Tank Merkava Israel recently burned on the Gaza border, evoking memories of the war 50 years ago. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the world was shocked by the image of Israel’s proud tanks burning in the Sinai desert, victims of cheap anti-tank rockets made by the Soviet Union.
The capabilities of tanks, although increasingly sophisticated, have recently been frequently debated. This war vehicle is vulnerable to missile attacks, not to mention attacks from drones which are difficult to ward off.
Tanks are still the backbone of many armies, including in the war between Russia and Ukraine. However, around 20 Israeli tanks have been destroyed over the past two months by Hamas.
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Footage of a bomb-equipped Hamas drone burning a $4 million Merkava in October raised questions about the battle tank’s effectiveness, as did past photos from the Sinai desert, or recent images of destroyed tanks.
Are tanks as vulnerable as they were 50 years ago? Or did Israel’s armored vehicles suffer from tactical rather than technical errors?
Quoted detikINET from Insider, in 1970, Israel began making its own battle tanks that prioritized crew protection and every aspect of the tank adapted to these demands. Firepower is the second priority and mobility is the third priority
The result was the Merkava – Hebrew for “chariot” – a tank unlike any other. The engine is at the front, which adds a layer of protection to the part of the tank most likely to take impact.
The rear had a ramp leading to an armored compartment that could be used to evacuate casualties and allow the tank to be refilled with ammunition while in combat. Even though it is getting more sophisticated, this tank still has its weaknesses.
The IDF experienced problems with anti-tank missiles during the 2006 war in Lebanon, when Hezbollah used Russian-made Kornets. About 50 Merkavas were damaged, although only five were destroyed.
The latest operational version, the Merkava 4 (the Merkava 5 was only launched in September), deployed on the Gaza border on 7 October, as well as with units now fighting inside Gaza. Some of the tanks, as is known, were destroyed by Hamas during attacks on Israel.
The Merkava 4 is armed with a powerful 120 mm smoothbore cannon and advanced fire control sensors. The tank is also protected by layered composite armor, as well as modular armor devices that protect key points.
It is difficult to judge the tank vs. anti-tank gun battle in Gaza, because both sides are very secretive and cautious about releasing information. Hamas drones may be deployed to bomb Israeli tanks, although the IDF has installed steel cages for protection.
Hamas also has Russian, Iranian and North Korean portable anti-tank weapons and has created a strategy for destroying tanks, including tricking the Merkava’s Trophy active protection system by firing rockets at close range before the system can react.
Ultimately, a tank’s usefulness in combat depends on how it is used, the readiness of the crew, and the enemy’s ability to counter the tank. The crucial test will be how many tanks were destroyed or damaged during the fighting in Gaza. Urban battlefields, narrowly spaced and usually favorable to the defender, are the deadliest battlefields.
In one incident on October 31, a Hamas anti-tank missile destroyed a Namer armored vehicle, killing 11 Israeli infantrymen and wounding four others.
IDF armored forces would certainly suffer losses in Gaza, but the Merkava would perform better than the Centurion and Patton tanks in 1973.
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