Surprisingly Sophisticated Anti-Tank Missiles, Fortified Bunkers and Iranian Electronics

It was said in the dark days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War that the anti-tank rocket could bend the wings of an Israeli warplane. They were referring to the heavy losses the Israeli Air force sustained from the Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles used by the Egyptian and Syrian armies battling Israel.

Of the 380 warplanes on active service, 102 were downed – a few in dogfights, but most shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Not counting helicopters, the Israeli Air Force lost in that war more than a quarter of its air fleet.

Although Israel also lost many tanks, the blow to its aerial might, the proud jewel of its armed forces, left the most painful impact.

In the Lebanon War, 33 years on, the soldiers have a similar saying: the rocket is bending the Israeli tank. They have been shocked by the loss of life and damage inflicted by Hizballah’s anti-tank rocket and its ability to pierce the armor of the Merkava (Chariot), which Israeli arms manufacturers hold up as the best protected tank in the world.

In 30 days of the war which erupted on July 12, the three types of missiles wielded by Hizballah guerrillas have seriously hampered the advance of Israeli tanks columns through the mountains, wadis and valleys of south Lebanon, and prevented them from breaching the fortified villages used as Hizballah strongholds.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the Sagger AT-3A missile, the Metis-M 9K115-2 and the Kornet ATGM have been hitting an average of 1.8-2 tanks a day, which adds up to 55-60 tanks knocked out, the equivalent of a tank brigade, in 30 days of combat.

Some of the tanks were also hit by missiles and huge roadside bombs containing 50-150 kilos of explosives each.


Three Kinds of Missiles to Fell a Tank


This is how Hizballah functions. An estimated 500 to 600 members of their roughly 4,000-strong fighting strength in South Lebanon are divided into groups of 5 or 6, each armed with 5-8 anti-tank missiles, with a further supply in their small well-fortified camouflaged bunkers, built to withstand Israeli air attacks.

The bunkers Israeli troops captured in fierce fighting were found to contain a supply of ordnance and 4-6 anti-tank rockets.

The Hizballah guerrillas take care to fire them at Israeli tanks by night from a distance of 2-3 km. After a hit, the Israeli tank crew calls up reinforcements – one part of which tows the tank back behind the Israeli border while second dashes forward to engage the Hizballah assault group.

Hizballah then reacts in two ways. The assault team advances towards the Israeli force under cover of a heavy shelling by 120 mm and 220 mm mortars, Syrian and Iranian short range 107mm and 122 mm rockets and 230 mm Katyushas. This tactic gives the Hizballah team the chance of striking another tank or armored vehicle in 38 percent of the instances.

Another Hizballah team may also lie in wait for a tank unit in the bunkers strewn among the fortified dwellings after sowing the area with anti-tank mines and huge roadside bombs. The guerrillas in the bunkers wait quietly for the tanks to pass by and then shoot them in the rear from their bunkers while also activating the roadside bombs.

This is the shape of the deadly battles fought Wednesday August 9, near the Ayt a-Chaab village in the Western Sector of South Lebanon near the border with Israel and at the village of Debel in the Central Sector, in which Israel lost 15 men and several tanks.

That was the largest number of Israeli losses in a single battle since the war erupted.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington and Moscow sources disclose that the rate of Israeli tank losses so horrified US officials that Monday, Aug. 7, the White House sent Russian president Vladimir Putin a secret request for clarifications regarding the arms deals he signed with Damascus.

They cover a Russian commitment to sell Syria the Metis-M 9K115-2 anti-tank missile which by virtue of its sophisticated features gives Hizballah a deadly edge against Israel troops.

All versions of this weapon, which weighs 5-20 kgs., are man-portable over long distances. Its guidance elevation has a 15 degree span. The small module’s elevation and field view are easily adjustable to target ground targets or hovering helicopters. The Russian 1PN86V/Mulat-115 thermal sight can be attached to the launcher for a detection range of 3,200 meters and recognition beyond the missile’s 1,500-meter range. Its field of view is 4.6 degrees.

On Feb. 24, 2005, the United States and Russia signed an Arrangement on Cooperation in Enhancing Control of Man-portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADs),” usable by terrorists to endanger civil aviation. It was agreed at the Bratislava, Slovakia summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Putin.

The Russian president ducked any suggestion of extending this arrangement to man-portable anti-tank missile systems.

The Lebanon War and the abundance of these missiles in Hizballah’s hands dramatically illustrate the destructive power of man-portable anti-tank weapons and the danger they pose to national armies in the hands of terrorists.


The Drive for Peace that Dulled Vigilence


The White House asked the Kremlin if the sale contract with Syria contained a non-transfer clause to a third party and, if so, what guarantees Syria offered for abiding by this clause.

The message from Washington referred Putin to the assurances he gave the US president and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in private conversations that he had made sure of personal guarantees from Syrian president Bashar Assad to refrain from transferring weapons bought from Russia to guerilla fighters in Iraq and Hizballah in Lebanon.

The White House demanded to know what steps Putin was planning to take to have those contractual clauses upheld.

Our sources report that, so far, no reply has reached Washington from the Kremlin.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources suggest cynically that it is more likely that the Russian government and arms industry are patting themselves on the back over the exceptional performance of their product. The fact that their missile is capable of piercing Israel tank armor is a feather in their cap and a prestige booster for their arms exports.

As to the Israeli tank, our military experts point to some of its vulnerabilities.

1. There is no such thing as tank armor which is absolutely impregnable to attack.

2. Some of the tanks may have been from the first series that came off the Israeli production line without the protective devices affixed to the later Mark 3 and Mark 4 series.

3. Up until the shock of the July 12 Hizballah attack, Israel’s policy-makers – and therefore the army – were ruled overwhelmingly by a conviction that Israel faced no major war threat in the next five years, except for the daily grind against Palestinian terrorists. Therefore, they enacted some economies in defense spending, including cutting out the installation of Rafael’s Trophy active protection system for all the IDF’s tanks.

Trophy creates a hemispheric protected zone around a vehicle such as a tank which intercepts and destroys incoming threats. It has three elements: The Threat Detection and Warning subsystem, which consists of several sensors, including flat-panel radar placed at strategic spots around the vehicle to provide full hemispherical coverage.

Once an incoming threat is detected, identified and verified, the Countermeasure Assembly is opened and the countermeasure device positioned so as to intercept the threat. It is then launched automatically into a ballistic trajectory to intercept the incoming threat at a distance.

Trophy is marketed by General Dynamics, which plans to install the system on every new and existing combat vehicle it produces, including Stryker, M-1A2 and FCS. It has completed hundreds of live tests with Israeli Defense Forces and demonstrated its effectiveness in neutralizing anti-tank rockets and guided missiles. The system is in full-scale engineering for inclusion on the Merkava Mark 4 and the light armored vehicle (Stryker).

While Israel saw no need for this protective device until too late, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the US army, seeing the steep strategic price Israel paid for this omission, has decided to purchase the Trophy for its tanks and armored vehicles.

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