Israeli Armor Magazin:The "Chieftain" dirty affair


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This was published by the Armored Corps Magazin in Israel on 2001. I edited it and translated it, It was twice as long so I only left the part from General Tal's Memoirs, since the rest was repitetive with lots of technical and other detail. If I will get good responses, I translate more(remember it took me about 2 hours to do)...
The original Editor is still an officer so he was only mantined by intials-S.N
IMPORTANT-When there is a remark like this (EXAMPLE-S105), It means that I aded the remark for people not familiar with the Middle east history.

The Knight That Gave Birth To The Chariot

During a secret operation in 1966, two British made "Chieftain" MBTs, first in the world with 120mm a main gun, were brought to Israel for a 4 years long evaluation for service with the IDF. The plan was for the IDF not only to purchase the British MBTs, but for IMI (Israeli Military Industries) to buy production rights. After the trials were done Israeli improvement and ideas were implemented by the British manufacturer, but British politicians deceive Israel and the program was shut-down. The knowledge earned during the improvements on the "Chieftain", together with earlier experiments in tank improvements, gave the last push for the development and production of the "Merkava"(Chariot-S105) Indigenous MBT.

The "Chieftain" affair, relatively unknown, created a storm in the Israeli Armored Corps in the period close to the Six-Day war (1967-S105). Last August (2001-S105) we assembled the Armored Corps officers that were part of that program to hear about this unique affair from a first hand source. Taking part in the meeting were General (Ret.) Menahem (Mendy) Merom, also former director of the Israeli Defense Ministry, who at the time was head of the department of armored warfare doctrine (At the rank of Colonel), Colonel (Ret.) Aharon Gal at that time Meron's second in command (at the rank of Lt. Colonel), Lt. Colonel Aharon shatz at that time commander of the special trial unit (at the rank of Major), Brigadier-General Haim Barak at the time a tank CO in the trial unit(at the rank of lieutenant) and the editor of this article, then a Captain in the AW Doctrine Department. We were assisted by the memoirs of General Israel (Talic) Tal's, at the time commander of the Armored Corps, the man that will become the soul and engine of the "Merkava" project.

"Our Contribution Was Priceless"
"During the early 60's we(the IDF-S105) purchased used "Centurion" MBTs from the British, it was also the time they started work on the "Chieftain", which was supposed to be the answer to the Soviet T62 MBT", tells General Tal in his memoirs and continues: "We knew the Arabs will get the knew Soviet tank sometime soon. The English offered us a deal: Buy a few "Centurion" tanks from us and when the new "Chieftain" tanks will come off the assembly line, we will sell them to you. This was amazing. For the first time in history we were offered brand new tanks! (The "Chieftain" had excellent armor and a new state of the art rifled 120mm main gun). We jumped at the deal. The Brits were on a tight Defense budget and eager to sale all they could. Britain had a Labor party government. Golda Meir, Igal Allon and others were their friends (The Israeli government at the time was composed mainly from the Israeli Labor party-S105) and the "romance" between the governments flourished.
"I myself traveled to England where it was agreed that we will be a part of development. During that time I was commander of the Armored Corps and we had the "War for Water" (During the early and mid 60's Israel had many skirmishes with the Syrians, who attempted to divert water sources away from lake Kineret-Israel's main water source. These Skirmishes were known as the "War for Water"-S105) and other engagements. We had many lessons on tank warfare at the time (Israeli tanks took out Syrian tractors and Armor-employed on the water diversion-at ranges of up to 5000 meters or 15000 feet-S105), and the Brits wanted us to help incorporate these lessons into the new tank. 2 "Chieftain" tanks were shipped to Israel and I set up a secret unit for them in Nahal-Tzin, near Sde-Boker (In southern Negev desert-S105). 2 British Engineers were attached to the unit and a few of my men were attached to the British development unit in England. I was co-manager of the development unit in England aside the British CO. I traveled there every month, sometimes every week. Every time I came they would raise the Israeli flag. Our experience in tank warfare was valuable, since the British were not involved in major armored warfare since WWII.
The British wanted our money bad, since the cash we used for the "Centurions was used directly in the "Chieftain" development. But they also knew our contribution was priceless. We taught them many things. For example: During the "War for Water" we realized that many tanks have a major disadvantage- when you fire at high degrees of elevation, the gun dose not comeback from its recoil, since the weight of the gun combined with gravity is too much for the recoil system. This was fixed in the "Chieftain".

The British Government Deceives Israel
"Slowly the secret of the "Chieftain" leaked to the Arabs who threatened the English" General Tal continues in his Memoirs. "Mobs attacked the British embassy in Cairo and other Arab cities. The British embassy in Tripoli was set on fire. The British promised to provide the Libyans with "Chieftain" tanks of their own, but this did not satisfy the Arabs, who threatened to take their foreign currency accounts out of British banks. As I said before, the deal was started before the "Six Days War" and we still had the tanks during that war. The Iranians were thinking about what tanks to purchase at that time, and I not only recommended (At the time the Sha was in power in Iran, and Israeli-Iranian relations were excellent-S105) the "Chieftain" to the, I also set up the characteristics for an Iranian version. After all, each country wants tanks that fit its needs. I went to Shiraz, the Iranian Armored Corps School. As a token of appreciation the Brits held a big reception for me when I came to Britain. All the ranking officers in the British Ministry of Defense were there thanking me for hooking the Iranians on the tank. They even gave the privilege to recommend two of the British developers for titles of nobility. I chose two good Majors from the development team. I my self couldn't be nominated, since I was Israeli… However the Arab pressure increased. Had the Arabs withdrawn their foreign currency from London banks the British economy would have suffered a great deal. The Brits decided among them selves not to sell us the tanks, but kept reassuring Igal Alon and Golda Meir, and dough they bestowed all those honors on me, they lied to me as well. We continued development and improvements.
Only later did I find out that they had deceived us. Late in 70' the diaries of Richard Crossman, then a British cabinet member were published. In the diaries he wrote that was called for a non-scheduled cabinet meeting. He thought that a war or crisis is emerged but the meeting was about the Israeli tanks, he was told the subject was urgent because the Israeli General is coming in two days and they need to decide if they should tell him the truth about the "Chieftain", or not.". I have studied international relations and read many books about this subject", wrote General Tal, "And never have I heard about a Government of a western, modern, country sitting down and deliberating if they should lie or not. It is unbelievable. Why was it important for them to lie? Because we were buying "Centurions" for cash. If they told us the truth we would have stopped buying and their money well would run dry. That’s why they decided to keep lying. Crossman describes the meeting. There was no argument that that the tanks could not be sold to Israel. And it was true; they simply could not sell those tanks to us. I have no complains about that. The argument was about lying or not lying. Only 1 or 2 of them asked that the deception towards Israel would cease, the rest supported it. So for example, one lady- a cabinet member- asked what will happen if the Jews go to the Americans for tanks. This was complete ignorance since the Americans refused to sell us any tanks. But the Foreign minister answered: don’t worry about that. I made the Americans promise they won't sell the Jews any tanks. So as you see, they secured their flank by making sure we could not buy from the USA either."
"Eventually they asked for the prototypes back and said they cannot complete the deal. We weren’t mad at the time, but when we learned they lied we were furious. But we found out to late. In the mean while the Arabs were already getting the T62s from the Soviets and we realized that we have no way of getting brand new tanks. It was then that we decided to with the "Merkava", the year was 1969.

This is a good story to use in the argument about Indigenous tank production in Israel and elswhere....