|The War of Independence was, in effect, an infantry war. Operations of both Israel and the enemy were waged by infantry formations. The few tanks deployed played no decisive role. Israel at that time had 15 tanks, and the Arabs had 45. Mobile and armored forces in the War of Independence were mainly equipped with half-tracks, armored personnel carriers, and armored vehicles with light guns. Israeli forces had 280 half-tracks and 20 armored vehicles with guns. Arab forces had 620 armored vehicles and armored personnel carriers, of which 180 carried guns.
The Sinai Campaign of 1956 was characterized by mobile, armored warfare. Israel deployed 200 tanks in Sinai, versus 150 tanks deployed by the Egyptians.
Since the Sinai Campaign, the land war between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations has become a war of highly mobile and armored formations. A total of 2,500 tanks were deployed during the Six-Day War by Israel and the enemies. 6,200 tanks engaged in combat during the Yom-Kippur war. Since the Sinai Campaign, thousands of tanks have been destroyed in battle.
Today, the tank is central to the art of war, and is considered the primary decisive factor on the modern land battlefield.
Prior to the Sinai Campaign Egypt received, within the framework of the "Czechoslovakian Arms Deal", 300 Soviet tanks and tank destroyers, including the Stalin-3 and T-34 tanks and SU-100 tank destroyers. This was considered an impressive addition to the Egyptian armored fleet, which at that time numbered some 430 western armored vehicles, of various types.
Within the scope of the Middle-East arms race, Israeli weaponry was always inferior in both qualitative and quantitative aspects. We acquired Sherman tanks and AMX-13 tanks (not really tanks but rather light tank destroyers), while the Arabs obtained, with no problems, new and modern tanks from both east and west. We were forced to be satisfied with "junk": old and inoperable tanks, second world war vintage Shermans, British Centurions and American M48's (Magach).
Not a single country agreed to sell new tanks to us. It is still not clear why some countries did allow us to occasionally buy new and modern means of battle, such as jet fighter planes, but persisted in their refusal to sell us new tanks.
Given the need, we were forced to learn the technologies of armor, in order to rehabilitate the obsolete metal hulks, which we had purchased through programs of rebuilding, regunning and engine replacements.
The race between ourselves and the Arabs now became a direct confrontation between new Western and Soviet MBT's fielded by the Arab armies and old, rebuilt and improvised tanks fielded by Israel.
In the 1960's the Arabs were about to obtain T-62 tanks from Soviet Russia. This was the most modern operational Main Battle Tank (MBT) of its time, equipped with a high-powered 115-mm cannon. It. was clear that no improvisations or rejuvenation to tanks of the 1940s and 1950s would suffice to ensure the continued security, and indeed the existence, of the State of Israel.
At that time, in 1966, Britain came forward with a dramatically historic proposal. The British needed money in order to complete the development of their new tank of the future, the Chieftain, with its 120-mm cannon. This tank was designed to be the strongest and most modern in the west. In view of their financial constraints they proposed a "package deal". According to this deal, we would buy hundreds of obsolete Centurion tanks. They, in exchange, would allow us to participate in the final stages of Chieftain development, would sell us Chieftains, and would help us build, in Israel, an assembly line for Chieftains. This was seen as an ideal solution to the unacceptable predictions regarding the middle-eastern armor balance from both quantitative and qualitative points of view.
Our cooperation with the British lasted for about three years. Two prototypes of the Chieftain tank were delivered to Israel. Israel invested heavily in the improvement and final development of the Chieftain in close cooperation with British officers and engineers, who worked with us in Israel.
However, Arab states intervened. They threatened Britain with sanctions, with pulling their monetary reserves out of British banks, and other actions. Demonstrations were held in Arab capitals and British embassies were attacked. In November 1969 Britain withdrew from its Chieftain deal with Israel.
The development, design and planning efforts of three years were wasted - and we were back at square one, with time lost which could not be retrieved.
In view of this development, we considered the possibility of developing and manufacturing "made-in-Israel" tanks.
It was clear that a weapon system of primary importance was at stake, vital to our security, but which had been refused, to Israel by all nations. No change in this attitude was foreseen.
The question, which arose therefore, was not whether we should engage in development and manufacture of a homemade tank, but whether we would be capable of achieved the high levels of industrial and technological expertise required to succeed in such a project. To this was added the question of whether we would be capable of doing so at a reasonable price and without disrupting the Israeli economy.
In order to answer these questions, it was decided to conduct a study, presided by Major General Israel Tal. The study was conducted by experts of the Ministry of Defense and of the Ordnance Corps, and was designed to answer two essential questions:
1. Would Israel be capable of planning, designing and manufacturing a Main Battle Tank from the point of view of technological know-how and industrial infrastructure?
2. Is there any economic sense in such a project - does it ensure economic viability in the broad sense, to the economy of Israel?