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Tsume Xiao

My Trip To Israel

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I spent the drive back to my apartment writing this up for you guys. I can't post some of the pictures because of security reasons, but what I can I will, even if I have to crop some of them down.

I will be posting some pictures of the country in general, namely Tel Aviv and the Negev desert, and some I took as little "gifts" for some Ordo members. The pictures might not go up with the text right away, but they will go up soon afterward.

If there are any questions you have or specific pictures you'd want to see (for example, the different coins, etc) let me know! I'm quite sure most of you know it doesn't take much effort to get me talking about Israel, firearms, or tanks. :D

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I just returned from my trip to Israel on Friday. While spending all day on airplanes and in airports is not the best way to spend my 22nd birthday, at least I had a great breakfast in the hotel.

GENERAL

The primary language in Israel is Hebrew, but all the signs I saw had English and often Arabic as well. Most people working in the stores spoke at least some English and many spoke it well enough to have clear conversations. The unit of currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS), which at the time I was there converted to about 3.7 NIS to the US Dollar. Some things are more expensive in Israel, packaged food was the one I noticed the most, but it wasn’t too bad. Fresh food is cheaper all around, so it is kind of a balance. The Shekel, like most currencies in the world, does not use notes/bills for lower amounts. There are ½, 1, 2, 5, and 10 Shekel coins, and 20, 50, 100 Shekel notes. The lower unit is called the Argot, and all I found was a 10 Argot coin. Most pricing in stores is done with tax included, and most places keep things nice even so things come out to the nearest half Shekel.

TEL AVIV

Not as modern looking of a city as I was imagining, and there is a lot of basic older construction. One of my hotels was an older building and while nice it showed compared to the other hotel which was a much newer building (and a bit higher level of quality as well). On Saturday the city is quite lively, but many of the stores and businesses are closed. At sundown however, most of the restaurants and many of the basic stores (grocery stores, convenience stores, etc) open right up. The Caramel Market is very cool and very much like what you would think of when you imagine a middle eastern bazaar. Booths open up and you have heaps of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, baked goods, and all sorts of household items. You can literally enter one end hungry and eat a meal on your way through.

Also in the city are lots of stray cats that just roam the area. It is somewhat surprising considering how many dogs there are in the city. It seems most residents own at least one dog, and most are impeccably trained. I watched a dog sit at the entrance to a store while the owner went in and shopped. The dog didn’t move at all, despite all the food places surrounding him. He just sat patiently and waited, looking around periodically until the owner came back out, at which point he followed right along.

Transportation is lots of small compact cars and scooters. The largest car I saw on a somewhat frequent basis was a full sized sedan (Buicks and Mercedes). Otherwise it was all little hatchbacks from lots of manufactures, including some that we don’t have in the states (Peugeot, Citroen, Skoda, Daihatsu, for example) and models from companies that are in the US that aren’t imported. About half the cars seemed to be diesel, but like in the states, it is more expensive than gasoline. Like the rest of Europe however, any type of car fuel is very expensive: about $3USD per liter. I would not want to drive in Tel Aviv, as there seems to be little patience, especially at stoplights. You have about half a second before horns start going off.

The train system is similar to Amtrak in the US, but with more stops within a given city to serve as a dual-purpose system. It costs less than a similar route in the US, and the trains are fairly crowded during the day when I took it. Lots of security to even enter the train station as well (x-ray machines and metal detectors), especially considering that the stations I go to in the US have none.

Food is pretty typical of Israel, the standard Mediterranean fare, But there is plenty of options beyond that, from Italian restaurants (certified kosher even) to Irish pubs. You can get great falafel in small little places all over the place, and even the nicer casual places are not very expensive.

VOLUNTEER STUFF AND THE BASE

During my trip I was assigned to the largest armored base in Israel, which was down in the far south surrounded by the Negev desert. I was issued a IDF uniform for working clothing, and since this was an active combat base as opposed to a supply base, I had to be in uniform at all times. It was quite fun, although the IDF pants have five buttons on the fly compared to the US-Spec BDU I have, where there are only three. The spacing of them got to be irritating when trying to button them quickly. :x

ARMOR

This base was pretty much a dream location for me. Merkava’s everywhere! Every version from Mk.1 to Mk.4, including updated and non-updated Mk.3’s and the latest version of the Mk.4 (which has the Rafael Trophy system). They are a great looking tank in photos, but compared to standing next to one in person, images do them no justice. I got to climb around/on several, and got to go inside a Mk.1 and a Mk.4 (which have a HUGE difference internally). Within a given Mk there are versions numbered with the Hebrew alphabet, each with some minor changes (from small bolt-on armor additions to ROWS to active protection systems). All Merkava’s have a FN MAG mounted coaxially to the left of the main gun (in a small slit on in the turret) and at least 1 FN MAG on a pintle mount. Depending on the version, it is not uncommon to see a Merkava with two FN MAG’s on pintle mounts (Mk.4’s tend to only have one pintle mounted 7.62 because of some of the roof equipment). Many Merkava’s also have a Browning M2 mounted above the main gun in the center of the turret to allow for higher power fire without using the main gun. You can bet this is where BF3 got the idea for their “Coaxial HMG” option on their tanks. Here is a quick little guide to the differences.

Mk.1: Initial design.

Mk.2: Minor Changes to the Mk.1. New transmission, change in mortar location. Some armor upgrades.

Mk.3: Massive upgrade. Interior completely redone to have much more space and a seat for the loader. Loading system modified. 120mm Gun Installed. Slight size increase. Engine Power increased to 1200HP.. New Armor. Mechanical revolving Loader. All sorts of New computerized goodies. Turret changed from hydraulic to electrical motor control. Fancy new Fire Control system.

Mk.4: Modernization and upgrade of the Mk.3. Cameras, Computer monitors, new loading system (10 round drum that can be loaded to provide a more efficient set of actions for the Loader). Engine Power increased to 1500HP. The latest versions of the MK.4 have the latest version is the “Mem”, which has the Rafael Trophy active protection system.

Some of the later model and updated Mk.3’s have the sloping turret side armor which can make them look like Mk.4’s. The tell-tale difference between a Mk.3 and Mk.4 is the front. The Mk.3 has a bulge of thicker armor over part of the engine, where the Mk.4 has no bulge as the armor was all thickened to match.

I also was able to see one lone Namer. This one was on the base for some reason I was never told, but it looked as though there had been an accident with it, as the inside had heavy fire damage. It was not hit by anything, as the outside was fine. Still I was allowed to climb inside it. A little low ceiling wise, but otherwise plenty of room for troops and gear. The Namer is essentially a Merkava Mk.4 chassis with a door modification, a slightly higher hull-line, and no turret. It has full tank-strength armor but sheds a lot of the Merkava’s weight, so it can move faster. This one had its ROWS removed.

Lastly, there was a fleet of M113’s, which they call the “Nagmash”. Like the M16’s, these were from the US and the opinion is that they work, but are not ideal. I was told when talking to one of the mechanics that they didn’t use many at this base, but were rather a repair hub for the heavier maintenance. I watched them do an engine swap on one of them while there. I saw at least four versions, including the standard APC, the mortar carrier, the engineering crane, and a communications version (loaded with special long range equipment).

It was great fun to see the tanks doing various training exercises. They had wide open courses of various terrain, and mock cities. The Merkva simply roars when under full throttle, and when they would fire the cannons the windows would shiver and you could feel the pulse if you were “close” enough. They would fly over the hills, and through the fake city they would fire off their smokescreens, which was impressive in itself.

ARMORY

My first day was spent in the Armory. Being a tank base, most of the weapons inside were machineguns for the tanks themselves (FN MAG’s and Browning M2’s) and all but a small handful of M16/M4’s were cut down to have a barrel of about 10”. All the receivers I saw had “M16A1” on them, but the shortened ones had M4 length handguards. In addition, there were a few lonely weapons that only had one or two copies of: Tavor, Galil, Negev, Browning 1919A4, RPK.

My tasks included cleaning some M16’s, reorganizing and moving some of the MAG’s moving around some of the Browing M2’s, and helping organize some of the parts that needed to be replaced. The MAG’s and M2’s were being inspected, so I helped streamline the process by bringing them to and from the various inspection locations. One of the men in charge of the armory walked me through the process they use to inspect the Browning M2’s on my second time in the Armory. Here is a brief description of some of the weapons:

M16 “Tanker”: Not an official name. These are the M16A1 receivers with the 10” barrels and carbine handguards. All had M4-type multi-position stocks. Certain people were allowed to mount VFG/Flashlight combination on the handguard (after a rail was installed) and some people had what appeared to be Meprolight red dot sights.

M16 “Basic”: A standard M16A1 with the 20z’ barrel. One of them had the original triangular handguards from before the A1 modification. Some M16’s had the M203 launcher setup and some had the multi-position stock.

M4: Your basic M4/M4A1. A few had special M203 mounts (no use of rails) and one I saw was a flat-top model.

FN MAG: Most were the basic version with wood or polymer stocks, but some had just a back plate for use on the pintle mounts of the Merkava and the solenoid system for coaxial use. A bit heavier than what I was expecting, but not much.

Browning M2 HB: No QCB versions anywhere. These had manufacturing marks from all over the place (Various US and then the Belgium one) and like the MAG’s were always partnered with a spare barrel. Every M2 had at least one barrel equipped with a muzzle booster to up the rate of fire by around 100RPM. These were much heavier than I was expecting (I got the weights confused between 40-60 pounds and 40-60 kilograms). Unlike the MAG’s, there was no carry handle on these 80 pound bricks, so the only way to really grab them was from the bottom. Some were slick with grease and grime on the underside, making things messy. Once someone handed one to me rather awkwardly, so I basically had to just bear-hug it.

Galil SAR 5.56: The lone Galil in the Armory. The SAR has black polymer furniture and the shorter barrel. No as heavy as I was expecting, but still solid as a rock. They really don’t use this in the IDF anymore.

Tavor CTAR-21: They called this the Micro, which is different than what IWI has on their website as the Micro (now the X95). This is apparently what is being issued, although the brigades here did not have them yet. This one belonged to one of the commanders, and had the MARS sight that was once standard. One of the tankers said he loved them, but they were a heavier than he would have liked. Didn’t feel much heavier than a standard M4 to me, but I can imaging the shorter barreled version he was used to had enough weight removed to make the difference noticeable. The whole rifle was so solid feeling, although the polymer felt different than what I was expecting (granted, my only experience was with my 1:1 scale licensed airsoft replica. Obviously a different material).

As with the tanks, the Tavor is even more amazing when you can actually handle it.

Negev LMG: Stashed neatly on the top row of a large cart of M2’s, the two Negev’s in the armory even better than I could have imagined. I didn’t even notice them until I was talking to the one of the armorers about it and he said “Yeah we have two right there”. The brigades on base don’t use them, so I wasn’t sure why they were here but I didn’t ask. With the stock and bipod folded, even the full size Negev is quite compact.

Browning M1919A4: I noticed the grip of this among the FN MAG’s in the back, and after looking at it further could easily tell what it was. The armorer I was working with didn’t even know they had it, nor did the soldiers who were there working.

RPK: Next to the Browning 1919A4 was a machine gun without a stock. By a glance at the shape of the receiver and the front sight, it was obviously an RPK. The armorer I was working with had to ask the main guy what it was for when I asked, and it is apparently for enemy weapon familiarization.

The Browning 1919A4 and RPK were the only two I didn’t handle (and the various M16 variants, I only handled one version).

Four funny incidents that happened while I was working with the firearms and tanks.

1. On several occasions, people turned to me and asked “How do you know all this?”. The tank commander who gave us an overview of the Mk.4 was particularly impressed that I knew so much about them.

2. While helping the armorer with the M2’s, and answering the questions he was trying to quiz me on my knowledge of the weapon, he smiled and pointed across the work area to one of the women working and said, “You know, she is single.” He laughed as we both looked at each other and blushed.

3. Again while working with the M2 inspection, a soldier came in with an “Tanker” M16 in need of help. I have never seen a M16 jam this badly. The thing had literally managed to get a casing above the bolt and wedge it between the top of the bolt, bolt carrier, and the inside of the charging handle. The armorer tried to get it out with some tools, but eventually had to take the rifle apart by removing the buffer tube to get it opened.

4. While cleaning an M16, one of the many attractive female soldiers came up to me and offered me her rifle with a cute smile, asking “Would you like to clean my weapon”. Needless to say there were many jokes that could be made about “field stripping” :3

OTHER

My other assignment were nowhere near as exciting. I worked in the communication warehouses cleaning, organizing, and packing equipment, and in one of the tank platoon’s storage area where I helped them get a new shelf up. The troops were always happy to see us and thrilled that we were here to help.

One of the nights we also got a brief lesson in Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art for self-defense. It was just a little intro, but it was great fun.

Most IDF girls are attractive. The rumors are all true.

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Most IDF girls are attractive. The rumors are all true.

I once dated a Jewish girl, and her step mother was Israeli and in the IDF. I can confirm that the rumors are indeed true.

She was also really really nice to me, unlike her father.

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Incredible, I really enjoyed reading that and am looking forward to researching more of the weaponry you mentioned.

I've read a little about Israels recent military history and come away impressed. In the Yom Kippur War(1973) Israel was attacked on 2 fronts by opponents with technologically superior weaponry (the latest and greatest Russian Tanks and SAM's vs. the WW2 upgraded Patton tanks available to Israel via the US.) This war contained 2 of the largest tank battles in the history of tank warfare surpassed only by the Soviet Union/German conflict on the Eastern front in WW2. The result: Israel lost 400 tanks but were able to repair 400 Soviet tanks to replace their losses. The Egyptian and Syrian Tank losses were around 2250 to 2300. Nearly 1:6 ratio of losses.

Some of the major differences were the Israelis depth of practice and preparation with their weapons. Their Air force had targets timed to the second based on their airspeed. The distances were so close and traveled at such high speeds, there wasn't time to aim based on sight -it had to be calculated and timed based on land marks.. (ex. para. release the payloads 8 sec after crossing the Nile while traveling at xx airspeed. Etc.. )

Sounds like they've got those IDF girls strategically planted to attract foreign volunteers to stick around LOL.

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