Losses so far sustained by Israeli armored forces in it’s incursion into Lebanon has many military analysts believing that heavy tanks and other armored vehicles are on their way out in modern warfare. In a previous posted article: A Hill Too Far? , it was noted that Israeli ground forces are facing the reality of fighting a very resourceful ‘street savvy’ enemy who are not only fighting on their ‘home pitch’ but in terrain very unsuited for heavy armor that is better adapted for fighting on more level surfaces.
The Hezbollah are already claiming to have taken out no less than three Israeli Merkava tanks, using a variety of anti-tank missiles, including Russian made Matis-M and French-made Milan missiles. Both of these are touted as being among the best anti-tank missiles in use today. This is not the first time that Israeli Merkava tanks have been destroyed by what have often been called “irregular militia fighters”. Palestinian fighters were able to take out at least two of these tanks in Gaza by planting large explosive charges and luring the tanks to roll over them before setting them off. The Merkava, and its Merkava II successor, have been reputed to be among the best designed fighting tanks in the world, as good, if not better, than the American made M1 Abrams Battle Tank.
The rocky, hilly terrain that consists of more than two thirds of Lebanon’s geographical makeup is difficult at best for heavy armor, including large 155 m/m mobile cannon, to move about easily; making them easy prey for militia-men who easily blend into the landscape and are able to fire their missiles and then disappear before being located by attack helicopters flying overhead. Tanks used by American and British Coalition forces in Iraq, while initially successful in their lightening sweep through mostly flat terrain in March/April 2003, have recently suffered substantial losses from “insurgent forces” using similar missiles and roadside explosive charges. These fighting tactics are very similar to those used by Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. Tank and other armor losses are having an increasing effect on the morale of the US led Coalition forces, with car-bomb and other types of attacks occurring almost daily in Iraq; and in ever increasing numbers.
The problems of armor units in modern warfare brings to mind a historical similarity in which heavily armored knights in the 14th century were killed frequently by lone enemy soldiers carrying newly developed matchlock muskets. Though calvary units on horseback continued to be an important part of military forces until the 20th Century, the romantic symbol of the knight, with his complete suit of body armor; and mounted on his likewise armored trusty steed, became a relic assigned to the annuls of history – like Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
The tank had already become a questionable piece of military hardware when mighty German Panzer Battalions, including the fearsome King Tiger II tank, proved too cumbersome to be effective enough in various combat conditions, not unlike those found today in Southern Lebanon. World military ordinance experts are no doubt studying the experiences of tank warfare in both Lebanon and Iraq, in order to determine whether this costly piece of military hardware may be on its way out in the ‘hit and run’ tactics of modern warfare; not unlike the armored knight in days of yore.