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British Action Sparked Israel’s Decision to Build Its Own Tank

– Israel’s decision to design and produce its Merkava battle tank was the result of Britain’s withdrawal of an agreement to supply Israel with modern Chieftain tanks, according to Maj. Gen. (Res.) Israel Tal, initiator of the Israeli tank, described by military experts as a first-rate weapon which pays more than usual attention to the comfort and safety of its crews.

Tal told a Tel Aviv University forum that the British had agreed in 1966 to supply Israel with a number of Chieftain tanks, then still in the development stage, as well as a number of older Centurions. Two Chieftains were sent to Israel secretly for extensive testing under Middle East terrain conditions.

Agreement was reached on the establishment in Israel of a special factory to produce the new model with locally-suggested improvements. But under Arab pressure and terrorist threats to attack British embassies abroad, the British in December 1969 suddenly withdrew their agreement.

Under Tal’s insistence, Israel therefore undertook intensive research on its own to produce an entirely new tank, using local battle experience. Tal said the nine years this research took was a record for such a project, which cost some $65 million– also a relatively small sum. Tal said that if a war were to break out in the Middle East now, some 13,000 tanks would probably be deployed in the arena.

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