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Merkava: The Super Tank from Israel That Ukraine Would Love

Israel's Merkava IV tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Israel's Merkava IV tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The effectiveness of tank warfare has been displayed throughout Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. After losing perhaps as many as 2,000 tanks, Moscow even hauled some of its old fleet of Soviet-era T-62 MBTS to the front lines this fall.

According to Forbes, Ukraine’s counter-offensives have actually resulted in a net gain in tanks captured. Although Kyiv appears to be superseding its invader in terms of tank quantity and quality, additional shipments of more advanced and reliable armored vehicles are necessary to maintain its defensive efforts. 

And now it seems that the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams tanks are headed to Ukraine to fight Russia. So why not the Merkava tank from Israel?

Here is a rundown of the tank’s capabilities and why Ukraine would love this armored weapon of war.

Israel’s Merkava is one of the best MBTs in the world

The Israeli Merkava Mk 4 is one powerful tank for sure. Initially developed in the 1970s, the Merkava is the brainchild of General Israel Tal, who led the Eighty Fourth Armored Brigade to victory in the Sinai during the Six Day war.

Tal emphasized survivability in his initial tank design to both minimize wartime losses in a small country and preserve experienced crews to continue the fight.

In order to accomplish this, the Merkava incorporates thick-spaced armor and sharp angles to increase the width of the armor encountered by an anti-tank round.

Furthermore, designers placed the engine and transmission in the front of the tank, providing greater crew protection from frontal fire and increasing storage and transport space in the rear of the tank.

Finally, General Tal drew on his experiences in the Six-Day War when many tank crews were severely burned by the hydraulic fluid used to power the turret; the Merkava’s turret is electrically powered, eliminating the need for dangerous hydraulic fluid.

Ukrainian Forces would particularly seek the Merkava since crew preservation is paramount.

The newest Merkava variant entered service in 2004. In addition to the design features already listed, it contains several additional protective features. V-shaped armor on the bottom of the tank provides enhanced protection from land mines – while technologies borrowed from the IAF, such as non-reflective paints and heat shielding – make the tank much more difficult to detect. 

The Merkava’s Trophy technology saves lives 

The Trophy active protection system allows tank crews to be more aggressive while maintaining safety.

This advanced system defends armored vehicles from incoming projectiles and anti-tank missiles.

An officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tank commander school noted that “the first and foremost difference in the tank commander’s behavior (pre and post Trophy), we used to be a lot more defensive, and we found ourselves sort of hiding on the battlefield and trying to get out of the range of the anti-tank systems. With Trophy, you feel you have the ability to be more offensive and put yourself out there a little more and allow yourself to accept a little more risk than what we did before.”

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, one Merkava– after being saved by its Trophy system managed to neutralize the Hamas anti-tank crew that had just fired on it. These and other upgrades make the Merkava Mk 4 a formidable force on the battlefield.

Recently, Germany, the U.S. and other European Union members agreed to send shipments of armored vehicles and armor to aid Ukraine’s defensive efforts against Russia. While Israel’s Merkava MBT is not included in the incoming deliveries, the arrival of more advanced main battle tanks will certainly change the dynamics at the front line. 

Sadly, it seems highly unlikely Israel would ever send the Merkava to Ukraine, as the Jewish state fears the geopolitical fallout such a move would make. Meaning they fear a Russian response in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. 

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Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.