As Israel prepares for the next stage of the war against Hamas, U.S. and other Western officials have voiced concerns over the fate of hostages held in Gaza. The terrorist group is believed to be keeping as many as 250 Israelis and foreign nationals in captivity throughout a network of tunnels stretching beneath the city.
Israeli officials have vowed to wipe out Hamas completely from its southern border, meaning a ground incursion is likely imminent. Yesterday, Israeli troops and main battle tanks carried out the country’s first limited raid into northern Gaza, probably in an effort to prepare the battlefield for a full invasion. Extensive airstrikes coincided with the ground operation, resulting in the destruction of multiple Hamas targets, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
IDF tanks including the Merkava successfully aided the mission’s goal of striking numerous terrorist cells, anti-tank launch posts, and other infrastructure.
Introducing the Merkava MBT
The nearly 50-year-old Merkava series of tanks has been a mainstay of Israel’s armored corps since its introduction to service.
The Merkava was conceptualized in the 1970s after the United Kingdom walked back a joint development initiative that would have provided Israel with Chieftain tanks. When this deal was nixed, Israel recognized that in order to survive its hostile neighbors, it would need to be self-reliant. Developing and domestically producing a cutting-edge main battle tank became a top priority.
Over the years, the Merkava has been enhanced to retain an edge over competitor tanks. One aspect of this tank family, however, has remained. Each Merkava variant prioritizes keeping personnel losses down in combat.
Original models of the Merkava were notably covered in thick-spaced armor, a unique attribute. More recent variants feature sophisticated Elbit helmet displays that “generate an image that enables the crew to ‘see through’ the vehicle’s armor,” according to the helmet’s manufacturer. Perhaps most important, the Merkava is now equipped with the Trophy active protection system. This advanced capability helps defend the Merkava against anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The Trophy has saved countless lives, according to the IDF.
How Would the Merkava Fare in Gaza?
The Trophy active protection system gives newer Merkava variants an edge in urban warfare, allowing these tanks to act more offensively on the battlefield. As detailed by Interesting Engineering, “Since its introduction in 2011, Trophy has been integrated into Israeli Merkava Mk.3 and Mk.4 tanks, as well as Namer heavy armored personnel carriers. The Namer IFV, known for its exceptionally heavy armor, is hailed as the most heavily armored vehicle globally and is equipped with modular armor and the Trophy active protection system, enhancing its survivability on the battlefield. As Israel moves closer to potential urban warfare, the synergy of these advanced technologies underscores its commitment to protecting its forces and achieving operational success.”
If the IDF does move ahead with a full invasion of Gaza, the Merkava will undoubtedly play a leading role.
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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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