As a rather new country, Israel’s small arms development has been fascinating to watch. During their first years, the Israeli Defense Forces (the country’s military) used an odd mixture of weapons from WWII bolt action rifles to FN FALs. But Israel soon established its domestic small arms production and the IDF became creative with its choices. IDF’s current service rifle of choice is the Israeli Weapon Industries’ Tavor X95.
Israeli service rifle history
IDF had an odd mix of firearms for quite some time. Their armories were filled with various Mausers, M1 Garands, FN FALs, G3s, and AK series rifles. But a weird mix of rifles makes logistics a pain as dealing with ammunition, repair parts, armorers, and training is a nightmare with so many different weapons. So Israel started producing domestically designed rifles.
However, to a degree, the IDF is now facing the same problem it originally faced, as, although its official service rifle is the Tavor X95, the M4A1 carbine is also used – and many Israeli soldiers can be seen using M4A1s in footage emerging from Gaza.
The origins of the Tavor
The Tavor series are bullpup assault rifles. In a bullpup rifle, the magazine and action sit behind the trigger creating a much smaller rifle overall.
Development on the original Tavor, the TAR-21 began in 1995. The rifle was supposedly drawn on a napkin well before anything other than its shape was known.
By November 2001, the Tavor became the official rifle of the IDF. In 2009, the Tavor was replaced by the Tavor X95, which is somewhat of the second generation of the Tavor. The Tavor X95 is largely the same rifle as its precursor but with some improvements – the main differences are a better trigger and ergonomic changes.
Inside the Tavor
The Tavor is a selective-fire assault rifle capable of semi-auto and fully automatic fire. The Tavor utilizes a long-stroke gas-piston system that also utilizes a rotating bolt. That system is very reliable and proven in desert and cold environments; it’s most famously used in weapons like the M1 Garand and AKM series rifles.
The Tavor primarily comes chambered in 5.56x45mm and uses standard STANAG magazines, however, Israeli Weapon Industries also produces .300 Blackout and 5.45 variants. The Tavor is a modular weapon, and it can be easily converted to a 9mm SMG format with a new barrel, bolt, and magazine block – it uses Uzi magazines when converted to 9mm.
Most bullpups present issues for left-handed shooters. Yet, the Tavor was produced to be ambidextrous to a degree: The ejection ports of the rifle and the charging handle can be configured for left- or right-handed shooters; and the safety, selector lever, and magazine release are ambidextrous.
The Tavor is a modern rifle with a long optics rail across its top that allows the mounting of various optics; you can toss on red dots, long-range optics, as well as lights, lasers, and more. It’s easy to accessorize and provides a modular option for modern warfighters. Both the classic Tavor and X95 form an entire family of infantry weapons.
The bullpup benefit
Bullpup rifles are fairly popular with many military forces. The main benefit of a bullpup is that it’s very compact. With a standard rifle, like the M16, you have to trim the barrel to trim the length, but a bullpup rifle, like the Tavor, is compact while retaining a standard-length barrel. The original Tavor features an 18-inch barrel with an overall length of only 28.3 inches.
Compact rifles are easier to use while clearing rooms and working in tight environments, which is one of the reasons the weapon was chosen by the IDF. Further, the Israeli military is very mechanized, and the rifles fit more easily in mechanized vehicles. I was in a mechanized Marine unit, and working with full-sized weapons was an absolute nightmare. I’d have loved a bullpup.
In addition to being compact, these rifles tend to be fairly easy to shoot and carry. Most of their weight is to the rear, which sits against the shoulder making it easy to hold the rifle ready for extended periods of time. Additionally, controlling the weapon and its recoil is very easy due to this layout.
The Tavor today
The Tavor X95 continues to serve the IDF alongside the Tavor TAR-21 and M4A1 rifles. The short nature of the rifle fits the Israeli operating environment and will likely continue to serve the IDF as well as numerous other countries that have since adopted the platform. The Tavor is one of the most successful bullpup rifles and has often been considered the best bullpup.
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