Created: Thursday, 27 June 2002 Written by CorrespondentISRAEL'S NEW MERKAVA 4 TANK IS CLEARLY DESIGNED FOR WAR WITH SYRIA
Israel unveiled the latest addition to its arsenal, the locally developed and produced Merkava Mk. 4 main battle tank (MBT), at a ceremony in its tank production factory at the Tel Hashomer armored corps base on Monday, June 24th 2002. The design features that were reveled show that the Merkava Mk. 4 is specifically intended for full-scale conflict with Syria, and will significantly alter the military balance between Israel and Syria. A cursory review of the unique design features of this latest Israeli weapon gives a clear understanding of how the Israeli Army and leadership believe it will be employed. Although Israel’s tanks have, in recent weeks, been utilized in military operations in the Palestinian towns and cities, it appears obvious that the new Merkava is designed for a completely different purpose - full-scale war with Syria.
The first and foremost major improvement of the new Merkava 4 tank over previous models of the Merkava is its enhanced mobility. The Israeli media stressed after the unveiling ceremony that the Merkava Mk. 4 was specifically designed for improved performance on the difficult terrain of the Golan Heights. The Golan stretches from the area occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War to the flat plains that lead to the Syrian capital Damascus. It is a region typified by rocky volcanic rock that challenges even modern armored vehicles. Israel’s military planners clearly allotted high importance to possessing a tank capable of traversing the difficult terrain on the road to Damascus.
A second unique feature of the new Merkava 4 is its capacity to engage anti-tank helicopters. Using its advanced new fire direction computers, the tank can target these helicopters in flight and shot them down. Once again, this is a clear indicator. While the Palestinians posses just a few commercial aircraft, the Syrian Air Force’s nearly one hundred anti-tank helicopters are a powerful threat against the Israeli armor. Flying both French SA342L Gazelle anti-tank helicopters and Russian Mil Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopters, the Syrian Air Force used these airborne platforms to destroy numerous Israeli tanks during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Even the most advanced tanks in service in the world today are helpless against the attack helicopters, such as the notorious American AH-64 Apache that butchered Iraqi armor in the 1991 Gulf War. The ability of the new Merkava MBT to defend itself against helicopters represents a major shift in the power balance between Israel and Syria.
A quick look at the photos of the new Israeli tank, published by the Israeli media, also reveals a thick and heavy layer of armor wrapped around its front and sides. The Palestinians have managed to destroy two Israeli Merkava tanks (of previous models) earlier this year, in both cases using large and advanced explosive charges that were hidden underground and exploded when the tank passed over them, striking at its more lightly protected bottom.
The wrapping of additional armor on the new tank’s sides indicates that the Israeli military is more concerned with protecting its crews against the threat of the Syrian Army’s tanks and anti-tank missiles, which strike the front and sides of the tank, then against the Palestinian bombs, which strike from below.
A review of all other design features and improvements announced by the Israelis further strengthens the conviction that the new tank is clearly designed for a full scale war with a standing army, probably Syria’s. The new tank boasts a more powerful cannon with increased penetration power, useful only for attacking other tanks. It also includes improvements to mobility, armor and firepower all consistent with the demands of the modern army-versus-army battlefield.
The improvements in the Merkava Mark 4 give the new Israeli tank increased ability to fight successfully against Syrian forces, and swing the balance of power further in Israel’s favor. It should be stressed that this comes at a time when Israel has been threatening Syria, which it holds accountable for the increasing Hizbullah activities on the Israel-Lebanon border.
The new tank is a clear indication that the Israeli leadership regards war with Syria as a more then likely possibility.
(Albawaba.com - 25 June 2002)
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