When Brig.-Gen. Yigal Slovik climbed into his Merkava Mk 4 battle tank on the
border with Gaza on the night of January 3, 2009, predictions within the
military were that it could take up to a day for the column of tanks he was
leading to cross the entire Strip.
It only took five hours and, before
dawn broke the following morning, Slovik, then commander of the 401st Armored
Brigade, had reached the sandy Gaza beaches on the Mediterranean
Slovik’s brigade had been sent into Gaza in Operation Cast Lead’s
ground offensive with the objective of splitting the strip in two and preventing
Hamas from transferring weapons from the South to the besieged
More than three years after the operation, Slovik stepped down
this week as commander of the IDF’s Armored Corps to take up his post as head of
personnel in the Ground Forces Command. While he expressed concern over the
proliferation of sophisticated anti-tank missiles throughout the region and
particularly in Lebanon and Gaza, he is confident that Israel’s tanks will
continue to be unstoppable in any future war.
missiles can’t really stop an IDF ground offensive,” Slovik said during an
interview at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. “We have very good
capabilities to make sure of that and will soon have even better
Slovik has spent the majority of his military career thus far in
the 401st Brigade, serving as a company, battalion and eventually brigade
When he took over the brigade after the Second Lebanon War,
its officers were still traumatized by the heavy losses they sustained during
the socalled Battle of the Saluki, a key component of Israel’s last-ditch effort
to gain ground in the final 48 hours of the war. Hezbollah anti-tank missiles
killed 12 soldiers and hit 11 tanks.
Today, he says, IDF armored units
are better prepared to deal with similar scenarios to the crossing of the Saluki
River even though he anticipates extensive anti-tank missile
According to intelligence reports, Hezbollah has built up a
significant arsenal of anti-tank weapons, mostly based on Russian systems such
as the Kornet, which has a range of up to 5 kilometers and can penetrate
Israel’s Merkava tanks.
According to Slovik, the capabilities the IDF has
created since the war are split into two categories: technological and
In the first, the Merkava – one of the best-protected tanks
in the world – has been equipped with reactive armor especially designed to
absorb the impact of an explosion and prevent it from penetrating the
In addition, the IDF recently completed the installation of the
Trophy active protection system on all of the 401st Brigade’s tanks and is now
planning to install the system in other armored units.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Trophy creates a hemispheric protected zone
around armored vehicles such as the Merkava tank by unleashing a cloud of
countermeasures that destroys the incoming missile. The system successfully
intercepted a rocket-propelled grenade that was fired at a tank last year along
the border with the Gaza Strip.
Lastly, the IDF is now considering a new
concept called “formation defense” to protect not just one tank from anti-tank
missiles but a large area where a number of tanks as well as infantrymen are deployed.
In terms of
operational capabilities, the IDF has made significant changes to the way it
trains its units and prepares its soldiers for the anti-tank
“While the tank-against-tank threat is still the basis for our
training, the anti-tank threat is now a part of everything that we do,” he
The IDF has, for example, purchased advanced simulators from
Elbit Systems, which come in the form of caravans that are hooked up to tanks,
take over their internal command- and control-systems and run anti-tank drills
In addition, the Armored Corps recently established a “red
team” to impersonate enemy anti-tank missile squads during large tank exercises.
To make the threat real, the red teams are made up of soldiers who serve in the
IDF’s Orev Units, the Israeli equivalent of anti-tank-missile squads.
invest a lot in trying to make this threat as real as possible during training
so our commanders and soldiers will know how to cope with it in a war,” Slovik
said. “In the past, there was a tank battalion on one hill lined up opposite
another tank battalion on another hill. Today, the main challenge we face is
that the enemy hides and embeds itself within the civilian
The problem is that we in the tank are seen but we don’t
always know how to identify who we see.”
Despite the challenges, Slovik
said that tanks are a required platform for all militaries – whether fighting
conventional wars or in asymmetric urban warfare.
“Anyone who thinks you
can win a war without tanks doesn’t appreciate the power of an armored vehicle
and what it can do with its armor and firepower on a battlefield,” he said. “It
can identify targets, attack them, destroy them, move fast, take over territory
and is cost-effective by using relatively cheap ammunition.
It also has
presence and is able to control territory once it is there.”
In a future
war with Hezbollah, Slovik said, the use of tanks will be even more important
since Israel will need to capture territory in Lebanon.
“The next war
will need to be quick since missiles will be falling on the home front and tanks
can move the fastest on the ground in capturing territory to stop the rocket
fire,” he said.
A senior officer in the Northern Command backed up
Slovik’s prediction. As an example, he referred to a number of hilltops in
Lebanon that overlook the city of Kiryat Shmona.
“If we don’t capture
those, Hezbollah will be able to fire straight into Kiryat Shmona from those
hills,” the officer explained.
Looking back at his 26 years in uniform,
Slovik said that the greatest improvement has been in the lethality of the IDF
Armored Corps. Slovik recalled how when he was drafted in 1986, it took a tank
crew an average of three to four shells to hit and destroy a target. Today, he
said, the average is 1.1 shells.
“This means that nearly every shell that
is fired hits its targets,” he said.
“With the right protection, a tank
becomes a significant force.”