Defending the Heights – the IDF in “Oil War”

Today Lee looks at the Israeli forces for Oil War in more detail.

Having resolved the Egyptian issue with the Camp David talks of 1978, Israel was free to focus its security forces on its Northern border, along the Golan Heights and the occupied regions of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Whilst its predominant foes of the time were insurgent/hybrid opponents of the PLO and Hezbollah, the 1982 Lebanon war saw Israeli ground and air forces engaging Syrian forces, seeing the first clashes between Syrian T-72M and Israeli Merkava MBT.

The Israeli force of the 1980s is a very different beast from that we covered previously in Fate of a Nation. A few things carry across, M113 transports and mortar carriers, Jeep mounted TOW missiles, the A-4 Skyhawk and the Magach 6. The VADS and M109 which should have been in FoaN also appear. But for the most part, this is very much a new force.

Israel’s military development was very much focused on the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and this manifested in three systems that we see in Oil War.

  • The Merkava Main Battle Tank – sacrificing mobility for armoured protection, the front mounted engine allowed for a rear hatch to improve crew ingress, casualty evacuation and resupply in static positions, all pre-requisites for refighting the 1973 defence of the Golan Heights.
  • The Pereh missile carrier – A standoff missile launcher disguised as a Magach 5 tank that could provide long-range missile support to help counter Israel’s numerical inferiority.
  • The Galil and Negev infantry weapons – During both wars, Israeli infantry tended to favour captured AK-47 assault rifles over their own FN FAL battle rifles. The Gali was based heavily on the AK-47 (via the Finnish ), but chambered for NATO 5.56mm, giving the infantry a handy, durable, albeit short ranged, automatic assault rifle.

All of this radically changes the composition of our core formations as we will see.

Armour

There are three tank formations on offer; the Merkava Mk.1, the Merkava Mk.2 and the Magach 6A (M60A1 Patton). All tanks have the same Courage, Morale, Counterattack, Skill (all 3+) and Assault 4+, with only the remount value varying. This makes for a tank crew that will do pretty much anything you ask them when it comes to orders, which is always handy. Each formation has a similar structure so let’s look at the Merkava Mk.1 as typical of the type.

A two strong HQ and two to three platoons of armour give us a good foundation for the formation. The Merkava is relatively pricey, even the Mk.1, but a two strong HQ and two max strength three-tank platoons is a feasible starting point for an army whilst still leaving points for plenty of in-formation and force support.

In terms of organic capabilities, we have an infantry platoon (and we’ll get onto the strength of that later), plus some recce. These are handy as anchors to keep the formation in the fight; the infantry through bulk and high morale, the recce by hiding as it works its way up a flank to be a nuisance. This will help mitigate any issues the three strong tank platoons may cause as casualties mount.

Of the recce options, the M113 is the clear winner. Three M113 costs the same as three recce jeeps, despite the former being faster in all but road dash, better cross, armoured and sporting a .50 as well as a pair of 7.62mm MAG! Sure, the 4+ save of the jeep comes in handy when anything more than a 14.5mm heads your way, but being invulnerable to MG fire and hardier versus artillery has probably more utility. Plus the M113 platoon has the option of having four M113 Recce tracks where the Jeeps are only fielded in three’s.

In terms of the armour options, the Magah 6A is very much the low-end option. As noted on the overview, we lack the Blazer Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA – will that rule ever get a use?) and post Yom Kippur RISE upgrades such as the stabilisers, probably because the performance gap between an upgraded M60 and a Merkava is probably too narrow to make a new model worthwhile.

ERA – not an invulnerability shield…

The Magach 6A is by no means a bad tank. Its armour 15 is adequate versus the AT-3 Sagger, T-55 and T-62, is no less lethal versus enemy armour than its newer stablemate at AT 19 and Brutal, and sports the same array of 0.50 and 7.62mm machine guns for soft targets. However its FA15 looks decidedly old hat versus Spandrels and T-72M and while it can match the Merkava when firing from the halt, its lack of a stabilizer and range finder means it quickly drops off when the tanks need to go mobile.

But hey, its half the cost of a Merkava Mk.2!

Talking of the Merkava, let’s look at the “Chariot”, the first indigenous tank for Israel.

Merkava Mk.2 – wikipedia

After the Six Day War, Israel was also starting to have trouble in purchasing the latest generation of military equipment as Europe largely turned its back on it in favour of Arab markets. Co-operation on Chieftain with the UK fell through, as did development with France on the Mirage 5 strike aircraft. This forced Israel to start developing its own equipment but did let it craft such kit to its own needs.

Israel, being a small country, can’t afford to lose tank crews in a conflict. The crew casualties in Yom Kippur proved devastating to a generation and mostly came down to factors such as egress difficulties, crews being injured whilst restocking under fire, and the Israeli tank commanders habit of fighting their tank unbuttoned. This informed the development of its tank to favour crew protection over mobility, much like Chieftain, but also a unique feature of the tank – its front mounted engine.

By mounting the engine at the front, the fighting compartment could contain all four crew members and allow for a rear hull hatch. This hatch allows crews to quickly escape a disabled tank whilst still keeping the bulk of the tank between them and the enemy. It also allowed a tank in static positions to re-stock whilst still under fire; the resupply vehicle backing up to the hatch and passing ammo to it, with less exposure of the crew compared to passing rounds through the loaders hatch. Finally, it allowed a tank to conduct casualty evacuation of one of its peers, the crew of the damaged tank boarding via the rear and find a space amongst the ammo racks.

Combined with heavily sloped armour, the Merkava was one of the heaviest armoured tanks in the region, matching the threat of HEAT and fin rounds through sheer bulk of steel rather than fancy composite armour. It also combined typical Israeli features such as the preponderance of additional MG, including an over barrel .50, and also a turret mounted 60mm mortar to allow for smoke deployment at range without wasting the 105mm.
The tank made its debut in 1982 Lebanon and according to the Israelis, proved capable of defeating Syrian T-72M. However, it did suffer from a number of shot traps and weak spots that RPG teams exploited.

Merkava Mk.1

The Mk.1 feels very much like an under gunned Chieftain. Given Israel was at one time interested in the Chieftain, and had similar design priorities, that shouldn’t be too surprising. What that gives us is well-armoured hull that can stand up well to the AT21 of 125mm fin rounds and Spandrel, as well as an excellent 2+ “remount” thanks to the crew protection methods. As with the Magach, the105mm is adequate versus the threats its facing and has the advantage that the Israeli took anti-infantry work seriously so packs a “Brutal” punch via dedicated anti-infantry HE rounds. It also backs the gun up with stabilisers, a laser range finder, plus a decent FCS that allows the tank to retain its RoF of 2 on the move.

This makes the Merkava a decent all-rounder, having the mobility to go on the offensive, or the range to sit back and shoot. The Mk.1 does have a few downsides to consider; its side armour is relatively low at 6 and it is only bolstered against HEAT by bazooka plates. This is not a tank that wades into an assault versus RPG teams! This matches the historical limitations of the Mk.1 encountered in Lebanon in 1982 and brings us onto…

The Mk.2. This took experience in Lebanon and reprofiled the turret to remove some shot traps, added additional armour, placed the 60mm mortar in the turret to remove the need for a crewman to expose themselves to reload it, and added revised skirts and chain armour to make it less vulnerable to RPG. It also added smaller revisions like extra fuel storage.
In game terms, we get a +1 bolstering of the front and side armour, plus an upgrade of Bazooka skirts to BDD armour (so armour 13 vs HEAT on the side), all for a small increase in point per tank.

I think what model of the Merkava you take is going to come down to your threat environment and perceived role. If you want the Merkava as a gun tank then Front Armour 18 on the Mk.1is perfectly adequate against most threats you face at range; even a Spandrel is stopped more often than not.
The Merkava Mk.2, by comparison, is a bit more suited to wading into the fight thanks to its BDD armour. If RPGs are a concern then it’s BDD armour is a definite plus. Plus front armour 19 is always handy!

Infantry

The last formation is the infantry.

Again, a fairly typical formation lay-out. HQ, two-three infantry platoons, a supporting tank platoon, some mortars and some anti-tank support. Its worth noting there is no recce here or in the force support so if you want a Spearhead capability you’ll need an armour formation. The in-formation support is all useful. Medium mortars provide a cheap artillery option; the AT section’s M150 gives a pair of long-range AT21 shots and the Tank platoon potentially lets you mix tank types in the force if there is a separate tank formation.

The infantry platoon itself is huge now. You get four Galil assault rifles teams putting three shots out to 8” static or moving (but only one pinned), plus able to fire as an M72 LAW for point-AT defence; three FN MAG teams putting out five shots each out to 16” and also able to fire as a LAW team; three RPG7 teams (using Israeli copies!), plus a M47 Dragon ATGW and a 52mm mortar team for HE/Smoke. That’s a lot of firepower. There morale-based stats are all three’s as is their skill, but “only” 4+ in assault. These guys will hold ground but ay need to shoot the enemy off the objective to be on the safe side!

They all get to ride around in the M113 which is slightly changed from other TY M113 by having a pair of FN MAG back up the cupola pintle 0.5”.
I’ve always found the “Zelda” good for fire support of an advancing Israeli infantry platoon so that only gets better from the FoaN version!
Israeli infantry has always been the highlight of the Israeli lists and that really hasn’t change. I suspect most players will run with an infantry formation as the primary formation simply because of their ability to hold or take ground, plus the support available to the formation.

Force Support

Artillery and Anti-Tank

The Israelis have access to two artillery systems in support; up to two batteries of the ubiquitous M109 Howitzer or, in place of one M109 battery, the M106 mortar carrier upgraded with a Soltam 120mm mortar. The latter is a cheap but hard-hitting option that will probably be most players go to. The M109 is the long barrel version so can reach out on all but the largest tables but lacks any special rounds.

Curiously, and continuing omission from FoaN, the Israels don’t have the BM-21 Grad. Israel captured a large number of the systems in its two wars and pressed them into service, building their own rounds for the rocket launcher. As of 2016 they still had 56 in inventory and were building new guided rounds so it is curious that they don’t appear in the list!

Bridging the gap between artillery and anti-tank is the Pereh. As we mentioned in the overview, this is a somewhat unique missile system, mounted on the hull of a Magach 5 (M48) in a turret that outwardly looks like a normal, if somewhat oversized, up-armoured tank turret including a fake gun. This disguise hides a pop up twelve round launcher and sight system which meant that it remained largely unknown from its introduction in the early eighties until finally being revealed in 2011!

See, blends right in

The Pereh is armed with the Tamuz missile (known as SPIKE NLOS in export use). Conventional logic was that the SPIKE NLOS was an exceptionally long-range derivative of the Spike crew served AT missile, itself introduced into service in the late nineties. Needless to say, it was somewhat of a shock when it was finally revealed that Spike NLOS was actually an export version of a missile system designed in the eighties and then turned into a shorter ranged man-portable Milan-like missile!

The Spike NLOS has a range of 25km, switching from fibre optic wire guided after the first 8km, to radio-guided. The seeker, at the time, was an Electro-optic Charge Coupled Device (EO CCD – later, Imaging Infra-Red CCD) allowing the firer to see the target from the missiles point of view. This allowed the missile to be lobbed in the general direction of the target, even if out of sight, then steered onto target mid-flight.

In game terms, this gives the Pereh an exceptional range of 64” and a new rule “NLOS”. NLOS allows the Pereh to fire at targets it doesn’t have a direct line of sight to. The only downside is that the targets always count as concealed, even if directly in sight, reflecting the limitations of early 80’s CCD.

Despite this minor limitation, the Pereh is well placed to target high-value targets with its AT21 FP3+ missiles such as observers, battalion commanders, artillery and air defences.

The system itself is relatively cheap, a full-size platoon costing about the same as a trio of M109, making it a very tempting selection for any Israeli force to complement conventional mortar or gun artillery. It also sits in its own box on the force chart so we can run it with any of the other artillery or AT options.

The final asset is the humble TOW Jeep. I run these in my FoaN Israeli army and they always seem to die horribly as it’s rare I get to keep them at the full extent of their 48” range. Still, a platoon of four is pretty cheap and they provide a handy AT21 missile attack to bolster an Infantry formation’s own AT, or to provide overwatch for a tank formation. Plus its something we can reuse from the ’73 game which is always nice!

“Yay!  More opportunities to die in turn one!”

Air Defence

No longer do we need to rely on an M3 half-track with a pair of 20mm guns! That has been retired in favour of four new systems.

Well, new may be stretching it… but still. We get two gun-based systems (sharing a box on the force chart) and two missile based systems (in separate boxes) making a layered air defence easy to achieve.

The VADS and Shilka are, as we expect from their appearances elsewhere in TY, albeit with the Israeli 3+ Courage/Morale/Remount. The Shilka is marginally cheaper due to its lower armour and RoF but… it’s a Shilka. It looks so awesome! The VADS does have the benefit of being a cheaper plastic kit which isn’t to be dismissed.

Our SAM options consist of 2-4 Redeye teams and 2-4 Chaparral SAM. The Chaparral gives a long range, hard hitting punch whilst the Redeye is cheap, puts out more shots and has the benefit of being infantry based so it’s easy to hide with some survivability advantages (till the artillery rules change in v2 at any rate!). Normally I’d suggest just pairing some Redeye teams with one of the gun based systems but the Syrians having two Hind slots and SU-25 makes a few Chaparral worth considering too!

Air Power

The Israelis have access to both rotary and fixed-wing air support.
They can take up to two platoons of AH-1S Cobra, plus a flight of A-4 Skyhawk allowing for quite a large air attack if so desired.

Everything is better with large snakes on the side

The AH-1 are much like the US equivalent, albeit with 3+ courage/morale and skill to allow them to best utilise their missiles and stick around in the face of casualties.

The A-4 Skyhawk was in the twilight days of its career but still provided the IDF with CAS whilst the new F-16 and F-15 dealt with air superiority and high-value targets. It has cluster bombs (AT7, FP5+) and 30mm cannons (also AT7 and FP5+, but RoF3) for shredding heavy and light armour, plus can be equipped with one-shot Napalm which can be very useful for clearing dug-in infantry off an objective with its “auto” firepower and re-roll of successful infantry saves!

Conclusion

This covers the units available to the IDF in the mid-eighties.  In my next article, we’ll look at taking a 1970’s Magach 6 army and using it as the core of a 1980’s force, as well as some other list ideas.

Category: Arab-Israeli WarFlames of WarIsraelList DiscussionOil WarTeam Yankee

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Article by: Lee

Wargaming since Rogue Trader in 1990; I made the move to Flames in 2006 and have been with it ever since! I play at the Brighton Warlords most weeks.