Last week, Italy and Israel signed a major contract for the reciprocal supply of advanced aerospace equipment. The deal marks a major step forward concerning military cooperation between the two countries.
The Israel Ministry of Defense and its Italian counterpart have signed a reciprocal procurement agreement for helicopters, missiles and simulators. Under the agreement, Israel will acquire a “training package” manufactured by Italy’s Leonardo S.p.A. The package includes 12 AW119KX training helicopters and two simulators for the Israeli Air Force Flight Academy. The first seven helicopters were purchased a year ago and this further stock of five fulfills the IDF requirements. The new rotary wing aircraft sourced from Italy will gradually replace the “Sayfan” helicopters (Bell 206), which have been in use since the 1970s.
Italy will purchase Spike launchers and missiles from the Rafael Group and advanced systems for flight simulators from Elbit Systems.
According to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, this is a development of the 2011 agreement signed between the Israeli and Italian governments. The latter saw Israel acquire 30 M-346 Lavi training aircraft in exchange for the procurement by the Italian Defense of the OPSAT 3000 observation satellite and two aircraft for aerial surveillance and early warning and control G550 CAEW in a deal worth 4 billion euro.
Gantz said that the agreement “reflects the close and important collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Defense over the years. The completion of this agreement is essential for the training of IAF helicopter pilots and for the development of Israel’s economy.”
Since 2011, Israel and Italy have entered into protocols for the joint development of weapon systems in all sectors, from underwater drones to armored combat vehicles. The two countries have also conducted joint military exercises. Israeli fighter jets have tested inert bombs over the Sardinian Decimomannu polygon in 2014 and Italian F-35s participated in the Blue Flag exercises in Israel in 2019.
Lately, there have been contacts in order to assess the joint production of new battle tanks that will replace the Israeli Merkava and the Italian Aries.
Enhanced cooperation between Italy and Israel is undoubtedly desirable. The two are key players in the Mediterranean basin. The new EastMed pipeline, which will bring natural gas from the coast of Israel to Italy will allow Rome and Jerusalem to dominate the region’s energy resources. There is also a potential axis along a commercial route that would establish a new era of geopolitics.
Moreover, Turkey is increasingly seen as a problem for both countries. An ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a confrontational stance vis-a-vis Israel and is a vocal critic of both the recent Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as the Trump peace plan. Turkey’s new outsized military presence in Libya – long considered Italy’s courtyard – and its growing regional influence have caused alarm within Italian military and diplomatic circles.
Yet through established energy cooperation, Rome and Jerusalem could have the clout to impose a Pax Mediterranea. The latter would not only contain Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman designs, but also signal Ankara’s final estrangement from Europe.