The French Defense Ministry decided last week to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel, thus ending a 42-year period during which Paris refrained from purchasing Israeli weapons.
This will be the first time that Israel will sell the Heron TP, or Eitan, to a foreign country.
The Eitan is the largest and most sophisticated drone Israel makes. It is assembled by Israel Aerospace Industries, and began operational service in the Israel Air Force a year and a half ago. It has a 26-meter wingspan, similar to a Boeing 737. It is capable of carrying out reconnaissance and intelligence missions at an altitude of up to 40,000 feet, and can remain airborne for 36 hours.
The drone's large size allows it to carry a variety of equipment such as radar, sensors and cameras, and theoretically, missiles.
When the French stopped buying Israeli warms 42 years ago, it had two immediate results. The first was that Israel began purchasing American fighter jets, first the Skyhawk, then the F-15 and the F-16, and now the F-35, billed as the Israel Air Forces' next fighter aircraft.
The second result was the acceleration of the domestic fighter jet industry.
The first plane assembled in Israel was the Eagle, essentially an Israeli-made French Mirage, using plans and sketches smuggled out of France. Then came the Kfir fighter, followed by the Lavi, which was canceled after two prototypes were built.
The Lavi's grounding drove the Israel Aerospace Industry and other companies such as Elbit to shift their focus to unmanned drones. Now Israel is considered a leading player in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Israel Aerospace Industries refused to comment on the deal, but a senior security industry official said over the weekend that "history is coming full circle. The French embargo and de Gaulle's refusal to provide us with a French jet developed with Israeli expertise gave the Israeli industry a push, and now it is the one providing France with an Israeli plane."
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