March 16, 2002
The Command Detonated Mine (CDM) is quickly becoming a staple of Asymetrical Warfare. It has been used with deadly effect in both the First and Second Chechen Wars, as well as in Sri Lanka, Lebanon and the fighting in India's Kargil region. Also known as an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), the standard device is often a 152mm HE artillery shell or it's equivalent with a C-4 wad and detonator connected to a cell-phone, pager or radio initiator. Variations on this theme, to include wire-controlled detonation, are as varied as the conflicts in which they can be found.
The Israelis Defense Force has recently suffered two identical attacks in the same area and has shown no perceived ability to respond to this threat. Prior to 14 February 2002, the IDF's Merkava Main Battle Tanks were considered fairly invulnerable assets, since the Palestinians had no real antitank weapons. So Tel Aviv deployed their tanks to deal with the Intifada, safe in the assumption that their tankers were safe, that the tanks would dampen any crisis and that they'd suffer no embarrassing losses.
Wrong assumption. Shortly before 07:00 14 March, Palestinian terrorists triggered a Command Detonated Mine under a $3 million, 60-ton Merkava III MBT that had been escorting a civilian convoy on the Karni - Netzarim road in the central Gaza Strip. The force of the explosion from the 50 kilo (110 pound) radio-controlled mine blew the turret off the tank. The terrorists were hiding in or behind a nearby mosque near the settlement of Netzarim.
Sergeant Rotem Shani (19), Sergeant Matan Biderman (21) and one unnamed soldier were killed, while two more were wounded. Rescue forces had difficulty freeing the crew's bodies from the tank, while an IDF helicopter evacuated the wounded to Beersheba's Soroka Hospital. One of the two wounded was standing outside of the vehicle.
Reuters reported that a coalition of Palestinian militant groups (including the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Salahudin Brigade and the Islamic movement Hamas) took responsibility for the attack. This attack took place one month to the day after Palestinian terrorists blew up a Merkava 3 (considered one of the world's best-protected) on the same road.
The area was closed to traffic as a giant crane was brought to the scene to tow away the remains of the Merkava 3 tank. Some Palestinian witnesses said that IDF troops searched nearby fields for suspects, while other tanks drove several hundred meters into Palestinian territory during the search. Palestinian Authority security officials and witnesses insinuated that the IDF retaliated by sending 15 armored fighting vehicles and three bulldozers headed towards the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp. There they demolished eight houses and a security post, as well as crops and irrigation systems in the area.
Could any armored behemoth withstand a 50kg CDM? Not likely, unless one wanted to invest in some waddling 100 ton monster. The useful responses are more operational in nature, but expensive and time-consuming; extensive engineering reconnaissance, electronic transmission suppressors and varied convoy scheduling. What is perhaps most troubling is that the IDF has had recent experience with CDMs and seems to be ignoring their own "lessons learned" from Lebanon. - Adam Geibel