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Cyprus close to purchasing Israeli tanks

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Cypriot authorities are keeping quiet over information that the Defence Ministry is in advanced negotiations with Israel to purchase its Merkava tanks.

Phileleftheros daily said the ministry has refused to comment officially on the issue but quoted an official source saying, “It is only natural that authorities would be in negotiations for weaponry, and Cyprus is in the market for armoured tanks”.

But the source was quoted as saying, “There is nothing final”.

Implementing the deal would take time as the government and the House must approve the expenditure.

Phileleftheros said that given EU sanctions on Russia, Cyprus cannot purchase weapon systems from the country and lost technical support for existing Russian weaponry.

Cyprus currently has over 80 tanks of Russian origin (82 T80s purchased in the late 90s and 2010).

Without technical support from the manufacturers, Russian tanks will only be operational for five more years.

With a weapons embargo from the US lifted in late 2022, Cyprus can now look to other markets.

Israeli news outlet Haaretz first reported news of the rumoured deal for Merkava tanks, citing sources from the Cypriot and Israeli Defence Ministries.

“An official in Cyprus confirmed to Haaretz that negotiations are taking place between the two countries but declined to provide details of the agreement or the timetable for its completion”.

Speculation that Cyprus, with the acquisition of new tanks, intends to send the T80s to Ukraine is unconfirmed.

The Merkava, meaning chariot in Hebrew, is a series of main battle tanks used by the Israel Defence Forces and is the backbone of the IDF’s armoured corps.

The tank began development in 1970, and its first generation, the Merkava mark I, entered official service in 1979.

Four main variants have been deployed; the Merkava mark IV is the latest version.

Each model of the Merkava has two roof-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns for use by the commander and loader and another mounted co-axially with the main gun.

A 60 mm mortar is also fitted for firing smoke rounds or suppressing dug-in infantry anti-tank teams.

All Merkava tanks are fitted with a remote-controlled M2 Browning .50 heavy machine gun, aligned with the main gun and controlled from within the turret.