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The Jazz Singer: IWI Tavor Review

by Eric R. Poole   |  February 24th, 2014   |   5

The Tavor is quickly becoming the primary rifle issued to members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). In a place recently served by the M16, M4 and IMI Galil, the Tavor represents the pinnacle of small-arms development in a coveted land forever threatened by terror and war.

Recognizing a need for a rifle that could support CQB operations capable of transitioning from day to night in a single mission, efforts to engineer the Tavor bullpup began in the early 1990s by Israel Military Industries (IMI). IMI has since been privatized as Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI), which continues to operate in close cooperation with the IDF.

Zalmen Shebs led the design team of what would become the Tavor. Shebs and his team were tasked with creating a rifle more suited for Israel’s urban combat arena than the M16 and M4 rifles of that time. The IMI Tavor development team also included Doron Erez, chief engineer; Amnon Shiloni; and Erez Boyarski. In order to address the challenge of fighting in an urban environment rather than open terrain, the team chose the bullpup configuration for Israel’s new rifle.

Bullpup rifles like the Tavor place the action behind the pistol grip and trigger system. This design shortens overall length without sacrificing barrel length. The carbine maintains muzzle velocities of a longer rifle with its full rifle length. Additionally, this configuration helps to minimize a soldier’s profile and helps one enter and exit vehicles or small confinements with greater ease.

The IDF joined the development team in 1995 and published its mission. By 1997, IMI had a concept rifle and early trials began. The Tavor was to include the best ergonomics from various NATO platforms while incorporating modern composites. First revealed to the public in 1998, the Tavor concept was quickly field tested by various IDF training units between 1999 and 2002. This initial deployment revealed some problems when the Tavor was used in areas with fine sand, so it was temporarily removed from service.

In 2002, an army company in the Givati brigade took the Tavor through its next stage of rugged testing and development. It passed, and in September 2003 the IDF moved forward to procure Tavor rifles for its infantry corps.

Continued improvements over the next 10 years produced a rifle that is now seeing widespread acceptance by the IDF—and many others. Azerbaijan. Brazil. Chad. Columbia. Croatia. Ethiopia. Georgia. Guatemala. India. Macedonia. Nigeria. Peru. Philippines. Poland. Portugal. Rwanda. Thailand. Turkey. Ukraine. Vietnam. These countries share just one thing in common: service of a TAR-21 variant. Tens of thousands of Tavor-based carbines are currently serving worldwide.

Much of the world refers to its Tavor as the TAR-21. The number “21” stands for “21st century,” and when you consider its modern features, you begin to understand why. The Tavor borrows from proven design concepts in a bullpup layout with polymer housing, optical sights as a standard sighting system, modular functionality…and the list goes on.

Within the IDF, the Golani, Givati and Nahal brigades issue the TAR-21 in several variations. The Tavor still serves alongside the M4 at the moment, and some question whether it will ever entirely replace its American-conceived ally. The M4 is reportedly 1⁄3 the price of a Tavor. However, IDF leadership is now answering calls for the X95 Micro Tavor. The Micro Tavor has extended the convertible TAR-21 to other calibers, including a 9mm subgun. The X95 is usually found with a 14-inch barrel. It isn’t exclusive to Israeli special forces as small carbines would be in other countries, and as of December 2012 many IDF units are reportedly transitioning from the larger TAR-21 to the smaller X95.

Regardless of the Tavor’s variations, most IDF soldiers serving today with a Tavor are issued a CTAR model with 15-inch barrel and a Mepro21 holographic sight. Small-unit leaders and officers are often seen carrying a Tavor with a laser-equipped Multi-Purpose Aiming Reflex Sight (MARS). Grenadiers issued a Tavor also carry an M203 40mm grenade launcher.

The first documented use of the Tavor in combat was in the hands of the Givati Brigade during Operation Defensive Shield, August 2006. Two years later, new recruits to the Golani Brigade were issued the TAR-21. Military historians consider the Tavor’s first successful baptism by fire during Operation Cast Lead (2008) in Gaza. The IDF completed a study of the Tavor’s performance during that three-week armed conflict, and the Tavor was highly regarded for its performance by Ground Forces Command. No further modifications to the Tavor were required by IWI because IDF Ground Forces Command “found nothing to improve.”

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