The Israel Air Force took its American-made Cobra attack helicopters out of active service in 2013, after over 30 years of operation. Since the Cobras were retired and the helicopter squadron shut down, the Ministry of Defense has been looking to sell the helicopters. As far as is known, the ministry has not succeeded in selling the Cobras, but it did not reply to a request by Haaretz to know whether there have been any contacts for such a sale.
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One of the counties that were interested in buying the helicopters was Nigeria. Last summer, despite the advanced stage of the negotiations with Nigeria, the weapons deal fell through.
Haaretz has learned that the Defense Ministry had already made plans for the sale to Nigeria and the transfer of the helicopters – but the United States prevented the sale, due to fears that civilians would be harmed during the use of the helicopters in Nigeria.
The New York Times reported at the end of December that the U.S. had blocked the sale “amid concerns in Washington about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain that type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram, and continuing worries about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.”
The halt to the sale brought about further tensions in the already fraught relations between the U.S. and Nigeria, partly based on the fight against Boko Haram.
Israel significantly increased the volume of its weapons sales to African countries in 2013 compared to previous years. Defense Ministry figures show that 2013 was the record year for weapons sales to African countries: A total of $233 million worth of arms and military technology. In the four previous years, the annual amount of such contracts was between $70 million and $120 million.
Another African country could still be a potential customer for the Israeli helicopters, said a defense source. They could be upgraded before the sale. In the past, the ministry said about the Cobra negotiations that “sales of military surpluses were conducted routinely, based on the appropriate procedures and approvals from the ministry – and only to approved countries and bodies.”
The Defense Ministry said: “As a rule, the ministry does not comment on matters of defense exports.”