Israel is reportedly in discussions to sell used Merkava tanks to two countries, marking the first-ever export of these renowned armored vehicles. A Defense Ministry official confirmed the negotiations on Thursday, revealing that the two countries involved are Cyprus and Morocco. While the talks with Cyprus seem to be progressing smoothly, the situation with Morocco is somewhat more intricate, tied to recent events involving the North African nation’s T-72B tanks.
Yair Kulas, the head of the ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate — known as SIBAT — said his unit was advancing more sales of surplus equipment from the Israel Defense Forces. “There is a potential of several hundred million shekels there. The world is chasing systems, and production processes require time, and not everyone has the time to wait,” Kulas said.
The potential sale of Merkava main battle tanks to Morocco can be seen as a compensation for the T-72B tanks that were handed over to Ukraine without Rabat’s permission. The transfer of these tanks was carried out by the Czech Republic’s Excalibur Army, violating a maintenance contract between Morocco and the Czech company. As a result, Israel has stepped in to potentially provide Merkava tanks to Morocco, partly as recompense for the unauthorized transfer of their T-72B tanks.
Late last year, it was revealed that Morocco will supply Ukraine with spare parts for T-72 tanks and will thus become the first African state to provide military assistance to Ukraine. The T-72Bs tanks were paid for by the United States and the Netherlands under an agreement totaling 2.2 billion rubles. CZK (slightly more than 90 million euros).
However, following the controversy surrounding the T-72Bs belonging to the Royal Moroccan Army sent to Ukraine, Rabat has denied the claim, stating that, “the T-72 tanks bought earlier in Belarus were being modernized in the Czech Republic, and it was the Czechs who handed them over to Ukraine in violation of the terms of the contract.”
In 2021, Morocco signed an agreement with a Czech company Excalibur Army on the purchase of the first batch of military equipment and the modernization it’s fleet of T-72 main battle tanks.
“The Czechs violated the contract in favor of Ukraine after the intervention of America and the Netherlands,” Rabat said.
Nevertheless, for the Merkava tanks, Israel has laid down a crucial condition for both Cyprus and Morocco. It stipulates that the Merkava tanks must not be provided, donated, re-exported, or sold to Ukraine without explicit permission from the Israeli authorities. This condition is aimed at ensuring that the tanks do not end up on the frontlines of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The Merkava tank holds a significant place in Israel’s defense industry and is considered one of the world’s most advanced and effective armored vehicles. Developed and manufactured by Israel Military Industries, the Merkava has played a pivotal role in Israel’s defense strategy since its introduction in the late 1970s. Over the years, it has undergone several upgrades and improvements to maintain its superiority on the battlefield.
If the negotiations between Israel and Cyprus, as well as Morocco, reach a successful conclusion, it would mark a significant milestone for Israel’s defense industry. Exporting the Merkava tanks for the first time would not only showcase the country’s advanced military technology but also open up new avenues for defense cooperation and partnerships with other nations. The potential sales would likely include the older Merkava Mark 2, and some of the Merkava Mark 3 tanks, introduced in the 1990s.
For Cyprus, the acquisition of Merkava tanks would enhance its military capabilities and bolster its defensive posture, particularly in light of regional security challenges. The tanks’ advanced features and combat capabilities would provide Cyprus with a formidable asset to deter potential aggressors and safeguard its national security.
Similarly, for Morocco, the potential acquisition of Merkava tanks would represent a significant boost to its armored warfare capabilities. The Merkava’s superior firepower, advanced armor protection, and technological advancements would greatly enhance the Moroccan Armed Forces’ combat effectiveness and operational readiness.
Moreover, the sale of Merkava tanks to Morocco could also pave the way for closer defense cooperation between Israel and Morocco. The two countries recently normalized their diplomatic relations, and further collaboration in the defense sector would strengthen their bilateral ties while contributing to regional stability.
Morocco and Israel have a long history of military and intelligence cooperation but have no official diplomatic ties, but they have since established a close relations and in 2020, after resuming diplomatic relations since suspension in 2000.
Israel signed a defence pact with Morocco in November two years ago, amid plans to advance national security interests with Arab countries that have drawn closer to it. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travelled to Morocco in August 2021 for the first visit by Israel’s top diplomat to that country since 2003.
Last year, Moroccan personnel participated in an international military conference in Israel, highlighting the solid relationship between both countries.
However, it is essential to note that the negotiations are still ongoing, and the final outcome may be subject to various factors, including political considerations, logistical challenges, and international regulations. Any potential export of the Merkava tanks would require careful scrutiny to ensure compliance with relevant arms export control measures and international agreements.
As the talks between Israel, Cyprus, and Morocco progress, it remains to be seen how the situation will unfold. If the agreements are successfully concluded, it would mark a significant milestone for Israel’s defense industry and open up new avenues for defense cooperation and partnerships in the region.
Since normalized relations with Israel, the north African country has acquired defence hardware from Israel worth several tens of millions of dollars, says an end-of-the-year report by IAI. Morocco will now receive Barak MX air defence systems in a deal worth over $500 million from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Rabat is also in talks with Israel to acquire the Delilah cruise missile to equip its existing fleet of F-5 fighters. Delilah cruise missile system is developed by Israeli weapon manufacturer Elbit Systems. If the contract goes through, Morocco will be able to accurately hit land and sea targets at a 250 km distance.
Also, Morocco and representatives of the Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) covering the aeronautical sector as part of the implementation of the December 2020 Joint Declaration between Morocco and Israel.
In 2020, Morocco received three Israeli-made Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as part of a $48 million arms deal.
While last year, Israeli company BlueBird Aero Systems supplied 150 WanderB and ThunderB vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones to Morocco to support it’s military.