Brigadier General Tsafrir with his daughter Arava.
Brigadier General Ofer Zafrir (עופר צפריר) knows that tank the brigades should again find their place on the battlefield, but I am sure that there is no replacement for tanks in a fleeting and efficient battle. And if army reductions are already being carried out, then not large and very modern armored troops are needed. Interview.
Before leaving the post held, the commander of the armored forces of Tsahal Ofer Tsafrir arrived to bid farewell to the command of the Bnei Or division at the Tsahala proving ground in the Arava valley. He put on his jumpsuit and almost took his place in one of the tanks participating in the company exercises in order to demonstrate his skills in shooting. Suddenly, from one of the tanks, his daughter, a military serviceman, Arava, appeared. "What are you doing here?" he asked in amazement. “Dad, I can’t believe that you’ve parted with armored troops, so I decided to see it with my own eyes,” Arava replied after embracing the warm embrace of a proud father. “This is not an easy moment for me, and I don’t like goodbyes,” she said, “But I’m happy that you’re here. Let's go see what your father has been doing all this time. Ready?”
Clouds of dust enveloped the tank. The roar of the engine indicates that everyone is fastened and that the tank engages in battle with a conditional enemy scattered with barrels. After some time, the tanks return to the collection point. Not all the targets were destroyed for these short exercises and Brigadier General Tsafrir has his own explanation for what we saw through binoculars: "I have problematic hands. In every tank in which I fix, there is a problem with electronics. As if I were making a short circuit with them." His daughter, who was all this time in the chair of the instructor of the tank mounted on the turret, and swallowed a huge amount of dust, jumping off the tank and assured everyone that she had received indescribable pleasure. Tankers do not hurry to believe it. After a while, we meet in an air-conditioned room to discuss Israeli tanks.
We swallow the dust. Tsafrir and his daughter Arava on the tank.
We are not talking at the most pleasant time for a tank corps. The general director of the Ministry of Defense, reserve general Udi Shani (אודי שני), a tanker himself in the past, announced a reduction in the production of Merkava tanks.
"It has already been reduced. A production plan for the Merkava 4 to 2020 has been developed."
In connection with the reduction in the production of tanks, what is the relevance of the tank in the next war for which the Tsakhal is preparing?
"We came to the conclusion that in the Middle East they seize the initiative and win by maneuver and fire. Besides Kosovo (where the air component prevailed, AB), none of the wars were won by fire. Therefore, the General Staff decided that in a future war Maneuver and fire will be the determining factors. Do you want the maneuver to be short, fast, efficient, producing powerful fire and bringing results as quickly as possible? The only one capable of such in the army is a tank corps. The tank corps, not tanks. relevant when a combat group consisting of two tank companies, a mechanized company, an auxiliary company (Keshet mortar, possibility of observation and reconnaissance using UAVs and other secret means, AB) was created. This unit knows how to make a decisive maneuver. "
We need a short, fast and efficient maneuver. Merkava 4.
Journalist Razi Barkai (רזי ברקאי) made a broadcast on army radio about the place of the tank in modern combat. Are you angry then at the very question?
“Yes. I remember. Avigdor Kahalani (אביגדור קהלני) informed me about it. I think that for those who understand what a maneuver is, this question is generally out of place. . It's just impossible. "
How to deal with modern anti-tank weapons Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas?
"There are three things that can delay a maneuver: anti-tank missiles, land mines and shelling along the hinged trajectory of gathering places and crossings. With anti-tank missiles, we are generally very good at coping. We have the ability to detect them, escort and intercept. We have a new projectile that we The Calanite was already used in the Gaza Strip. It was they who destroyed the Egyptian BPM that broke into Israel a year ago. There is an active protection package for the Windbreaker, which was successfully used twice in Gaza. Al is not an appropriate response. "
“So what’s better? A hairy-breasted infantryman covered by a bullet-proof vest going into battle alone? There must be something complex. There are some who say I’ll send an Armored BTR into battle, but he doesn’t have a weapon. He’s not capable of firing at close and long distances. Intention is not capable of destroying a building or getting a projectile into the window of the third floor of a building. I don’t mean only tanks. I never said that only tanks are needed. I’m talking about armored vehicles and infantry. I’m talking about integrated combat. the earliest achievement of the goal. During the second l Van war during the shelling of buildings ATGM killed as much as the infantry and tank crews in the tanks. "
In light of the talk of a reduction in the tank fleet, do you not think that you and your colleagues personally did not manage to convince the tank crew of the need for tanks in the next war? Otherwise, how do you explain the situation in which the tank corps was now?
"In the end, it turned out that an elephant was made of a fly. In the end, the General Staff accepted the proposal I submitted to the commander of the land forces. It is that as a result of the restructuring, there will be three infantrymen for every two tankers. As for the reduction of tanks, day we are the only force in the army, after the Air Force, capable of waging a network war. I mean that when I discover a target, I can transfer it in real time to anyone I want - by helicopter, artillery Seria, infantry or others. I have every soldier with the rank of sergeant and above can get and use the information coming to him. What is the idea? Keep tank brigades that cost us a lot of money, or be less, but better quality and when all the tanks in the network by means of advanced protected technologies? What would all tanks have similar qualities, including night vision systems, commanding sights, the best available systems? From such a tank will be more good. So we will have some great tank brigades. "
Teachings with the participation of Brigadier General Tsafrir.
Ehud Barak (אהוד ברק) spoke more than ten years ago about a small and intelligent army. He was nearly ate alive for it. Now this is basically the same thing, what are you telling me now? Again, a small, smart army?
"A very smart army, of much better quality, more deadly, accurate, fast and able to better use the battalion due to the fact that it is in the network. The units will be able to quickly detect the enemy and destroy it faster and be able to exchange information with all the troops. compare the capabilities of the Merkava 4 tank on a mountain road in Lebanon with the Merkava 1 tank. "
I understand that you were measured with the reduction of tanks.
"I have not measured. I did not initiate this process, but also did not agree that the economic effect of this reduction is very small. Do you know how much a kilometer of the Merkava 4 tank is costing? 4700 shekels ($ 1300). How much does the Calanite shell cost? 30000 shekels ( $ 8500.) I understand that with this money it is not possible to support everyone else. I say, let's stay with less, but with what is needed. What would have been well-trained forces of the reserve and the regular army. The commander of the tank battalion is irreplaceable. all the generals agreed. Today the tank commander the talona receives real-time information from five intelligence agencies simultaneously and is able to instantly react to what is happening. Everything is digital now. It distributes targets and opens fire from all tanks. We have the most relevant set of capabilities necessary for modern warfare. "
Some very high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Defense consider tanks an inhibiting factor in the fighting in the past three decades.
“I’m familiar with similar arguments. I reject them. I had to reject them even before people who did not realize what had changed in Hezbollah. Hezbollah intensified in two areas that were most important for infantry - shooting at a hinged trajectory for small distances, in the style of mortars only much more efficient and land mines. We forgot what it is. During the Cast Lead operation, special problems were delivered to us by land mines and Hezbollah only strengthened in this area. How much more will we carry? After all, this is a serious threat. It threatens the infantry, Inmera and then Therefore, we need to think differently and tanks have an effective answer. "
I can not forget the beginning of the Second Lebanon War when the tank headed for its permanent observant position despite the warning of explosive devices and was blown up. Throughout the day, under heavy fire, searched for the remains of soldiers.
"During the Cast Lead operation, one mortar shell stopped the Golani at 12 hours. Ask the infantry brigade what tanks gave them during the Cast Lead operation. Our contribution was to the most complex urban development. What did they need? Real-time shelter movement to stop the abduction of soldiers and IEDs exploding from all sides with powerful fire. There were mined buildings that only bulldozers and tanks could cope with. Today we are able to send a projectile through the window of the building. so a thousand times stronger in the fight against Hezbollah. We know it, and do not assume. I am sure that the General Staff was not wrong when making decisions. "
Israeli armored vehicles during Operation Cast Lead on the Gaza border, January 2009.
During Operation Cloud Pillar, we saw you with the commanders of battalions and brigades before starting a ground operation. You give instructions, check the level of readiness. Were at the height of combat readiness. Do you have a feeling of missed opportunities in connection with the failed ground part of the operation?
"I will tell you two mutually exclusive things. The infantryman, unlike a pilot and a sailor, is usually in a daze. We don’t know where the enemy is hiding. I can’t tell you, for example, that Hezbollah’s 40 building is located. they see an enemy plane, one or two booms. Fighting uncertainty is our daily bread. We have been brought up on this. On the other hand, we have been trained to fight and want to prove ourselves in battle. Nobody wants to fight only to fight, but we want to show our skills so that once and for all sew a rocket attack problem. Operation Cast Lead proved that where the ground part of the operation was carried out, the rocket attacks decreased or ceased altogether. "
What would happen if tanks were used in operation Cloud Pillar?
“We would have achieved excellent results. It would have been a combined battle. I’m the commander of armored troops, and tank armies. Take for example the 401 Brigade, the best tanks in the world. I’ve been in all the tanks and therefore I declare to you that these are the best tanks in the world but not a tank brigade. My battalions consist not only of tanks. "
A Tsakhala soldier sleeps on a tank on the border with Gaza during Operation Cloud Pillar, November 2012.
Society senses the smell of an approaching war both in the north and in the south. What can you promise us?
"I can promise you that we have reached an excellent level of combat readiness and for the benefit of all, we will try to end the next war in the shortest possible time. At the completion ceremony of the tank commander courses last week I said: Do not think that the next war can happen during your service, and assume that you will definitely have to participate in the next war, that it will be now. Now it's your turn to fight. The situation is not very simple and you should expect it to become even more complicated. Prepare for the war to happen her shift. Other options do not exist. "
Current costs for the maintenance of tanks, as you have already explained, are growing from year to year. Can you already imagine what the future tank of Tsahal will look like?
"The future tank will not be with a nuclear engine. It will be a hybrid. I don’t think it will be a tank, but rather a combat armored vehicle, the most advanced at the time. It will have the best capabilities needed by the battalion. We understand that it’s impossible to hang everything possible for one machine. We don’t want a Merkava 5. It’s impossible for one machine to be able to fight land mines, cannon artillery, precision weapons, fire for kilometers, and also to be fast, highly protected, fuel efficient , could transport infantry and hit targets in tall buildings. We carefully studied what happened to the Americans. Because of all such operational demands placed on the car, they ended up with nothing. We need an armored vehicle to fight in a limited space and some of the solutions They will not be installed on the same machine, but on different machines of the same battalion. Want to fight land mines? There will be one such machine. Against anti-tank weapons? Another machine can handle it. The advantage will be in the synergy of the battalion. "
You served in the tank corps of the Israel Defense Forces 26 for years. There were difficult periods. Choose one moment that you will remember forever.
"The most comprehensive and best moment in my career was during Cast Lead operation, where I was the brigade commander. It was a feeling of entering the war. But the most beautiful moment was when my three tank battalions were the last to remain in Palestinian territory for another 48 hours. I then they were told that we would not repeat the exit from Lebanon. As a result, we went out in the daytime with flags on the tanks. There were flags of the state of Israel and armored troops on each tank. We slowly and defiantly left Gaza. Purposefully. It is this moment that I don’t hen will not forget. "