A Horrific End to Israel's July War in Lebanon, August 11, 2006
A Hellfire Barrage
At the beginning of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict(now known as the "July War"), the main Israeli concern was a report that Hezbollah possessed Russian Kornet antitank missiles. However, it also saw the RPG-29 Vampir with tandem HEAT. It was believed that Hezbollah had received the deadly TBG-29V thermobaric rounds.The suppliers of these weapons were both Syria and Iran.
The Merkava (means, Chariot) IV is the latest version and as with earlier models it armor and survivability have been given very high priority. It appeared in 2004, and has a combat weight of 65 tons. Its turret contains the rest of the crew and the 120mm smoothbore gun (48 rounds carried) and a coax MG, plus an internally mounted 60mm mortar. Additionally, there is a roof-mounted MG that can be fired by the commander from under armor. The Tank Sight System (TST) provides video coverage of the surrounding terrain day and night, through 360dgrees, via four cameras in hardened cases. It is a very sophisticated tank.
It was this tank that Hezbollah prized and long to kill. It was also the first time the tank was in battle.
The Battle of Wadi Saluki was a long time coming. The units of the IDF 401st Brigade had been waiting for weeks for orders as they sat taking incoming Hezbollah attacks. Orders had come in twice to proceed and twice were cancelled. The canyon like Saluki is a "gateway to the Litani river", an essential objective in southern Lebanon assigned to the brigade before the cease-fire went into action. On August 11, just before 1500 hours, orders came in, but at this late stage, made no sense to the brigade staff, "why push to the Litani hours before the UN was set to approve a cease-fire? "
Regardless, by 2000 hrs. the tanks began to move. Crossing the Saluki meant the troops and tanks had to climb a steep hill while exposed to attack from mountains on every side. Understanding the risk to tanks, Division 162 deployed its Nahal Brigade infantry on the high ground outside the villages Ghandouriya and Farun, to provide cover for the armored column advancing below. The distance from one plateau to another across the steep valley is only a half mile. Both towns that the IDF attempted to screen were still in enemy hands and both a good half mile from the edge of the Saluki Valley. Thus, their impact , as would be shown later, was nil. The Hezbollah commanders realised that the IDF would have to cross the steep wadi slopes, where they had deployed their advanced Russian-made AT- 14 Kornet anti-tank missiles en-masse in excellent firing positions. The key area was the white area on the attached maps, which contained many buildings. IDF tanks would attempt to climb along a narrow dirt track just below this area! An estimated 500 to 600 members of their roughly 4,000-strong Hezbollah fighting strength in South Lebanon were divided into tank-killer teams of 5 or 6, each armed with 5-8 anti-tank missiles, with a further supply stored in small fortified well camouflaged bunkers built to withstand Israeli air attacks. Opposing the IDF tank battalion in this battle were abour 100 Hezbollah with anti-tank weapons. It was these Iranian trained tank killer teams that awaited the IDF.
The enemy was armed with the Kornet AT-14 anti-tank guided missile, one of the latest systems to emerge from Russia and was first seen in 1994. The Kornet is a laser beam-riding system. It is a shoot and forget system.
Missile Specifications are:
Diameter: 152mm. Length: 1,200mm. Range: 100m to 5,500m. All the operator
has to do is to lock the laser onto the target and a Kornet will fly down the beam to strike the target. Armor penetration is 1100-1200mm. The RPG 29 has a range of 500m and 750mm penetration.
As the first of 24 tanks (two companies) started moving downhill into the Wadi, when the first two tanks crossed the wadi, the road was blocked by a blown up building. An IED suddenly exploded and destroyed the bridge across the Wadi. As the IDF searched for another crossing, the Hezbullah fighters fired missile after missile from their higher vantage positions at the vulnerable points in the armor. Tank commanders frantically called for air and artillery support, but fearing a hit on friendly forces, the tanks were on their own. None would be provided. Two tanks of the leading company were immediately hit, one of the tank commanders mortally wounded. Scores of Kornet anti-tank missiles with their lethal tandem laser-beam warheads rained on the advanced armor of the Merkava 4. Another six tanks climbed up sheer slopes to the top of the gorge. The battle spiraled into a horror as hundreds of missiles were pouncing on the remaining tanks who had no infantry support. In all, 11 were hit by anti-tank missiles. Of those, Russian missiles penetrated only five or six tanks and only two tanks were totally destroyed. Another seven tanks received serious damage but remained operational.
It was reported that one of the Merkava Mk 4 tanks survived 23 hits from anti-tank guided missiles before it was finally disabled and its armour penetrated. Pretty amazing!