Following the Hamas terror attacks on October 7, 2023, the Israel Defense Forces have been front and center in world news. With some 360,000 reservists called up from around the globe, the IDF is preparing for what could be its largest military operation in the 21st century. Most viewers can distinguish an AR-style rifle like those carried by the IDF from an AK-style rifle. However, Israeli troops are also issued another rifle that many people may not be able to identify. Let’s dig into the history of Israel’s current standard issue rifles.
Following the formation of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, the IDF was primarily supported by France. However, this shifted to the United States following the Six-Day War in 1967. To that end, the IDF adopted the American M16 and M14 rifles as well as the CAR-15 carbine. These weapons were fielded alongside the older FN FAL.
With American support, the IDF issued more and more AR-style rifles and transitioned to primarily utilizing the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. In 1972, the IDF adopted the indigenous Galil rifle chambered in 5.56 and manufactured by Israeli Military Industries. Paired with the long-stroke piston system of the M1 Garand and AK-47, the Galil offered increased reliability over the FAL or AR in the sandy Israeli environment. However, the Galil weighs 8.7lb compared to the M16A1’s weight of 6.37lb. As a result, the Galil was only issued in limited numbers.
Another issue with the Galil was its proprietary magazine. This prevented IDF soldiers from sharing magazines if one was armed with a Galil and the other was armed with an AR. Taking this into account, Israel’s next indigenous rifle utilized the same STANAG magazine as the AR. Manufactured by Israeli Weapon Industries, an evolution of IMI, the TAR-21 was a radical new design for the IDF. An initialism for Tavor Assault Rifle-21st century, the TAR-21 is a bullpup rifle that places the magazine and chamber behind the trigger. While this makes manipulation more difficult than the AR, it shortens the overall length of the weapon while maintaining a long barrel for ballistic efficiency and accuracy. The Tavor also uses a long-stroke piston like the Galil for improved reliability.
In 2009, the updated Tavor X95 was selected to replace the M4 and M16 variants as the IDF’s standard-issue rifle. The bullpup’s compact size makes it ideal for close-quarters urban fighting as well as getting into and out of armored vehicles. However, the nonstandard layout of the rifle makes it more difficult to learn and use effectively. Moreover, the IDF maintains a large quantity of M4s and M16s that have been converted to carbines. As a result, the IDF continues to field both the Tavor and AR as its standard-issue rifles.