Israel’s Merkava Tank Ambushed Using WW2 Tactics; Hamas Releases Destruction Video Of World’s Top MBT

With Merkava tanks belonging to Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) rolling into Gaza, Hamas published a video on November 2 showing how the militant organization is carrying out skillful ambushes of these tanks entering the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military chief of staff announced his force’s advance into Gaza City on November 2, calling it “another significant stage in the war,” as he noted that Israeli soldiers and armored columns were supported by punishing air power and naval backup.

However, military analysts familiar with the region’s geography have long emphasized that to overthrow Hamas, Israel’s military will have to battle through a densely populated urban maze and a vast network of tunnels that Hamas uses to ambush troops. The city is the largest in Gaza and a stronghold of Hamas, which is ruling the Strip.

One of the main concerns that Israeli military strategists undoubtedly have for their invasion of Gaza was vividly illustrated in a video that Hamas posted on social media. 

The 84-second video featuring the ambush appears to have been shot by a camera mounted on the helmet of the person carrying an Israeli Merkava tank. As the video begins, a Hamas fighter is seen hiding somewhere beneath the bushes as he waits for the Israeli tank to come closer. The Merkava is rumbling down a sandy road east of Gaza City’s Al-Zaytoun area. 

As the tank drags close, the Hamas fighter springs into action, plants an IED explosive adjacent to the rear of the tank’s turret on the hull, which is made out of a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), dashes back to the tunnel’s entrance, and fires what Hamas claimed to be an Al-Yassin-105 weapon. This is how insanely Hamas is ambushing Israeli tanks, turning these iconic war machines into dead meat.

There’s a bright flare of flames on the tank after the RPG fires. It’s unknown if the missile or the IED explosive placed on the tank caused the explosion. At about 1 minute and 10 seconds into the video, the Hamas fighter could be seen scrambling back down into the tunnel where his apparent makeshift hideout seems to be. 

The IDF earlier said that Israeli forces had encircled the Hamas stronghold of Gaza City and were engaged in close-quarters combat with Hamas fighters staging hit-and-run attacks from the tunnels. 

Ever since the fighting began with the Hamas attack on October 7, the IDF has repeatedly drawn attention to the tunnel system in Gaza erected by Hamas that allows the latter’s fighters’ unhindered movement. This handicap of the Israeli forces is the rationale cited behind the bombing of critical infrastructure, including hospitals.

As the ambush is completed and the tank is successfully blown by the militants, one of the fighters from Hamas is seen picking up a metal object, which is presumably a piece of the tank. It was not immediately clear whether the tank had been destroyed or severely damaged.

Shortly after the attack, Hamas posted on Telegram that the tank was destroyed. The heavily armored Merkava’s level of damage, if any, following this encounter remained unknown since nothing depicting a wrecked or damaged tank appeared in the Hamas post. 

The video illustrates how vulnerable armored vehicle is when it doesn’t work in tandem with infantry units. The fighter from Hamas managed to approach the tank without any hindrance, thereafter sprinting back towards the tunnel entrance to discharge an RPG blast, which has been attributed to the absence of infantry units rolling alongside the battle tanks.

As the video went viral, it intrigued military watchers who weren’t anticipating what they called “World War II” tactics undertaken by Hamas to thwart a ground invasion.

The mission captured on the video appeared to be executed smoothly since the tank crew was caught totally unaware. Counted among the best Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) in the world, the Merkava was claimed to have been destroyed tactfully within seconds.

The one thing about the video, however, that caught the most attention was the fearlessness with which the Hamas soldier completed the task. While he was ambushing one Merkava that rolled near him, another Merkava tank pointed in his direction. That, somehow, failed to dissuade this agile soldier. 

Among the advancing troops, there have so far been at least 19 casualties owing to the ambushes. However, most noteworthy is the destruction of the Merkava tanks, classified as the best in the world.

Israel’s Merkava Tanks

The first reports of the Hamas attack were accompanied by a video posted to social media showing an Israeli Merkava IV tank burning after being struck by a rocket. A host of tanks were destroyed on October 7 itself, becoming sitting ducks for Hamas, targeting anything they find.

A video that appeared on social media shortly after the first footage of Merkava’s being destroyed went viral and caused a stir as it showed a drone dropping a grenade on Israel’s Merkava tank. It was found that the strike occurred somewhere close to the border between Israel and Gaza. You can read a detailed analysis of what went Merkava on that one deadly day here.

In the past 40 years, only a few countries have proven they are capable of producing their primary combat tanks. Among these tank powers is Israel, credited with developing the Merkava series of tanks.

A modern tank has three characteristics: firepower, mobility, and defense. Israel, on its part, has protection above anything else. Due to Israel’s tiny size, even minor wartime fatalities are felt intensely, and therefore, the focus is on safety to limit human casualties.

Screengrab from Video

Using turret-mounted sensors and explosively manufactured projectiles, the Trophy active-protection system mounted on the tank shoots down enemy tank gun rounds, rockets, and anti-tank guided missiles to defend the Merkava IV. The Trophy has a combat history, having defended multiple Merkava IV tanks against anti-tank weapons from Hamas in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

The Merkava is the only contemporary tank without a loader’s hatch because of the elevated risk of ATGM penetration from any opening in the turret roof. Cook-offs are less common in the case of a tank fire since tank rounds are stored in separate fire-proof canisters.

Some features carried over from the Lavi program were used to make the tank harder to target and detect by heat sensors and radar. These included hull shaping, exterior non-reflective paints that reduced the radar cross-section, and shielding against engine heat plumes mixing with outside air that reduced the infrared signature.

In addition to a newly redesigned turret, explosive reactive armor, and modular passive armor for quicker battle damage repair, the newest tank, the Merkava IV, keeps the design principles of the Merkava I. With eighteen more ammunition than the Merkava I, it is equipped with a massive 120-millimeter main cannon that can fire fifty-eight rounds, including the LAHAT-guided anti-tank missile

The advance tanks, however, are unable to freely carry out a ground invasion of Gaza as the leadership may have envisioned.