After years of losing its prominence on the battlefield, IDF commanders have praised the significance of the battle tank. Infantry brigade commanders have reported that the death toll would have been much higher without the tanks that escorted their troops.
Before the current outbreak of hostilities, there were those who believed that the IDF's armor divisions could be downsized. Because of the budget battle that engulfed the military earlier in the year, the IDF shut down a number of reservist armor brigades.
"There were people who said before the operation: Shut down the tanks, put them on display in museum," said Chief Armor Officer Brig. Gen. Shmuel Olansky on Sunday.
Firsthand accounts by soldiers and commanders in the Gaza Strip emphasize that they would not be able to achieve the objectives of the ground operation without the firepower, protection, and mobility of the tanks.
Rafael's Trophy defense system – which provides active protection to armored vehicles – has proved its mettle in 10 cases, when it intercepted 10 anti-tank missiles fired at Israeli tanks. The system has saved the lives of dozens of soldiers, including four tank battalion commanders.
The active protection system costs close to 2 million shekels; due to the recent battle over the defense budget, the IDF was forced to slow down the implementation of the system on its many tanks.
But after the hard fights in Gaza, the significance of the system has been unquestionably demonstrated, especially given the likelihood that the number of fallen soldiers would have been significantly higher without the armored escort.
It is likely the IDF will face an even greater threat from anti-tank missiles in next outbreak of hostilities in Lebanon. During the Second Lebanon War 47 tanks were hit, 23 soldiers died in the chassis, and 26 were injured.
During Operation Protective Edge three armored corps soldiers were killed – two from sniper fire and one from a mortar fire while he was outside the tank. So far only one tank was hit by an anti-tank missile – it was not equipped with the trophy system.
The majority of the IDF's tanks are not equipped with the Trophy system due to the budget cuts. According to one senior IDF officer, the system should be deployed in a rush much like the Iron Dome missile defense system has been.
"With all due respect to strikes from the air, this battle has taught us that there is no alternative to ground forces reaching tunnels and rocket launchers," said a senior armored corps officer.
"We learned what was clear to all the ground forces – you cannot solve everything from the air. The IDF must maintain its ground forces' strength."