Storm of Al-Aqsa’ Operation Reveals Weaknesses in Israeli Merkava Tanks Design and Tactics

The operation revealed that the highly touted Trophy Active Protection System failed to protect the tanks from anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers. This incident raises questions about Israeli tank crew training and their overreliance on the protection system.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Storm of Al-Aqsa’ Operation Reveals Weaknesses in Israeli Merkava Tanks Design and Tactics

At least ninety reservists, special forces, and tank crews were killed in the early hours of the Hamas terrorists’ invasion, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) command acknowledged the damage to the military personnel and the huge equipment losses.

Preliminary reports indicate that the Islamists captured, for a brief period, dozens of heavy armoured personnel carriers, including Achzarit, Namer, M113, and Nakpadon, as well as several dozen Merkava 4 tanks.

Several Israeli military bases were momentarily seized under Hamas control throughout the “Storm of Al-Aqsa” operation. As per sources online, numerous armoured vehicles that were stationed at these bases failed to reach the frontlines.

The majority of these vehicles’ whereabouts are unknown. In the Gaza sector, militants have commandeered several armoured vehicles. Nonetheless, a considerable proportion was presumably destroyed on IDF bases.

While some armoured vehicles participated in combat, militants managed to demolish them. Hamas captured at least one Merkava 4 tank that had been struck by a drone-launched munition and displayed the remains of the crew members who died. An anti-tank missile destroyed at least one tank, and a grenade launcher damaged another.

The videos show that the Israeli armoured vehicles, which were supposed to be the most sophisticated and well-suited for modern battle, really had a significant flaw in their design.

Watch Merkava IV Tanks destroyed or captured by Hamas.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officially introduced the Merkava IV tank into service in 2004. The Israeli designers claimed the armour was built using exotic metals and cutting-edge design methods. 2009 saw the introduction of the Merkava IVM, an upgraded version of the tank. It was equipped with the Trophy Active Protection device (APS), which is widely regarded as the most effective device of its kind.

Merkava Mk.4 is 70 tonnes in weight and is outfitted with a 120 mm smoothbore cannon, a five-speed automatic gearbox and a 1500 hp diesel engine. An additional ten rounds can now be loaded onto the mechanised ammunition rack. Composite armour with hinges is affixed to the upper frontal region of the turret’s hull, sides, and dome. Multilayer screens protect the sidewalls, while an air-separated steel sheet safeguards the bottom (reducing the ground clearance from 530 to 430 mm).

The developers underscored that upon installation on the tank, the Trophy system incorporates sensors capable of identifying anti-tank missiles and portable anti-tank grenade projectiles. By analysing the trajectory of the incoming projectile, the computer system is programmed to initiate a countermeasure aimed at destroying it while it is in flight. That was the notion, at the very least. The primary manifestation of the Israeli defence complex’s image failure is the destruction or even impact on the tanks.

Watch Trophy Active Protection System destroy a mordern RPG.

The Trophy system malfunctioned when anti-tank missiles or grenade launchers struck one of the tanks. The causes of these shortcomings can be known when Israel makes it public, but the Merkava is no longer regarded as the greatest tank in the world, as it was when it was paired with the US M1A2 Abrams Tank.

Instead of modern armaments, obsolete weaponry prevailed against the tanks, including anti-tank guided missile systems such as “Fagot” and “Konkurs” and RPG-7 grenade launchers equipped with tandem warheads. The Abrams tanks that Saudi Arabia employed in Yemen were similarly tarnished in reputation by these armaments created in the 1970s. 

Ironically, Lebanese Hezbollah militants have previously destroyed Merkava IV tanks with Soviet-made RPGs and ATGMs with tandem-shaped charges. During the Second Lebanon War of 2007, the Merkava Mk.4 encountered setbacks in its attempt to operate as an MBT in combat, losing approximately 50 vehicles, half of which participated in the operation in Southern Lebanon, of which ten were irreparably damaged. The IDF command was compelled to transfer the Merkavas to the second echelon from the assault units.

But none of the hits on the Merkava IV tanks set off any ammo or did any other damage that would have killed the vehicle. Merkava could only be destroyed from the inside. However, Israeli technology wasn’t enough to save the crew’s lives. It is highly possible that the Trophy Active Protection System was overstated, which resulted in Israeli tank personnel having an erroneous sense of security.

Crew protection is the central concept of the Israeli defence industry. This is emphasised in training institutions when interacting with clients and foreign delegations. It has come to light that Israeli armoured vehicles are unprepared to face the challenges of contemporary warfare. The foundation of the Israeli programme to develop armoured personnel carriers is the crew protection concept.

The Achzarit, an armoured personnel carrier (APC) employed by the Israeli military, was built based on T-54/55 tanks seized during conflicts with Syria and Egypt. By transforming early iterations of the Merkava tank into the Namer APC, the Israeli industrial sector implemented the concept of transforming tanks into heavy APCs. Despite being regarded as the best in their category, Israeli APCs failed to safeguard the crews’ lives.

The training level of Israeli tank operators, unprepared for battle, is an additional concern. Published Hamas videos indicate that the APC personnel lacked instruction in infantry engagement tactics.

Tank personnel must aggressively manoeuvre to avoid providing the enemy with a steady target and evading missile fire when the opponent is armed with huge amounts of portable anti-armour weapons. It is unclear why some Israeli tank operators chose not to manoeuvre and instead fought the enemy head-on rather than using cover fire. The conclusion is based on the tank tracks in the videos.

They apparently placed excessive trust in the Trophy Active Protection System, which didn’t work. This is a grave error, and as a result, the system’s designers will have to answer challenging questions in the future.

The primary question that needs to be answered is whether or not Hamas successfully smuggled some of the looted equipment into the Gaza Strip.

Crews of Palestinian factions are inadequately trained to operate heavy armoured vehicles and tanks. Armoured vehicles might be equipped with an anti-theft system in the form of a beacon that enables location tracking. In the absence of means to transport the armoured vehicles to Gaza, militants resorted to internal detonations to destroy certain equipment. Nevertheless, the possibility remains that some of the plunder was ultimately transported to Gaza and concealed within Hamas strongholds.

Captured armoured vehicles might pique the interest of foreign observers in such a scenario. Although Israeli tanks have certain limitations, they are outfitted with state-of-the-art communication, fire control, and electronic systems. The IDF suffered its most significant loss by capturing the most recent Merkava Barak tank modification, as filmed in one of the militants’ recordings.

IDF Barak tanks
IDF Barak tanks. Israeli MoD handout.

These tanks were introduced into service in 2023. They have the most up-to-date technology, such as a 360-degree all-weather camera for constant surveillance. The tanks have a full computer, modern data processing systems, and a modified Active Protection System.

All of this could end up in the hands of the Palestinians or people who support them. Israel could have a lot of trouble in the future if even one captured armoured vehicle was hidden in tunnels under Gaza. Experts in Iran once took one captured Israeli drone and used its parts to make a whole line of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

If any captured Israeli equipment is given to Hamas allies, they could be used to make new armoured vehicles in Iran or other Islamic countries that back Hamas.

By studying how Israeli tanks work on the inside, it’s possible to make new anti-tank weapons, which could make things even harder for Israeli tank crews in the future.

The Israeli army is getting ready for a counteroffensive against Hamas, but the full effects of the militants’ deeds have not yet been seen. No matter what happens in Gaza, the Israeli military will have to rethink how they build and use heavy armoured trucks in general.

The Israeli Ministry of Defence just unveiled their newest battle tank, the “Barak,” a fifth-generation vehicle. The tank has artificial intelligence algorithms and target detection sensors that cover a 360-degree spectrum. Unknown is whether or not they encountered Hamas or their outcome. 


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