Ukraine Could Get Merkava Tanks Via Germany – Last week, news reports circulated that Israel was considering exporting its Merkava main battle tanks (MBTs) for the first time, and though Jerusalem didn’t specify which nations would be acquiring the highly capable vehicles, it was confirmed that one of the nations was in Europe.
“The world is chasing systems, and production processes require time, and not everyone has the time to wait,” said Yair Kulas, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) International Defense Cooperation Directorate — known as SIBAT.
“There are two potential countries with which we are holding advanced negotiations [on a sale of the Mervaka tanks]. I am barred from naming them, but one is on the European continent,” Kulas added.
According to new reports on Monday, Germany could be the interested buyer – but perhaps not the end user. The Israeli-based i24 News cited the German magazine Stern, which reported that Berlin could seek to acquire surplus models of the Merkava Mk2 and Mk3, but then re-export the tanks to Ukraine.
“If the agreement is reached, the tanks will be transferred quickly. In Israel there are more than 1000 such models,” the report said.
Complex Details for Merkava Deal
The Israeli Defense Ministry would have to sign off on any export agreement, and that could include a clause that prohibits the transfer or sale of the tanks to a third party.
Of course, Berlin would know this – as it had to approve the transfer of Leopard 2 MBTs from NATO partners, including from Poland and Spain to Ukraine. It is possible that the IDF might agree – as it currently uses the state-of-the-art Merkava Mk4 and may look to curry favor with NATO.
Germany’s decision to acquire and then export the Merkava could be the result of Berlin’s efforts to follow through on its pledged support of supplying some 100 Leopard 1 MBTs. The recent destruction of a number of Leopard 2s in Ukraine has cast the spotlight on the inconvenient truth that Western-made MBTs aren’t invincible, and Germany may not want to send the obsolete Leopard 1s only to see them quickly destroyed.
Russia has already attempted to bolster its forces following the losses of potentially thousands of tanks in the fighting by sending older T-62 tanks – and those haven’t exactly fared all that well on the front lines.
NATO leaders would want to avoid a similar situation, and perhaps the combat-proven Merkava Mk2 and Mk3 tanks dating from the 1980s could be the answer, especially as Israel could have upwards of 1,000 tanks that it was seeking to sell.
A Chariot That Could Fire on Russian Tanks
The Merkava – which means “Chariot” in biblical Hebrew – was designed by IDF General Israel Tal following the armored clashes of the Yom Kippur War and after the failure to purchase Chieftain tanks from the United Kingdom.
The goal of the domestic tank program was to create a platform that could take on Soviet tanks that were in service with many of Israel’s Arab rivals but also to reduce the reliance on foreign arms supplies. The resulting Merkava Mk I was laid out in a rather unorthodox manner compared to contemporary Western and Soviet tanks, featuring a design more akin to some infantry fighting vehicles. Instead of having the engine at the rear, it was moved in front of the crew compartment, with the turret placed further back on the chassis.
The Merkava Mk I entered official service in 1979, and it was used extensively in the 1982 Lebanon War, where it fought against Soviet-made Syrian T-72s in the Bekaa Valley to great success.
It could be an even more capable tank for Kyiv’s forces than the Leopard 2, and certainly more than the Leopard 1. The question is whether the IDF will allow this Chariot to be deployed in a war against Moscow.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.