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.”

Though the world primarily knows of a select-fire Tavor model, the American firearm enthusiast is anxiously grateful for the chance to own a semiauto-only sample of this Israeli freedom fighter. A semiauto Tavor was spotted at the 2002 SHOT Show when IMI and Barrett Firearms almost entered into an agreement to manufacture Tavor variants in the U.S. Since that attempt, IWI has gone the route of creating a new U.S. subsidiary, IWI US Inc., to manufacture the Tavor for America.

The U.S-destined Tavor is very similar to the Tavor Micro rifle but carries a longer, 16½-inch cold-hammer-forged barrel. The extra half inch helps the Tavor achieve NFA regulations regarding overall length with the muzzle device removed. IWI is calling it the Tavor SAR.

Like the IDF-issued Tavor, the barrel can be removed, which opens the door to other configurations in the future. Parts were intentionally designed to interchange with other Tavor models, so the Tavor SAR is virtually the same rifle. It utilizes the same long-stroke, gas-piston-operation, magazine-fed bullpup layout. The gas cylinder is positioned above the barrel and is completely protected by the polymer stock housing.

Disassembled, one familiar with the AR will recognize that the rotating, seven-lug bolt is like that found on the M4.

Unlike the M4, the Tavor offers its user two ejection ports, one on each side. This is an example of the evolutionary thinking applied to this contemporary ambi-friendly carbine. Regardless of which side is your strong side, the Tavor is ready to adapt. All that’s required is a quick disassembly and to reverse the installation of the bolt with the ejector oriented appropriately.

Internally, the bolt-carrier group rides on a single guide rod that’s located below the return-spring assembly. The charging handle can be used to cycle the action and is found at the front left side of the Tavor. On a rifle this small, we should all be thankful that it doesn’t reciprocate when fired. Slots are included on both sides of this rifle, allowing the user to reverse the location of the charging handle to either side as desired.

Like most bullpups, the trigger unit imparts action by way of a transfer bar and other linkage. The trigger pull isn’t comparable to an AR-type trigger system, so Americans might find the experience of actually shooting a Tavor slightly tarnished by the sponge-like pull of its plastic trigger.
Though molded stop tabs suggest that the American Tavor might have a full auto happy place, some users who notice may find this subtly deceiving. The selector simply roles from a safe position to semi.

The Tavor doesn’t utilize a conventional receiver. All the parts are installed within a modular, high-impact-resistant polymer stock. Left-and-right stock halves are “melded” together and feature integral steel inserts for additional strength and reinforcement. Limited access to these internals is obtained through a hinged buttplate, but it should be noted that the TAR-21 was designed to require very little maintenance.

Externally, rounds find their mark by way of a Meprolight M21 holosight, a MARS or an optic like the four-power Trijicon ACOG occasionally seen on IDF carbines. The first Tavor rifles offered no open sights, but these models now carry a folding set on board. The front post stands tall, as the rear aperture is untucked and rolls from right to left into its vertical position. When using the Meprolight, these sights can be co-witnessed with the optic’s reticle. Want to use a different optic? Tavor rifles will be offered in the U.S. with an optional Picatinny rail instead of the integral M21.

The IWI Tavor presents its users with the unusual bullpup layout that places the STANAG-compliant magazine behind the trigger. With the action positioned rearward, the design’s overall compact length is achieved, regardless of the fact that it uses a barrel length comparable to rifles such as the M4. Handling is quite different from non-bullpup rifles in that the balance point is further rearward, and users typically find that shooting, moving, one-handed operation and carrying the Tavor are deceptively comfortable. Basic soldiers given similar training and who are issued bullpups have been found to be quicker in response to multiple target engagements. There are few compromises in offering the modern shooter a rifle that carries optimized mobility and the same external ballistics as another carbine with equal barrel length.

One aspect of the Tavor that seems to intimidate the American shooter is the idea of changing magazines. As demonstrated by troops around the world, if given time to acclimate to the layout, anyone can quickly load and reload the Tavor. It really isn’t difficult to learn.

Attempting to experience the IWI Tavor SAR at the 2013 SHOT Show Media Day was a waste of time. Instead, “Combat Arms” piggybacked the first look, awarded to the publisher of “Shotgun News.” Once detailed photography was complete for that magazine, only two days of time on the range was afforded before this Tavor had to be returned to IWI US. Unrelated, “Combat Arms” recently obtained a case of 1,200 rounds of surplus M855 ball in 5.56 NATO. The case was marked “Israel Military Industries,” so we decided to forego obtaining other loads from ammunition manufacturers for this test. After all, what better way to quickly test-fire a carbine from the Holy Land than by using ammunition developed by the same nation?

The Tavor SAR chewed up and reliably spit out each 62-grain round from that lot of M855. Though the brass was tarnished with age and velocities spread more than 100 feet per second between every five shots, the Tavor SAR performed better than expected for a rifle whose primary optic is attached to the barrel. At 2,900 fps, muzzle velocities were slightly less than the American M855 equivalent load. However, the Tavor produced groups averaging 1½ MOA at 100 yards once a three-power MX3 magnifier (also a Meprolight product) was placed in tandem to the M21 holosight.

Range limitations and time prevented this evaluation from determining accuracy potential beyond 200 yards, but accuracy diminished to five inches from the bench at this distance. Though we used the appropriate magnifying optic in conjunction with the holosight, the limitations of M21 X-reticle and color fringe prohibited the exact determination of fine target detail. The true accuracy at 100 yards and beyond would be better represented with the Picatinny-rail variant, permitting use of a conventional scope. The M21 optic is best kept for CQB operations as it was intended.

With its thick rubber pad and weight, felt recoil is negligible. Control while engaging multiple targets is virtually unequal, as the Tavor SAR seemed to present no muzzle rise. For better-placed shots from a standing or kneeling position, the angle of the unusually shaped triggerguard is convenient for artificial support. Though much of the rifle is composed of polymer material, a pebble texture offers enough grip for tactile control, even in wet conditions. The grip is somewhat slim by the American AR standard, but it is ergonomic and features a little extra storage within.

Despite the fact that the Tavor SAR is heavier than the M16 and M4, perception isn’t reality. Recognizing this first impression is as simple as picking up one, the advantages of a compact rifle are a given. Based on our brief experience with the IWI Tavor SAR, this bullpup fills the role of a compact CQB carbine as well as any, and better than most. Take time to welcome the Tavor to America.

Though the semiauto variant of the Tavor is now arriving to the U.S., many soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force are already turning in the TAR-21 for the short-barrel X95 Micro Tavor.

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