Key Point: The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been instrumental in Israel’s defense, providing air superiority over Israel, close air support over Israeli ground forces, and performing strikes against targets deep in the enemy’s homeland. Over the past three decades it has also taken on a counterterrorism role, using airstrikes to assassinate terrorist leaders and destroy caches of weapons from the Tunis to the Sudan.
(These pieces, reposted together, appeared in August 2015 and are being reposted due to reader interest.)
Much like the Israeli Air Force, the Israeli Army came from humble—but more established—beginnings. Israel’s ground forces had their origins in the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary force created in the early 1920s to protect Jewish interests.
The Haganah cooperated with British authorities, but turned hostile in 1944 when the Axis neared defeat and the need for a Jewish state became increasingly clear. In 1947 the Haganah was reorganized into regular army units, and renamed the Israeli Army two weeks after the founding of the State of Israel.
Since then, the Israeli Army has seen combat every decade since its founding. It has fought numerous wars in defense of Israel, and embarked on numerous punitive expeditions into the Sinai, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.
In 1947, Israel’s low population but high level of education meant its citizens could train and organize a national army fairly quickly. Manpower limitations also meant the Israeli Army tended to gravitate towards technologically advanced, high firepower forces, and become more proficient at them than its neighbors. With that said, here are five Israeli army weapons of war that no one in the Middle East would certainly want to tangle with in a fight:
Merkava Main Battle Tank:
The brainchild of General Israel Tal, chief of the Armored Forces, the Merkava is Israel’s first and only indigenous main battle tank. The tank was especially designed for Israeli tank doctrine: low to the ground, with a powerful gun, the Merkava even had the engine placed in the front of the tank to provide protection to the crew. Combined with heavily sloped composite armor, Merkava made an excellent defensive tank, well suited to defending against Egyptian armored formations on the Sinai or Syrian forces on the Golan Heights.
Early versions of the Merkava had the same British-designed 105-millimeter main gun as the initial versions of the American M1 Abrams. Newer versions are armed with a locally produced 120-millimeter smoothbore gun. The Merkava’s main gun is accurate to at least 2,000 meters with High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and Armored Piercing (AP) rounds. Conventional rounds are supplemented by the LAHAT missile; capable of being fired from the barrel of the Merkava, the laser-guided LAHAT can engage targets out to 9,000 meters.
Merkava tanks were some of the first armored vehicles to be equipped with active protection systems against guided missiles. Israel has built just over 2,000 Merkavas in all versions, with 660 of the latest Mark IV built.
Spike Missile System:
The Spike Missile is Israel’s one-design-fits-all anti-tank guided missile system. The Spike SR (Short Range) system is a single shot, disposable missile system like the old American LAW. Spike has a thermal seeker, tandem shaped charge warhead (for defeating reactive armor) and a range of 800 meters.
Spike is mounted on everything from ground vehicles to Seraph (Apache) helicopters, naval vessels, and drones. It can be used against tanks and armored vehicles, ships, aircraft, and even individual high value terrorist targets.
Larger versions of the Spike are essentially the same missile, scaled up. Spike MR, similar in class to the American Javelin, has a range of 2,500 meters. Spike LR, similar to the American TOW-IIB, has a slightly longer range at 4,000 meters. Finally, Spike ER is similar in characteristics to the American Hellfire. A non-line of sight version of Spike, Spike NLOS, trails a fiber-optic cable that allows the operator to seek out and destroy targets to a range of 25 kilometers.
Namer Armored Personnel Carrier:
Most infantry fighting vehicles are not—contrary to what one might expect—heavily armored. Vehicles such as the M2 Bradley, BMP-3 and Warrior are not particularly armored against incoming tank rounds and modern anti-tank guided missiles, which is odd considering infantry fighting vehicles are expected to fight alongside much more heavily armored tanks.
Namer is different however in actually being built from older tanks. A Namer infantry fighting vehicle is an early model Merkava Mk.1 tank with the turret and main gun removed, and an enormous amount of armor applied to the front glacis, sides and side skirts. A Namer weighs roughly as much as a Merkava before modifications, a testament to the amount of armor that has been added.
About 120 Merkavas have been converted into Namers, enough to equip about three battalions. Namer has a crew of three, including driver, remote weapons station operator, and commander. It can carry nine infantrymen.
Tavor Assault Rifle:
Israel’s second generation indigenous rifle, Tavor is the standard infantry weapon of the IDF. A futuristic looking rifle, the Tavor’s bullpup design—wherein the magazine is located in the buttstock—makes for a compact design while still retaining a rifle-length barrel.
The Tavor may look like a 21st century rifle, but its roots are strictly 20th century. The compact rifle uses a gas operated, rotating bolt design straight out of the AK-47, which in turn was inspired from the M-1 Garand. The bullpup design allows the rifle to be a compact 28 inches long while maintaining a 18 inch long barrel.
Tavor is chambered in 5.56 millimeter, and can accept standard NATO 30 round magazines. Smaller, more compact versions have shorter barrels and are chambered in the pistol caliber 9mm Parabellum.
“Smasher” Multiple Rocket Launcher System:
Israel has a tendency to rename American weapons systems, and this is one case in which the new name is much cooler than the old one.
The “Smasher” rocket launcher is actually the American M270 MRLS. A mainstay of the U.S. Army’s artillery branch, the M270 was developed in the 1970s as part of the “Big 5” of weapons systems that would transform the Army. Based on a modified M2 Bradley chassis, the “Smasher” carries twelve 227-millimeter rockets. A three vehicle battery can send 23,184 cluster munitions downrange in one minute, saturating at one kilometer by one kilometer area.
Israel has 48 “Smasher” systems. Currently Israel is limited to rockets with a 40 kilometer range, but new 150 kilometer range rockets are in the pipeline. Such rockets will give Israeli artillery, positioned in Haifa, the ability to strike Damascus.
The Israeli Air Force was founded on May 28, 1948, exactly two weeks after the founding of the State of Israel. A motley force of veteran World War II pilots and obsolete aircraft, it has matured into one of the most powerful air forces in the world.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been instrumental in Israel’s defense, providing air superiority over Israel, close air support over Israeli ground forces, and performing strikes against targets deep in the enemy’s homeland. Over the past three decades it has also taken on a counterterrorism role, using airstrikes to assassinate terrorist leaders and destroy caches of weapons from the Tunis to the Sudan.
The IAF has an estimated 648 aircraft of all types, manned and serviced by 35,000 active duty personnel. An additional 24,500 reservists can be called up during wartime. At total mobilization, the IAF enjoys a comfortable ratio of 91 personnel for every one aircraft, far above the Egyptian Air Force’s 30 to one ratio and the Royal Saudi Air Force’s 38 to one.
F-15A/C Baz (“Falcon”)
Israel received its first F-15 Eagle fighters as part of the “Peace Fox” program. Four F-15As—the precursor to the F-15C—were delivered on December 10, 1976. At the time, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Mordecai Gur said of the fighter, “A state with F-15s no longer resembles a state without them.” Israel would eventually be equipped with 58 F-15 fighters.
A lot was riding on the F-15, which the IAF anticipated would give Israel air supremacy over its territory and air superiority over the entire Middle East. They weren’t wrong. On June 2nd 1979, six F-15s escorting air strikes against the PLO in Lebanon shot down five MiG-21s in a single engagement. In September, four more MiG-21s were lost to F-15s. Between 1976 and the end of the 1982 Lebanon war, Israeli F-15s shot down 58 enemy planes with zero losses.
Israeli F-15A fighters have been progressively upgraded to the F-15C standard. Israeli F-15 Baz fighters continue to provide air superiority for Israel. Baz fighters would undoubtedly fly top cover for any Israeli air strikes against Iran.
F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”)
Israel’s version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15I Ra’am is a multi-mission aircraft capable of air superiority and strike missions. Israel announced its intention to procure the Ra’am in 1994, a result of its lack of long-range strike aircraft capable of hunting down Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War.
Twenty five Ra’am fighters were purchased, with deliveries completed by 1998. Air to air armament includes short-range Python missiles and medium-range AMRAAM missiles. Air to ground armament includes laser guided bombs, Joint Directed Attack Munitions, and Popeye missiles. Israeli modifications include an electronic warfare suite, GPS, communications, the helmet display system and a data collection and transfer system.
In the event of an Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the 25 Ra’am fighters will be tasked with striking Iran’s farthest and most heavily defended targets.