In the assembly areas near the Gaza border, forces are already mobilized, prepared to enter the Gaza Strip as soon as the government authorizes the ground phase of Operation ‘Iron Swords.’ Given the large amount of weaponry, including some imported and others manufactured locally, such as RPG rockets, anti-tank missiles and armed drones, it is unlikely that an infantry raid will be carried out as in previous operations. The use of armored vehicles to transport troops will be prioritized.
Unlike Operation ‘Protective Edge’ in 2014, the army has hundreds of heavy Namer APCs, protected by the ‘Windbreaker’ system, accompanied by a smaller number of Eitan APCs. The previous year, these wheeled armored vehicles were integrated into the Israel Defense Forces. With the support of the Ministry of Defense, numerous older Merkava tanks, especially the Mark-3 model, have also been reinforced for use as armored technical support and command vehicles.
Although they are not as armored as the Mark-4, they significantly improve occupant protection compared to the older M113 APCs. It is likely that, once again, the D9 bulldozers of the Corps of Engineers will lead the armored battalions, eliminating barriers and destroying houses that serve as refuge for terrorists, among other functions.
In recent years, the Ministry of Defense has announced contracts with military industries to purchase additional active protection systems for more vehicles and equip the Namer and Eitan APCs with lighter guns, essential for urban combat. Several projects have been postponed due to administrative overload in the Ministry of Defense’s tank management and budgetary restrictions, thus prioritizing the air force, intelligence services and investment in border barriers in Gaza. These additions will be absent from the forces deployed to Gaza to dismantle Hamas’ military infrastructure definitively.
Merkava Mark 4 and Merkava Barak tanks
The Merkava Mark 4 and Merkava Barak tanks present notable innovations: the fourth generation of the Israeli Merkava tank, which is currently in service in the regular IDF brigades, shows significant differences in its capabilities, even when compared to the first Mark-4 incorporated in 2003, and those who participated in Operation Cast Lead, not to mention previous generations. The 120 mm cannon is maintained, as is the 1,500 hp engine, but the main improvement lies in including the active defense system.
Today, most tanks in regular service are equipped with the “Windbreaker” system to intercept anti-tank missiles and other projectiles, a capability that the 2009 Merkavas did not have. These tanks are also integrated into the IDF’s combat management system. , provided by Elbit as part of the digital infrastructure of the land army. This system is designed to facilitate rapid information transfer and neutralize threats. This year, an updated model was introduced into the IDF, the Mark 4 Barak, with an advanced Windbreaker system and the ability to use fire control devices manufactured by the aircraft industry for accurate target identification for the gun.
Additional cameras and sensors offer the tank crew expanded situational awareness of nearby threats and enhanced capability for close-quarters combat. That is, operations where the tank hatches are closed and the equipment is protected inside. This could be crucial in dealing with explosive drones, as the Mark 4 is one of the best top-protected tanks in the world.
The commander has a new helmet, similar to that of combat pilots, developed by Elbit, which allows him to see what is happening outside while remaining inside the tank without having to expose himself in the turret, also receiving a significant amount of information. The Mark 4 Barak was declared operational just a month ago, and the 401st Brigade is in the process of being equipped with it.
The IDF’s heavy armored personnel carrier (APC) project suffered for years from delays and lack of funding and was only launched due to the first APC disaster in 2004, in which 13 IDF soldiers were killed due to the explosion of two Bardelas APCs, day after day, and the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
One of the results of the second APC disaster, in Sajaiya in 2014, was the increase in the acquisition of heavy combat APCs based on the Merkava tank, also equipped with the Windbreaker system, providing much more significant protection than the Bardelas APCs that still participated in the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago.
Today, hundreds of Namer APCs are in service in the Golani, Givati and Carmeli Brigades, as well as the engineering Namer version, the Engineering Namer, in the Corps of Engineers for obstacle clearance. The IDF Namer has a 0.5-machine gun operated from the fighting compartment (lethal station) and a 60 mm mortar. The Namer has a crew of three and can carry 8 soldiers.
Eitan Armored Combat Vehicle
Another project that emerged to replace the unarmored Bardelas and allow a greater complement than the expensive Namer is the Eitan. This APC is equipped with 8 wheels instead of tracks, allowing extensive use of existing commercial components, reducing maintenance costs, and offering increased speed and improved adaptation for urban combat. However, a wheeled armored vehicle has less mobility on terrain and over obstacles than tracked armored vehicles.
Although more protected than other wheeled APCs in the world, the Eitan is still less armored than the Namer and depends for its survival on speed, up to 90 km/h on the road, and its superior maneuverability. The IDF and the Ministry of Defense chose an active protection system for him, but the “Dart Arrow” was produced by Elbit Systems. The Namer is armed with a machine gun that can be operated from inside the vehicle. With a team of three, it can carry 9 soldiers. Continuous delays in funding the project have led to the fact that, although the prototype was revealed in 2016, the first series of production vehicles began to be delivered to the Nahal Brigade, chosen to be the first to receive the Eitan only in 2022.
Ofek and Pereg’s armored vehicles
We are not talking about front-line combat vehicles. If a significant ground phase were implemented, we would see APCs converted from tanks entering Gaza and crossing the fence. They are intended for combat support forces, technical units to maintain tanks and other APCs, medical evacuation forces, communications and more. It is not the first time that the IDF has built APCs on the basis of decommissioned tanks: thus, the “Puma” based on the Centurion tank (Sho’t) and the “Achzarit” based on the captured T54/T55 tanks (Tiran) were born. ).
Unlike the M113, the “Ofek,” a Merkava tank from which the turret and gun have been removed, significantly reducing its weight, can move at the pace of Merkava Mark-4 tanks and Namer APCs. The conversion included the installation of air conditioning and an improved entrance ramp.
For years, D9 bulldozers manufactured by Caterpillar, known in the IDF as “Doobi,” have been seen in IDF (Israel Defense Forces) forward formations. The Corps of Engineers took this successful American civilian bulldozer, added protection and light armor, and created an engineering vehicle that could be used effectively on the battlefield. The “Doobi” is capable of removing obstacles that block the path of tanks and armored vehicles, building defensive positions for them, demolishing houses from which terrorists shoot, and better handling mined routes since its height and massive structure make them less susceptible to landmines.
The Israeli solution is considered more successful than the US military’s own tools, so much so that the US military acquired these bulldozers in an emergency process for the Second Gulf War and later added more units purchased directly from the manufacturer, to which installed protection kits from TAAS Systems, now part of the land division of Elbit Systems.