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(photo credit: AP [File])
"Money kills" was what several senior Armored Corps officers said Tuesday in expressing their frustration over the defense establishment's refusal to fund the installation of a rocket defense system on Israeli tanks and claiming that soldiers were paying the price with their lives.
The officers were referring to the Trophy, a Rafael-developed active protection system that creates a hemispheric protected zone around armored vehicles such as the Merkava 4 tank, currently operating in southern Lebanon. The system is designed to detect and track a threat and counters it by intercepting the anti-tank rocket. Senior officers involved in the design of the Merkava tank told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the Trophy was capable of neutralizing all the anti-tank rockets in Hizbullah's arsenal.
"[Lack of] money is what is killing and wounding soldiers," one high-ranking officer said Tuesday. "The Trophy system is supposed to be there to provide the answer to this threat, but due to budget constraints the soldiers are paying the price."
Since Israel launched Operation Change of Direction on July 12, following the abduction of two soldiers in a cross-border Hizbullah attack, IDF Merkava tanks have been bombarded with anti-tank missiles in the fighting going on in the Hizbullah strongholds of Maroun a-Ras and Bint Jbail. On Monday, one soldier was killed after his tank drove over an explosive device, and an officer was killed after an anti-tank rocket fired by Hizbullah guerrillas hit his tank.
But while the officers said the Merkava 4 was the "best tank in the world," no armored vehicle could withstand the explosive devices buried by Hizbullah in the ground in southern Lebanon, they said.
The day of the kidnapping, a Merkava 2 tank - an earlier model - drove over a several-hundred-kilogram explosive device while chasing the kidnappers into Lebanon and was blown to pieces. On Monday, a Merkava 4 drove over a similarly large explosive device but only flipped over. Of the 11 soldiers in the tank, one was killed.
"There is no doubt that the Merkava 4 is the best-protected tank in the world today," one Armored Corps officer claimed. "But we need to remember that no tank is invincible."
The officer said that the tanks were working in conjunction with D9 armored bulldozers which were meant to clear the route into the villages in southern Lebanon to ensure that bombs were not planted along the way. He said that hundreds of anti-tank missiles of all different types - including RPGs and Sagger rockets - were being fired at Israeli tanks by Hizbullah gunmen in the villages.
"They have all the different types of anti-tank missiles, from the oldest to the newest and most advanced," one officer explained. "With Iran's backing, nothing really prevented them from garnering weapons since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000."