According to an article published by the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz on June 22, Cyprus is currently engaged in negotiations with Israel for the procurement of Merkava Mk3 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs). While an official from Cyprus confirmed the ongoing discussions with Israel, they chose to remain anonymous and refrained from disclosing further details about the potential deal, including a timeline for its conclusion. If the negotiations come to fruition, it would mark a significant milestone for Israel, as it would be their first sale of a Merkava tank to a European nation. However, the identity of the country referred to by Kulas has not been disclosed by the Defence Ministry, maintaining a sense of curiosity among the public.
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. Four main variants have been deployed. As of 2023, the Merkava mark IV is the latest version. The Merkava was first used extensively in the 1982 Lebanon War. The tank was developed in the Merkava and Armored Combat Vehicles Division of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and most of its parts are manufactured in Israel. The Merkava was designed to provide maximum protection for its crew, and therefore its front armor was fortified and the engine placed in the front part of the tank, unlike most other tanks.
The Merkava Mark III was introduced in December 1989 and was in production until 2003. As of 2016, the Merkava III is by far the most numerous tank in frontline IDF service. Compared to the Merkava II, it has upgrades to the drivetrain, powertrain, armament, and electronic systems. The most prominent addition was the incorporation of the locally developed IMI 120 mm gun. This gun and a larger 1,200 horsepower (890 kW) diesel engine raised the total weight of the tank to 65 tonnes (143,000 lb), but the larger engine raised the maximum cruising speed to 60 km/h (37 mph). The turret was re-engineered for movement independent of the tank chassis, allowing it to track a target regardless of the tank’s movement.
In May 2012, Israel offered procurement of Merkava IV tanks to the Colombian Army. The sale would include 25–40 tanks at an approximate cost of $4.5 million each, and several Namer APCs. With the threat of the expanding Venezuelan military, it would strengthen Colombian armored forces against Venezuelan T-72 tanks. In 2014, Israel reported that exports of the Mk 4 had begun; the purchasing country’s name was not disclosed for security reasons. In July 2022, an armoured vehicle-launched bridge (AVLB) variant of the Merkava was delivered to the Philippine Army as part of a government-to-government deal with Israel.