I recently got an email from Clément, asking about the choices Israel has made in small arms for the IDF. Why did they switch from the FAL to the Galil? And then why take M16s to replace the Galil? Isn’t the Galil a more reliable rifle, and what was wrong with the FAL in the first place?
I think the question stems from a common misunderstanding – because the question of what small arms for an army to use depends on a lot more than just the reliability or quality of the gun in question. Factors like cost, political debts/favors/kickbacks, logistics, and more come into play. In fact, the actual quality of the gun is sometimes the least important piece of the whole decision. Take the M14, for example – it was not less expensive, more reliable, or more effective than its competitors, and wound up being the US standard rifle primarily because of political maneuvering. The M16 was supposed to be a temporary thing while the SALVO weapons system was finalized, but it wound up becoming a world standard. The EM2 actually was adopted as England’s new rifle, but the decision was quickly overturned – not because of its technical shortcomings, but to avoid offending the US.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at Israeli choices for small arms:
- Mauser K98k. It may seem odd that the nascent state of Israel was armed largely with Nazi German arms, but those are what were most readily available at the time. Everyone after WWII had huge surpluses of weaponry, although most countries did still have military forces to equip. Germany’s military was nearly wholly dismantled, though, so German weapons were more available than most. As a result, Israeli agents were able to load up on Mausers and 8mm ammo (as well as other things, like MG34s) for pennies on the dollar. The new state didn’t have much money to work with, so cost was a huge priority.
- FAL. Once they were reasonably well established, the IDF naturally wanted to standardize and modernize. Mausers had been their most prevalent small arm, but there were a lot of other surplus guns in the mix as well, which created lots of logistical problems. The year was 1955, the 7.62x51mm cartridge was the newly-adopted NATO standard, and the FAL was the state of the art in small arms technology. It was a natural choice for Israel, and a high quality rifle.
- Galil. After the Six Day War, Israel made the decision to move to the 5.56x45mm cartridge, as many other nations were also doing. Trials were held (which included the M16), and the Galil won out and was adopted. It kept the AK’s reliability and durability, while improving its handling with a right-handed safety and longer sight radius (among other things).
- M16. When the US started offering M16 rifles to Israel at little or no cost, it was a no-brainer decision to accept them. The Galil may have been slightly more reliable in extreme cases, but the difference was slim enough to be meaningless in practical terms. The M16 was also lighter than the Galil, which made it popular with many troops. It wasn’t and particular flaw in the Galil that drove the adoption of M16s, but rather the opportunity to stock up the armories at far lower cost than making a bunch more Galils.
Did I get this right, or am I way off base somewhere? Let me know in the comments – it is surprisingly tough to find books on the details of Israel small arms…