This morning Minister of Defense Ehud Barak departed for a five-day work visit to Colombia and the US.
Israel’s Ministry of Defense stated that during his visit Barak will meet with the President of Colombia, as well as Colombia’s minister of defense, foreign minister, chief of staff, and other senior state officials. Barak will then travel to the US on Thursday to meet with the US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, before flying back to Israel later that day.
A number of years ago, a large UAV deal with Colombia was cancelled due to a conflict between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems. The minister of defense is likely to use this visit to promote several sizable defense deals with Colombia and renew negotiations for a different version of the IAI-Elbit deal.
In recent years, Colombia invested significant sums to improve its military capabilities in an effort to protect against what it refers to as “regional threats” coming from Venezuela.
In the past year, new reports have surfaced over Colombia’s procurement of lone Israeli UAVs (mostly Elbit's Hermes-900). However, the country is still seeking to procure a large number of UAVs for their military. In addition, Colombia has shown an interest in the Israeli Merkava Mark IV tank.
These types of contacts between Israel and Colombia began several years ago, but have yet to culminate in a deal.
Since Venezuela accelerated its armament, Colombia has addressed the “regional threat” by increasing its military procurement budget. Colombia has already procured the Kfir fighter aircraft, ground and naval systems from Israel, and is on the verge of procuring UAVs as well.
According to Colombian reports, the government and military initially examined the possibility of procuring the Indian-produced Arjun tank, but soon learned that the tank possessed inferior capabilities to the Merkava.
The Merkava tank, which is produced by the IDF in cooperation with some of Israel’s leading defense industries, was offered in the framework of the defensive contacts between Israel and Colombia, with a potential procurement of 25-40 tanks. Though the Merkava’s price has never been published before, experts familiar with the issue say that the tank's price would reach approximately $6 million. Israel previously exported technologies developed for the different varieties of the Merkava tank, primarily as part of programs for upgrading old tanks.
One of Israel’s leading projects in the field was the upgrade of the Turkish military’s M-60 tanks, which was carried out by Israel Military Industries. However, the Merkava tank has yet to be exported as a system.
Although several Merkava tanks were damaged during the Second Lebanon War, experts are of the opinion that it is the most advanced battle tank of its kind. The tank possesses an advanced and stable fire system, excellent navigability capabilities, and has a high level of protection.
A sizable deal with Colombia could improve the state of Israel’s defense exports, which have been hurt in recent years.