Israeli Tanks and Combat Vehicles (Tanks Illustrated 3)
By Steven J. Zaloga
Publisher: Arms & Armour Press 1985 64 Pages
PDF 24 MB
No army since the Second World War has had as much experience or shown more skill in tank warfare than Israel's Zahal. The 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars in the Middle East provided textbook examples of superior mechanized tactics. This photographic survey is intended to provide a glimpse of the wide range of equipment used by the Israeli armoured force during these wars.
The Israeli armoured force had modest beginnings in the 1948 War of Independence. The original armoured vehicles were improvised armoured lorries cobbled together in clandestine workshops by the Haganah and other militias. Also, Israeli purchasing agents scoured old European battlefields and scrap-yards looking for military equipment that could be smuggled into Israel. A handful of old Hotchkiss tanks were found in France, and formed the original Israeli tank unit. France remained the primary supplier of armoured vehicles to Israel throughout 1956. Much of this equipment was ex-Lend Lease originally supplied by the United States, such as Sherman tanks and M3 and M5 half-tracks. Finally, before the outbreak of the 1956 war, France began to supply new armoured vehicles such as AMX-13 light tanks. Besides the French supplies, Israel also managed to scrape together additional vehicles located in European and Asian scrap-yards and renovate them in Israel. The ability of Israeli Ordnance teams to modernize and rebuild old hulks was in many ways as remarkable as the battlefield skills of the tankers.
It is difficult with hindsight to realize that the Israeli Armoured Corps was held in less than favourable light until the 1956 campaign. The 1948 war had been won by infantry and motorized infantry, and the influence of tanks was negligible. However, the brilliant success of tank units in 1956 marked a fundamental shift in Zahal, with the Armoured Force soon becoming the dominant element in the army. Indeed, Zahal is more heavily mechanized on a percentage basis than practically any other army today. Political fortunes changed in the wake of the 1956 war, with the de Gaulle government leaning more towards traditional Arab interests and ceasing to become a major arms supplier to Israel. Britain reversed its previous policy and agreed to sell Israel Centurion tanks, which was a critical step in the modernization of Zahal. But it was not until the US government, on the eve of the 1967 war, decided to permit the sale of arms to Israel that a relatively constant flow of equipment became available, continuing to this day. Nevertheless, Israel has a vigorous programme not only to modernize its older armoured vehicles, but, now with the Merkava, to build its own.
The author would like to express his thanks to Pierre Touzin, the Israeli Consulate in New York, the office of the Israeli Military Attache and Press Office of the Embassy of Israel in Washington DC, the Israeli Government Press Agency, Soltam Ltd., James Loop, George Balin and Joseph Desautels, without whose generous help in obtaining the photographs appearing here, this book would not have been possible. All photographs are from official Israeli government sources unless otherwise noted.