For the first time in 42 years, the French Defense Ministry will be buying Israeli military equipment, buying drone aircraft, or UAVs from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).
Last week, the French Ministry announced its intention to purchase the Eitan drone aircraft, the largest and most sophisticated drone produced by IAI. The deal is estimated to reach about $500 million and will involve partnership with Dassault. With the French now using Israeli technology, it is likely that other countries will begin to follow suit in their efforts to upgrade their technology, such as Germany.
The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP long endurance UAV, has the same size wingspan of Boeing 737 aircraft, can fly at heights of 40,000 feet and can stay airborne for 45 hours nonstop. In addition, because the UAV is rather large, it can carry 1,000 kilograms in payload, making it capable of carrying all types of reconnaissance equipment and even weapons such as missiles, if necessary. There is speculation that the aircraft could carry out a reconnaissance mission or even a military strike against enemies such as Iran.
Historically, France WAS the only nation to supply Israel with airplane parts. The first Israeli jets, the Eagle, Kfir and Lavi were designed and built based on the French Mirage jet. However, in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, French President Charles De Gaulle decided to aide with the Arabs and halted all military trade with Israel. This led to the end of the Israeli jet program and the US began supplying Israel with its fighter jets. IAI then moved into the field of UAV and drone aircraft. Recently, there has been an explosion of Israeli companies conducting research on drone aircraft, including IAI and Elbit.
IAI would not comment on the deal, but there is speculation that the deal is a reversal of history and that Israel in fact owes the French because it was that embargo that sparked the development of the UAV industry in Israel which now has led to France’s renewed interest in Israeli arms.