Skip to main content

TAR-21: Israel's Tavor Spreads Its Wings

The Micro Tavor makes an already short rifle into an effective PDW.

When I heard that Israel was going to be fielding a new rifle to replace its M4s and M16s, my first reaction was, "What's wrong with our rifle? Israel buys all of its military equipment from the United States," I thought.

The truth is, Israel buys much of its military equipment from countries other than the United States, including France and Germany. It buys whatever it needs, from wherever it can be gotten, because let's face it: Israel is surrounded by countries that do not wish it well.

In addition to purchasing whatever they can get, the Israelis are not strangers to small arm design. Their Merkava IV tank is perhaps the meanest-looking tank in the world, but they know small arms as well. The Galil assault rifle and the Uzi submachine gun are both very successful Israeli designs, which Americans would be much more familiar with if it weren't for restrictive import laws. The Galil, basically an improved AK47, we fielded in numbers not just with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) but in at least nine other countries including South Africa, where they called it the R4.


As for why they felt they needed to replace our rifle, the M16/M4, there are a number of answers to that. The design itself is more than 40 years old, and while there have been numerous substantive improvements, it does have its weak points. Our military has been searching for a replacement for it for years. The Israelis were looking for a "next generation" assault rifle, and after extensive testing, they  chose the TAR-21, which stands for Tavor Assault Rifle — 21st century.


A Tavor TAR-21 with its folding bipod, mounting a Meprolight Mepro-21 self-illuminated reflex sight. It has a large cocking handle and sling attachment points. Photo courtesy www.zahal.org

The Tavor by its very design looks futuristic. Chambered in 5.56x45mm, it is fed by standard AR-15/M16 STANAG magazines, which Israel has no shortage of. It has a high-impact polymer body with a Picatinny rail on top of which can mount a variety of optics. It is a gas-operated rifle, with a rotating bolt similar to that on the M16, but the similarity ends there. It is a bullpup rifle, and while the origin of the term is unclear, there is nothing hard about spotting a bullpup. As the firing hand is positioned near the center of balance on the Tavor, as with most bullpup rifle designs, it can be operated more effectively with one hand than a rifle with a conventional design. The standard Tavor, with its 18.1-inch barrel, has an overall length of only 28½ inches. This longer barrel length allows it to get the most out of the 5.56 cartridge.

There are many bullpup rifles currently in service around the world, including the French FAMAS, British L85A2 and Austrian AUG. The South Africans have seen the advantages of the bullpup design and recently begun dropping their R4 actions into synthetic bullpup stocks, designating the new rifles the Vektor CR-21. The one negative usually heard about bullpup designs is the trigger, as the longer linkages involved usually increase the trigger-pull weight and decrease its quality. The listed trigger-pull weight for the Tavor is 2½ to 4½ kg (5½ to 9.9 lb.), a long way from match grade.

TAR-21-AccesoriesThe Tavor has ejection ports on both sides of it, so it can be configured for either right- or left-handed shooters. The rifle has an ambidextrous selector switch and burst-fire capability in addition to semi- and full auto. There are several different variations of the Tavor, including the TAR-21 with its 18.1-inch barrel, aimed at multi-role infantry units; the GTAR-21, which has a barrel notched to accept a 40mm grenade launcher; the CTAR and MTAR-21 short-barrel versions designed for special forces (15- and 13-inch barrels respectively); and finally the STAR-21, a designated marksman version with a standard-length barrel and folding underbarrel bipod. Versions of the Micro Tavor, the MTAR, are also available in 9x19mm. Israel Weapons Industries has the contract to produce the rifles.


While the Tavor does come equipped with iron sights, due to the short overall length of the rifle the sights are of limited use at any distance. Tavors are fielded with optical sights of one type or another, most with the ITL MARS sight with integrated laser. The MARS (Multi-purpose Aiming Reflex Sight) is a non-magnified red dot sight that comes with a laser, either in the visible spectrum or infrared, which can be used as a target designator. Many Tavors can also be seen sporting Meprolight Reflex sights or Trijicon ACOGs (standard on the STAR-21).

The standard TAR-21 weighs 7.21 pounds, while the Micro Tavor weighs 6½ pounds. The Tavors have a rate of fire between 750 and 900 rpm and a listed effective range of 550 meters, which is about standard for 5.56mm rifles.

The Tavor was first tested in the field by the IDF in 2001, and like all rifle systems, it had its growing pains. Reportedly, there were some problems with fine sand getting into the Tavor's chamber, but small changes were made to the design and the problem was corrected. The original Tavor was fielded with an adjustable/folding buttstock. The Indian army signed a deal in 2002 for more than 3,000 Tavors, and soon they, and units of the IDF, were experiencing problems with the buttstock and the rifles were declared operationally unsatisfactory. The buttstock was subsequently redesigned. The original Tavors were fielded in green, but current versions have all black polymer stocks. Tavor assault rifles were tested extensively through three years with field units, modified to respond to evolving requirements realized during actual combat engagements in urban combat and special operations.


The Tavor has been the issue rifle of the IDF's Givati Brigade since 2006, the first unit of the IDF to be officially issued the new rifle. The Givati Brigade was formed in 1947 and distinguished itself in the Israeli War of Independence. It is one of the infantry brigades of the IDF, and it functions as the IDF's amphibious force. While it was turned into a reserve brigade in the 1950s, it was reactivated in the 1980s and is very active in operations in the Gaza Strip against militants and terrorists.

In August 2008, the Tavor was issued to the IDF's Golani Brigade, also known as the 1st Brigade. It is one of the most highly decorated infantry units in the IDF. It has participated in all of Israel's major wars and nearly all major military operations, including the Six-Day War and Operation Entebbe. In 2010, the IDF's Nahal and Caracal Brigades are scheduled to be issued the Tavor as well.

Reports from the field on the Tavor's performance have been very favorable. The rifle was found to be more accurate and reliable — as well as more comfortable — than the M4 during extensive field testing. Tavor CTAR-21 rifles saw combat in 2008 — 2009 in the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The soldiers reported that the rifles functioned flawlessly. Reliability in heat and sand and its ergonomics have won the rifle many fans.

Most Tavors do not have a triggerguard per se, but rather a guard that encompasses the whole pistol grip. As such, IDF trainers probably had to modify their handling procedures when switching to the new rifle systems. Photos of soldiers in the field reveal they tend to wrap their whole hand around the pistol grip below the trigger. Some Micro Tavors have traditional triggerguards, but whether this is a new version or just a variation is uncertain.

A Micro TAR-21 with its 13-inch barrel compared to a 16-inch-barreled M4 carbine. Even with its stock collapsed, the M4 is nearly six inches longer than the Tavor. Photo courtesy www.zahal.org

The Tavor is currently in use by at least seven countries outside of Israel, including the aforementioned India. India has issued more than 3,000 of the rifles, some with Under Barrel Grenade Launchers (UBGLs), to their special forces units. The Columbian army issues the TAR-21 to its Agrupación de Fuerzas Especiales Antiterroristas Urbanas (Urban Counter-Terrorism Special Forces Group, AFEUR), which is an elite unit whose primary mission is to perform counterterrorist operations and hostage rescues. The Royal Thai army has purchased at least 30,000 TAR-21s. In Portugal, small numbers of the TAR-21 are in use by field and intervention units of the Policia Judiciara. Guatemala's Policia Nacional Civil uses the TAR-21 for routine tasks and some special operations.

One indicator of just how reliable the Tavor must be is the news from the state (former Soviet Republic) of Georgia. In 2006, the Georgian army entered into a supply agreement for approximately 7,000 TAR-21 rifles (including different variants and grenade launchers). These to the fire control group, to the gas block, to several components to make sure that it can't be readily converted to full auto. So we have to make some major modifications, although externally no one would ever see the difference. It's all internal. The full-auto fire control group would not be able to be inserted into this gun."

For all the work Charles Daly/K.B.I. put into the Tavor, its future is uncertain, as K.B.I. just recently announced that it was going out of business. Charles Daly, however, may remain in existence as a company, so the prospect of an American version of the Tavor TAR-21 in the future is not dead.

While the IDF seems to be very happy with the Tavor, it and its variants are not likely to replace the M16/AR platform anytime soon, as the unit price of an M4 is about one-third the price of a TAR-21. That said, a bullpup of modern design and materials that has been field proven is sure to win more customers.

TAr-21-Specs

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

In this segment of "Guns & Ammo TV," Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr head to the range to wring out the Umarex Air Ruger 10/22.

Cameras Don

Cameras Don't Lie: Subsonic 9mm vs. .300 Blackout

In this segment of "Cameras Don't Lie," a subsonic-ammo showdown, 9mm vs. .300 Blackout fired from AR rifles.

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

The people asked and Trijicon answered. Introducing the RMRcc miniature red-dot sight for compact, concealed-carry pistols. Trijicon's new RMRcc features the durability and reliable controls that have made the RMR so successful, but its reduced dimensions make the “Concealed Carry” model better suited for the popular small-frame pistols designed for discreet carry and personal defense.

Guns & Ammo TV: Cameras Don

Guns & Ammo TV: Cameras Don't Lie: 9mm vs .45 ACP

The age-old question, 9mm vs .45 ACP. For some, this has been asked and answered already. For others, the debate goes on. In this segment of “Cameras Don't Lie,” competitive shooters Patrick Sweeney and Jim Tarr head to the range to put the vaunted loads on record, and then consider the footage.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Trijicon has dominated the Carry Optic landscape on hard-use handguns for years. With the new RMRcc, they plan on dominating the concealed carry market as well.Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight Review – Perfect for Concealed Carry Optics

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight Review – Perfect for Concealed Carry

Jeremy Stafford - October 01, 2020

Trijicon has dominated the Carry Optic landscape on hard-use handguns for years. With the new...

From milled slides to optics-included packages, these pistol options are all red-dot sight ready.14 Red Dot Ready Pistols You Must See Handguns

14 Red Dot Ready Pistols You Must See

James Tarr - December 20, 2018

From milled slides to optics-included packages, these pistol options are all red-dot sight...

Springfield Armory's SAINT Edge Pistol may be the best AR pistol on the market.Springfield Armory SAINT Edge Pistol Review Handguns

Springfield Armory SAINT Edge Pistol Review

James Tarr - April 17, 2019

Springfield Armory's SAINT Edge Pistol may be the best AR pistol on the market.

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a 6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor Rifle

6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand - August 01, 2018

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a "magnumized" 6.5 Creedmoor. It offers...

See More Trending Articles

More Military & Law Enforcement

Leupold & Stevens, Inc. announced its Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44 riflescope has been selected for use with the United States Army's M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System.Leupold Mark 5HD Chosen for Army M110 Rifle Military & Law Enforcement

Leupold Mark 5HD Chosen for Army M110 Rifle

Guns & Ammo Digital Staff - April 19, 2020

Leupold & Stevens, Inc. announced its Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44 riflescope has been selected for use...

WHRO Public Media announced Sergeant Walter Williams Jr., the last remaining Virginia Veteran needing a photo for WHRO Completes 'Wall of Faces' Project Honoring Virginia Vietnam Veterans Military & Law Enforcement

WHRO Completes 'Wall of Faces' Project Honoring Virginia Vietnam Veterans

Guns & Ammo Staff - June 09, 2020

WHRO Public Media announced Sergeant Walter Williams Jr., the last remaining Virginia Veteran...

See More Military & Law Enforcement

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now