August 19, 2020
By Bob Taubert
The Israelis make good stuff. Their lives often depend on it. They are among the most technologically advanced countries in the world. When it comes to weaponry, weapons are quite advanced and combat tested. As an active FBI agent and member of the Special Operations Unit, I spent time with the then commander of Sayeret Maktal (Unit 269) at his retired general’s father’s home in Jerusalem. Giora and I had met while training with Germany’s GSG9 and he had just returned from an operation and still had all his equipment and weapons with him. Giora was also instrumental in freeing hostage children being held at border Kibbutz Misgav AM. Showing Don B. and I his Galil SAR, he advised that he had an appointment with arms and technology representatives to give them feedback on how well or poorly their products functioned under field combat conditions. Routinely, after every punch up he and his men would evaluate weapons and equipment performance; so that the gear could be tweaked to better meet the demands of the unit. This type of military industrial cooperation was essential to maintain Israel’s technical edge over its more numerous neighborhood threats. Among some of the items that benefitted from this relationship were his Steiner binoculars with enhanced ranging capabilities modified by engineers at the now defunct IMI (Israeli Military Industries).
IMI North American Law Enforcement Consultant
After my retirement I was hired by IMI as their North American Law Enforcement consultant and we unsuccessfully tried to introduce the Tavor 21 bullpup rifle to America. During my time at the factory in Tel Aviv, I was able to play with all their adult toys and my respect for their quality, functionality and reliability was greatly reinforced. Among the long guns, handguns and automatic weaponry was their moderately successful Jericho pistol. It was an unabashed copy of the CZ 75 and it lived up to that pistol’s reputation with its good ergonomics and smooth double/single action triggers. CZ and Tangfolio pistols are very desirable side arms among the more serious defensive shooters in Israel with the nod given to the later gun because of price. BUL is another Israeli company that uses the 1911 as its model and has some very interesting and attractive models in its catalog. While in Jordan, I was presented with a brace of BUL M5 polymer framed high capacity 1911s by one of the king’s relatives and they were symbolic of the excellent relations between the two countries.
One afternoon, I attended a company meeting in a vaulted room deep in the bowels of the building’s headquarters. Also present as a consultant was the retired chief of the national police who was a good friend and hero of the Tel Aviv bus hijacking that he single handily stopped after taking an AK round through the shoulder. He had helped IMI in developing the Magal .30 caliber carbines that were designed for urban police and security use. Based on the Galil, the Magal updated the M1 Carbine chassis, but still suffered from the round’s poor terminal ballistics with over penetration potential. Also debuted to me was a prototype hammer-fired, polymer pistol called the Barak (lightning). Probably named after former Prime Minister and successful commando leader Ehud Barak, it is also the name of an ancient Israeli ruler and military leader who defeated the Canaanites with the aid of Deborah. The Barak’s most laudable attribute was its trigger. But that was it. It was an ugly gun and with its designer present I tried to as gently as possible to give them my honest opinion that it would not sell in America. However, much to my surprise they produced the Barak and a handful were imported into our country. Although its profile had been improved it still resembled the handgun I had rejected. Imported by Magnum Research the DA/SA SP 01 had bilateral thumb safeties and was available in three calibers. A slightly used one was recently on sale for under $700.00.
Since that toe dipping into the American handgun market, IMI and its successor Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI), Israel has focused on their excellent long guns for export to the USA. However, in 2018, IWI launched its family of Masada pistols that first appeared at Oriental, European and South American arms expos before debuting here in 2018 when it appeared on IWI’s website. With the input of professional shooters it took several years to develop. Although intended for military applications the creation of the Masada was also motivated to a large degree by IWI customers requesting a contemporary pistol to complement IWI’s current armory.
The pistol is completely manufactured and assembled in Israel. Its ensemble comes in a cardboard box vice the almost universal locking plastic case. Undoubtedly, a decision made to keep the pistol’s price point in good value territory. I remember when S&W handguns arrived in a blue box with the weapon wrapped in oily paper and I never expected more than that for its protection. The Masada is equipped with two 17-round magazines with base pads. Two interchangeable backstraps with the medium sized strap installed, cable security lock, manual and various documents round out the kit. I must comment that the “Proprietary and Confidential” Masada manual is one of the most extensive in the areas of safety, operation and maintenance that I have encountered. However, there is one exception (see Trigger Control Mechanism below). In addition, the pistol’s slide is precut for four different mounting plates that will accommodate the Trijicon RMR, Leopold Delta Point, SIG Sauer Romeo 1 and Vortex Venom optics respectively. Each plate is accompanied by specifically sized Torx screws and a Torx wrench. For a modestly priced firearm these features are very impressive. Interestingly, any one of the optics chosen may meet or exceed the price of the pistol it is mounted on? If a manufacturer could lower the cost of these red dot sights their use would explode, because they solve vison problems for many marksmen. With the arrival of the Masada there are now approximately 15 optic ready pistols available to the consumer. Although the plethoras of striker fired plastic pistols on the market are beginning to resemble each other the Masada has another hidden feature that makes it different than most offerings. Ala SIG Sauer P320 the Masada’s modular and serialized high-grade steel trigger mechanism housing can be removed for better cleaning and maintenance. Strangely however, there are no manual instructions on how to remove this module. The serialized trigger mechanism is the gun and is the only gun part subject to regulation.
When I picked up the pistol, it felt heavy and very solid — solid enough to smash a gremlin in the head should a pistol punch be required. As I greeted the gun, my hand slipped smoothly into battery around its grip. Raising it to eye level its sights with the front blade slightly elevated were otherwise right there superimposed on my wall picture of a certain enemy dictator. Ergonomics were quite friendly, but its medium sized backstrap was too small for me. This was remedied with a tungsten punch and medium sized hammer. But I and my tools met their match, because the backstrap retention pin required several murderous hacks to dislodge. The new (large) strap snapped snugly into the grip’s slot and the reseating of the pin required a lot less muscle than it did to remove it. The larger strap placed my index finger on the face of the trigger exactly where I wanted it. While not a problem with nine millimeter recoil was now spread over a larger grip area.
Its barrel’s muzzle is not crowned, which is often touted an accuracy enhancer and frequently found on more expensive handguns, but its chamber is fully supported and should be able to handle +P+ loads. It is cold hammer forged with 1:10 polygonal rifling. IWI claims the barrel lies lower in the frame for better recoil control. My measurements may not be precise, but barrel axis appears to be situated 0.884 of an inch above its frame, while the Glock 17’s tube is situated approximately 0.59 of an inch above its receiver.
Dorsally, the prominent front and rear sights exhibit the popular three white dots pattern that are not luminous. Zeroed for 25 yards its sight radius is maximized and the rear Novak style sight’s edges are rounded and relieved. The rear aperture does not lend itself to one handed immediate refunctioning by hooking it to one’s belt or similar object. Oddly, instead of the reverse the front blade’s white dot appears to be smaller than the rear’s pair. In combat style of shooting, it is imperative that one’s focus be drawn to the front sight even momentarily to verify the guns alignment. A larger front dot makes that easier to accomplish. As an option, very effective Meprolight night sights are available. Just in front of the rear sight is the polymer Optic Sight Cover that is locked to the slide by two Torx screws and is only available on the ORP model. Fore and aft slide serrations are deeply cut and rakishly angled for a non-slip purchase. Its external extractor is massive and built to last. Its cavernous ejection port guarantees near glitch free jettisoning of spent cases. Its 16.53-pound captive-recoil spring surrounds a plastic guide rod and is relatively easy to compress. At the pistols stern the recoil plate is smooth and adequate for nudging the slide into battery should a failure to lock up occur? The slide is clothed in a black phosphate finish that is over coated with “Black R.” No further information is available on this treatment.
The lower fiberglass reinforced receiver’s two halves are flawlessly joined and since it is not serialized, it and along with its slide can be mailed directly to your residence. It’s under barrel, four slotted Picatinny rail provides a solid base for aftermarket accessories such as lights, lasers or combinations thereof. The trigger guard has a square face that has a slotted surface for those few who shoot with their support hand index finger wrapped around it. The guard is enlarged for gloved hands, but could be a tad larger for padded cold weather gloves? Below the bilateral magazine releases the guard is undercut to permit a higher grip. A port-side take down lever ala SIG Sauer locks the top end to the slide.
Gross Motor Skills or Fine Motor Skills
Its bilateral slide stop / release got me thinking. They are enlarged and easy to trip when executing a slide lock reload. Hitting the slide stop when slamming a loaded magazine home and simultaneously depressing the lever is fast — faster than sling shotting the slide. One method requires fine motor movement and is discouraged by defensive shooters who preach gross motor movements under stress, but the manufacturers appear to be encouraging the opposite action? Maybe I am making too much of this and IWI just wanted to give the shooter the choice, but I would have rather had the engineers increase the size of the bilateral magazine releases if it was a choice between enlarging one of the two controls. The existing mag releases are perfectly adequate, but require a shift in grip to disengage. Larger studs would facilitate access without relinquishing your firing grip. Speed is the economy of movement.
Among internal and external safeties is a loaded chamber indicator, which doubles as an extractor. When loaded the external extractor is pushed outward and can be detected visually or by feel. This indicator is accompanied by trigger and firing pin safeties. A manual thumb safety is available as an option.
The grip itself approximates the grip angle of the Glock 17 and 19 pistols, but like the Glock its curved backstrap causes the Masada to point high for me. Thankfully, no finger grooves are present, so grip height is not dictated by them. The front strap resembles skateboard tape in texture, but the remainder of the grip including the backstrap is relatively smooth. A smooth surface on the rear portion of the grip will permit a hand to slip up into an effective handhold should the draw be botched. Just below the recoil plate is a small window, which reveals the pistols serial number. Good vision or a magnifying glass is needed to read.
Two 17-round magazines with sturdy base pads and very strong magazine springs are provided. They are made by the Italian company MEC-CAR. They are not easy to stuff with ammo, but the heavy springs help to insure reliability. Accurate witness holes permit the shooter to determine the magazine’s status. The magazine well is not flared, but this is of little consequence since the well is quite wide. The grip features a guide that is part of the backstrap. The magazine’s spine should be placed against it and the magazine rocked into the well rather than stabbed into the orifice. The grip features right and left cutouts at its base to rip recalcitrant magazines from the pistol. An outlined cutout exists at the base of the grip insert and butt. Perhaps a lanyard clip could be introduced here to satisfy potential military requirements?
Trigger Control Mechanism
Its SIG Sauer like trigger control mechanism (TCM) is easy to remove, but tricky to reinsert into the frame. Once the slide assembly is removed from the frame the disassembly lever can be extracted by twisting and pulling on it simultaneously. This allows the trigger control mechanism to be lifted up and out of the lower receiver. The TCM is much simpler than the P320’s, but there is one tiny and pesky spring that will fall off the appendage it is attached to just by looking at it. Although the slide is firmly locked to the frame with no detectable play the TCM’s slide rails are quite minimal.
- Remove magazine, orient muzzle in a safe direction and lock slide to rear employing slide stop.
- Inspect chamber visually and tacitly and determine if void of a cartridge.
- Rotate disassembly lever down 90 degrees.
- Pull trigger and ease slide, which is under spring tension off frame.
- Remove recoil spring by pushing forward and lifting up from barrel’s lug.
- Lift up and remove barrel from slide.
- Clean solvent anointed barrel from breech forward in one smooth motion. Do not scrub with bore brush.
- Pay particular attention to slide’s bolt face, firing pin hole and extractor.
- Lubricate moving parts with light application of gun oil. Wipe off excess.
- Assemble in reverse order.
- Perform function check.
- If pistol is employed for self-defense clean after every shooting session. If used for sport modern pistols should tolerate 1,000 rounds between cleanings and remain reliable and accurate.
Trijicon RMR 2
From Trijicon I requested a loan of their new SRO (Specialized Reflex Optic), but was advised that the line of waiting writers rivaled that of one of Trump’s rallies. When I was advised that the SRO was not as rugged as the RMR and primarily meant for competition and recreational shooting I dropped my request. Instead, I mounted a Trijicon RMR 2, which I had on hand to exploit the Masada’s accuracy potential. The provided mounting plate snugly snapped into place on the slides dorsal surface. The sight followed and fit was so tight that the Trijicon had to be lightly tapped into place. Torx head screws were inserted and tightened down with the supplied Torx wrench. The mount is very solid and if you intend to leave the optic on permanently just add the appropriate mix of Loctite to the equation. If you want it firmly attached, but plan on moving it from one gun to another clear nail polish might be a better choice? To acquire the variably sized dot I had to consciously lower or point down the front sight until it was out of the optic’s window. Although the fixed sights are prominent they are not tall enough to be co-witnessed through the glass. So called “suppressor sights” are usually featured when a threaded barrel is incorporated into the gun’s components. For any gunman or competitor co-witnessing the irons should be a given. Some red dots are always on and even though batteries can last up to three years these man-made marvels of technology can fail at the most inopportune time. Murphy said it best: “If it can fail, it will fail.” The irons also help you find the dot when adjusting to it. IWI’s Director of Sales, Jeremy Gresham advised that they wanted to give the shooter a choice between irons or optical sights and do not at this juncture offer raised suppressor sights, so that IWI could keep the Masada’s price point down while providing a high quality firearm.
My shooting partner, former Supervisory Agent Ken Trice attacked the 25-yard targets with the red dot. His first exclamation was, “This pistol has a great trigger,” after he guided five rounds of Black Hills, 115-grain, Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) into a three round 0.35-inch cluster that was followed by two spoiling flyers. Commenting further on Masada’s trigger he said; “Pull is smooth, break is crisp, and reset is short.” And “it feels lighter than its measured weight.” The Masada is nicely balanced and is slightly muzzle heavy, but with 18 rounds on board balance shifts more to its rear. Both Ken and I liked its ergonomics although like a Glock points slightly high for me. If I reference the pistol’s front post through the RMR glass, I have to shoot belly button to get chest hits. The grip’s front strap feels like skate board tape in texture and although it is accompanied by relatively smooth palm swelled panels the combination did not permit the pistol to torque and shift in dry hands under recoil. The grips lateral surface is so fine it resembles a rash rather than more appropriate checkering, but it works. Shooting it offhand while standing, recoil during both slow and rapid fire was very manageable and the Masada re-indexes the target quickly. The pistol virtually times itself. Ken introduced me to a short-range speed and accuracy drill called; “Halfway around the World.” that was adopted from former SF Operator Dan Brokos from Lead Faucet Tactical “Around the World.”
Jeremy advised that holster makers have embraced the Masada and the following major holster craftsmen offer a variety of scabbards suitable for different carry modes. They are: ANR Design, C&G Holsters, Crossbreed, LAG Tactical, Safariland, and Weber Tactical.
The Masada is an accurate, good looking polymer handgun that has a great trigger; go to war reliability and many extras found on more expensive examples. However, while it’s a good shooter it doesn’t perform any better than any of the other hybrid offerings from the major gun manufacturers. Over the decades since the 1950s when Remington introduced their first polymer Model 66 .22 caliber rifle, manufacturers have perfected the marriage of synthetics and steel to produce fine, lightweight, reliable and attractive handguns that must have out of the box good triggers, well made magazines, effective sights and other accessories, so that the consumer, after a recommended break in period can carry the firearm with confidence. Otherwise, the firearm will not survive in this very competitive niche of the market. The Masada is certainly the others equal, but it does beat most of them with price by far. IWI, with more options coming down the road has a winner.
IWI Masada Pistol Specs
- Mfg.: IWI (Israeli Weapons Industry)
- Action: Striker fired. Short recoil
- Caliber: 9x19 mm
- Capacity: 17 + 1
- Magazines: 17 & 10 round; All steel with base pads
- OAW: 25.7 oz. With magazine
- GTWW: 34.5 oz. (with 18 147-grain rounds)
- Overall Length: 7.4"
- Overall Height: 5.6"
- Sights: Fixed. White dots front and rear. Rear can be drifted for windage corrections. Night sights optional.
- Slide: Steel. Black phosphate finish. Optic ready with four different mounting plates provided only on ORP model
- Barrel: 4.1" Polygonal. Cold hammer forged. 1:10: RH Twist
- Frame: Black fiberglass reinforced polymer
- Accessory Rail: Picatinny with four slots
- Trigger: Pivoting, with trigger safety. Wt. = 6 Lbs; Removable Trigger Mechanism Unit
- Safeties: Trigger and firing pin; Manual safety (Special Order)
- Bilateral Controls: Slide stop levers; Magazine releases.
- Interchangeable Back Straps: Small, Medium and large
- Ammunition: No limitations as long as it is “factory approved.”
- Warranty: Original owner. Five years.
- MSRP: $480.00
- Contact: IWI US, (717) 695- 2081, IWI.us
IWI Masada Pistol Accuracy Results