The Israel Defense Forces’ Merkava (“Chariot”) has long been considered one of the best main battle tanks in the world, and since it first entered service forty-one years ago it has been able to take on a variety of threats. When the tank saw its first action in 1982, it fought against Soviet-made Syrian T-72s in the Bekaa Valley to great success.
However, one enemy it hasn't bested apparently is gravity!
While one of the Merkava tanks was being loaded onto a trailer in the Jordan Valley last weekend it missed the mark and rolled off, flipping upside down. No one was reported to be injured in the mishap. However, a soldier who filmed the loading process questioned whether the operation was being properly conducted and he can be heard saying, “When filming a tank going uphill, you never know . . . I hope nothing happens.”
Some might question testing such fate in the Holy Land, and sure enough, the tank, which reportedly accelerated wildly, almost ran over the commander who was directing the driver and then proceeded to flip over. Once belly up, the tank's fire defense systems kicked in, according to a report from The Jerusalem Post.
IDF soldiers then surrounded the tank and called for a medical team—likely to help the twenty-four-year-old reserve driver, who was subsequently evacuated to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Reports said the driver only suffered light bruises, but he was kept in the hospital overnight.
The cause of the crash was due to the gas pedal getting stuck, which led to the tank's sudden acceleration and consequent flip.
This is just the latest episode that resulted in an IDF tank ending on the wrong side up. Last December, another tank flipped over during a training exercise in northern Israel. None of the four-person crew was injured in that recent mishap but in September 2017 two IDF soldiers—Lt. Avshalom Armoni and Sgt. Avinoam Cohen—were killed, and four more were injured, when a self-propelled howitzer flipped during a late-night training exercise in the Golan Heights, The Times of Israel reported.
The loading of tanks and other heavy vehicles can often be hazardous, but it is done to save on time as tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers as these vehicles can be slow-moving when compared to transport trucks. Loading onto trucks can save time and notably fuel, but it can be dangerous as the recent string of accidents has shown. The driver, who is not inside the vehicle in order to have a better view, can be put in serious danger during a flip.
This past weekend's flip of the Merkava is just the latest misfortune for the robust tank. In September a family of tourists hiking near the Syrian border came across several IDF Merkava ‘Mk. IV’ tanks in a field left unguarded. The family posted a video online, which highlighted that they were able to enter the tanks and had access to the stored weapons and ammunition inside.
The Merkava was designed by General Israel Tal following the armored clashes of the Yom Kippur War and after the failure to purchase Chieftain tanks from the United Kingdom. Originally developed to take on Soviet tanks that were in service by Israel's Arab rivals, the tank was laid out in a rather unorthodox manner compared to contemporary Western and Soviet tanks, featuring a design more akin to some infantry fighting vehicles. Instead of having the engine at the rear, the engine was moved in front of the crew compartment, with the turret placed further back on the chassis.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.