After more than 40 years, France has ended its ban on weapons trade with Israel. Paris has decided to purchase the Heron TP (Eitan) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Israel Aerospace Industries.
With a wingspan just about as wide as a Boeing 737 (26 meters), the Eitan flies up to an altitude of 40,000 feet and can remain airborne for up to 36 hours. The drone is able to carry a wide variety of equipment with which to conduct its reconnaissance missions due to its size – possibly even missiles.
The Eitan went into service in Israel approximately 18 months ago, and is the first military equipment purchase from Israel by France in 42 years. This is also the first time the Eitan has been sold to a foreign nation.
It was then-President Charles de Gaulle who imposed the weapons sales embargo, barring the sale of a French jet to Israel that was developed with Israeli technology.
That event spurred Israel's government to ensure that no foreign power would ever again have the ability to clip the wings of the IDF.
Israel began developing its own fighter jets, and it also immediately reached out to cultivate other sources of aircraft – primarily the United States.
The IDF purchased the Skyhawk, the F-15, F-16 and most recently the F-35, set to become the newest fighter jet of the Israel Air Force.
Meanwhile, the French-made Mirage, in use for years in Israel, began to undergo a transformation as the Israel Aerospace Industry worked to develop a domestic fighter aircraft. The Kfir fighter jet was the first aircraft to be entirely produced on the soil of the Jewish State, followed by the Lavi in the 1980s. The multi-billion dollar project was never completed, however, due to a complex combination of pressures. These included American political pressure to cancel its new export competitor and the understanding at home that it was just too costly for the small Jewish State to produce on its own.
Instead, Israel turned to the production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a field in which the Jewish State has become a leader.