A consortium of Israeli defence firms, led by Israel Military Industries (IMI), two weeks ago submitted a bid to the Turkish defence ministry for supplying the Merkava Mark 3 tank, in a Turkish tender for a battle tank for the next decade.
Turkey will buy thousands of tanks in a long term programme which will start towards the year 2005. Elbit Systems and El-Op are also part of the consortium. Turkey currently operates one of the largest armoured corps in Europe, with thousands of tanks. This is the first time Israel has been likely to export Merkava tanks.
The Ministry of Defence, in consultation with senior government officials, has approved the offer of the tank to Turkey. In addition to the business considerations, political considerations also contributed to the export approval, it being believed that offering Israel’s most advanced tank to Turkey will improve defence relations between the two countries.
The proposal includes the tank itself, which is also used by the IDF, and is being offered to Turkey in a special export version. An IMI 120 mm gun will be incorporated into the tank, along with advanced ammunition, and a machine gun produced by the company. Fire control systems will be supplied by Elbit Systems, and navigation and night-vision systems by El-Op.
Senior defence and economic sources estimate that the price of the Merkava will be $5 million, and possibly more, given the systems that will be incorporated into it.
A senior defence official told "Globes" that the Israeli consortium is competing against 12 countries, among them the USA, Germany, France, Britain, and Russia.
Consortium sources said that the hits against Merkava tanks that have recently occurred in Lebanon will not affect the attractiveness of the tank for overseas purchasers. "At present, there aren’t many places where tanks are engaged in combat," the sources said, " and even the most advanced US tanks are likely to be hit in such kinds of operations."