. It will also include a commander helmet that prioritizes relevant data gathered by the tank’s sensors and other battlefield sources. The majority of the specific features of the upgraded version remain highly classified. If the sale of the old Merkava tanks is approved, defense sources indicate that only unclassified systems will be included in the export. Israeli sources attribute the sudden demand for tanks to the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine. Throughout the Ukrainian conflict, Russia has lost over 2,000 tanks in the past 15 months alone. Israeli sources claim that the Russian tanks sent to Ukraine, especially during the initial months of the war, lacked adequate protection.
The interest shown by the European country in acquiring Merkava tanks reflects the changing security landscape and the need for advanced military capabilities. The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the vulnerability of inadequately protected tanks, leading to an increased demand for more robust and advanced systems. The Merkava tank, known for its superior armor and advanced technologies, has garnered attention as a reliable and battle-proven option for countries seeking to bolster their defense capabilities. Israel’s expertise in military technology and the proven performance of the Merkava tanks make them an attractive choice for nations seeking to modernize their armored forces. Moreover, the export of these tanks will not only benefit the buying country but will also contribute to the continued growth and advancement of Israel’s defense industry.