How can the survivability of Israeli armor in Gaza improve the effectiveness of military aid to Ukraine?

While losses of front-line armor are considerable in Ukraine, both within the Russian and Ukrainian armies, the Israeli intervention in Gaza recorded only marginal losses in this area, even though the Merkava and Namer of The IDF operate in the most difficult of environments, in urban areas.

The analysis of the reasons for this survivability of Israeli armored vehicles, compared to their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts, can provide clues as to the way in which Western aid can be directed to contain the evolution of the balance of power in this conflict, even to overcome the defensive stalemate observed over the past year and a half.

At the end of the 2000s, there were only a few specialists and soldiers left to continue to believe in the effectiveness of the battle tank. The progress made in anti-tank weapons, and the difficulties for heavy armored vehicles to operate in urban combat, highlighted in Grozny but also in the Palestinian territories and even in Iraq, had apparently convinced people until the staffs of the becoming obsolescence of this weapon, which had been the standard measure of the Cold War.

The return to the front line of tanks and heavy armored vehicles

In fact, in application of the post-Cold War Russian-American agreements, and above all due to the unshakeable faith of those in power in the end of major symmetrical threats, the fleets of tanks and heavy tracked armored vehicles on the front line melted like snow. in the sun from 1995 to 2020. The tank was considered too heavy, too expensive, and unsuitable for the asymmetric conflicts that the armies faced.

Leclerc VAB VBCI Army
Like most European armies, the French Army has seen its fleet of tanks and heavy tracked armored vehicles significantly reduced since 1990, to field, today, only 200 Leclercs as its only tracked armored vehicles.

This misperception has changed dramatically in the last two years. Indeed, front-line tanks and armored vehicles have played, and still play, a central role in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but also, more recently, in the conflict between the Israeli Army and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

If these two conflicts have put the armored force back at the heart of the concerns of military planners, it is enough to observe the commercial and industrial activity on this subject since 2022 to be convinced, these two theaters nevertheless present very different pictures in terms of their combat effectiveness, and above all regarding their vulnerability.

How can we explain these radical divergences, and to what extent can they provide the lessons necessary to improve the effectiveness of Western aid to Ukraine, in the face of the rise of the Russian defense industry?

Ukraine and Gaza, very different theaters for front-line armored vehicles

Combat tanks, like front-line armored vehicles such as infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers or armored combat and reconnaissance vehicles, play a central role in the Russian and Ukrainian armies, as in the Israeli intervention in Gaza. However, if these two theaters have only a few points in common, they also have important differences.

Namer Gaza IDF
Most of the fighting carried out by the IDF in Gaza since the start of the offensive has taken place in urban areas, considered the most difficult for heavy armor and tanks.

Thus, if in Ukraine, intense fighting took place in urban areas, such as Bakmut and Avdiivka, a large number of them took place in open space, along the line of engagement, in very different conditions. almost exclusively urban engagements that Israeli units face in Gaza.

Above all, the very nature of the conflict and the belligerents differ between the two conflicts. Thus, in Palestine, the conflict is asymmetrical in nature, pitting a conventional Israeli army against an adversary composed mainly of light mobile forces, but having only weak heavy assets, no artillery or aviation, but having significant anti-tank assets, RPG rockets, anti-tank missiles and light drones.

The conflict in Ukraine, for its part, pits two adversaries against each other, each fielding the full range of high-intensity combat, including significant means of artillery, drones, lurking munitions and a large number of mines. . Both, like the others, largely contributed to the heavy losses of tanks and heavy armor on both sides.

The survivability of Israeli armor in Gaza is much higher than that of armor in Ukraine

In fact, we cannot strictly compare the losses of armored vehicles during these two conflicts, especially since they are based on conditions of employment of the armed force, which are also different. However, the set of differentiating factors alone are not sufficient to explain the immense contrast observed in documented losses of front-line armor in Ukraine and Gaza.

Leopard 2A6 and M2 Bradley destroyed in May 2023
Armored offensives in open space, whether Russian or, as here, Ukrainian, have rarely been successful, and have always suffered very heavy losses.

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  1. Fascinating article, the debate on the importance of the tank being what it is, this information provides a serious and very timely update on this question. The two current conflicts will probably reshuffle the cards in terms of budgetary choices (from the arrival of drones to the relevance of maintaining a large tonnage fleet (destruction of the Moskva and the impossibility for the Russian fleet to do what it wants in Black Sea) passing precisely through the investment or the continuation of investments in the possession of tank units in numbers in view of the terrible damage caused in Ukraine. A few months ago I was saying to myself that the power of the anti-tank missiles (and therefore the destruction cost ratio) called into question the primacy of the tank but as often and this article illustrates it well, everything goes very quickly and nothing is set in stone. In short the debate which had already arisen on occasion of the Yom Kippur War where the tanks had suffered heavy losses (and this was new at the time) is therefore still as relevant.


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