Israel is consolidating its position as one of the world's largest arms exporters. Senior Ministry of Defense officials recently opened advanced negotiations with several foreign armies for the sale of Israel's most advanced main battle tank - the Merkava Mark 4. Israel is also offering its Tiger armored personnel carrier (APC), which is based on the Merkava chassis.
Until now, Israel has not exported the advanced tanks developed and produced by the Ministry of Defense through a special administration set up for this purpose, the Tank Program Administration. However, a few months ago, Ministry of Defense director general Udi Shani decided to approve such transactions in principle with friendly countries, subject to full coordination with the US administration and under the necessary supervision restrictions.
The exact manufacturing cost of the Merkava is classified, together with the numbers of tanks produced each year. Estimates are of several tens of tanks each year, of all of which are supplied to the IDF armored brigades.
The defense establishment began development and production of the Merkava 40 years ago. The father of the ambitious project was the late Major General Avraham Tal. The Tank Program Administration began development and production of the Merkava Mark 4 a few years ago, on the basis of lessons drawn from earlier versions of the tank. Sources close to the project said that the Mark 4 will be the final version of the Merkava, and that there will be no need for a Merkava Mark 5.
In view of the current negotiations with other countries, it is no coincidence that the Merkava Mark 4 was unveiled at the Eurosatory 2010 international defense week in Paris a few months ago.
The defense establishment is also currently in talks for the sale of its latest APC, the Tiger, which incorporates the capabilities of an APC on a Merkava hull. The Tiger emphasizes advanced armor components, many of which are classified, based on lessons from the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The defense establishment has said in the past that a large number of Israeli developments intended for versions of the Merkava have been much sought-after items for various forms of combat, and were being procured by foreign armies. Exports of these items, manufactured by Israeli defense companies, are estimated at $400 million a year.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 1, 2010
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