By YAAKOV KATZ
The Defense Ministry has set its sights on Europe as the next target for increasing defense sales, with the belief that NATO's war in Afghanistan and a possible cross-continent missile shield will increase interest in Israeli military platforms.
At a meeting convened several weeks ago by SIBAT, the ministry's Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization, top defense officials discussed the need to create partnerships with European companies that can be used as a platform to sell Israeli hardware.
Defense officials said Wednesday that they believed there would be growing interest among NATO members for Israeli technology that dealt with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Israeli firms are known world leaders in passive protection, such as armor, as well as active protection, such as systems that jam IED detonator signals.
"The expansion of the war in Afghanistan opens a door for us," one official said.
Last month, NATO Deputy Sec.-Gen. Claudio Bisogniero and Adm. Giampaolo Di Paolo, chairman of the alliance's military committee, both visited Israel for talks that also focused on how Israel could help secure NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.
One example of a successful partnership was between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Germany's Rheinmetall Defense, which are collaborating to provide the German military with Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The Germans have for the time being decided to lease the aircraft but defense officials said they were hoping that it would lead to an eventual sale.
"Joining with local companies gives Israeli industries a foothold in Europe and makes it easier to sell their products there," the official said.
In addition to platforms focused on Afghanistan, top defense officials said this week that there was growing European interest in the Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system, which is currently under development by IAI.
The interest, one official explained, stemmed mainly from the NATO-US plan to establish a missile defense shield in Europe to defend the continent against Iranian nuclear missiles.
The Arrow 3 will be operational in a few years. It is an advanced model of the Arrow interceptor that the IDF currently uses, and will be capable of intercepting incoming enemy missiles farther away and at greater altitudes. The official said that it will also be significantly cheaper than a land-based version of the SM3 American alternative.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said that the Israeli Arrow would likely be part of the missile shield that the Obama administration is considering offering Europe.
Israeli officials said it was possible that the US would allow IAI to sell the Arrow to European customers. IAI requires American permission since the US government funds most of the Arrow project.
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