The tanks were sold to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by West Germany (and later by the United States) during the 1960s and 1970s. Several dozen Jordanian M48 tanks, captured intact during the 1967 Six-Day War, were also commissioned, adding to the 150 already in service at that time. During the war, the Israeli tanks served in their original (American) configuration.
Following the 1967 war, several modifications were made to improve the tank to M48A3 level, resulting in the Magach 3. These modifications included replacing the original 90 mm gun with the British 105 mm L7, lowering the command turret's profile, upgrading the communication suite, and replacing the 650hp gasoline engine with a 750 hp diesel one, stronger and less vulnerable to fuel fires.
When the Yom Kippur War broke out, Israel had 540 M48A3 (with 105 mm gun) and M60A1 tanks. During the war, the tanks suffered heavy losses. The location of flammable hydraulic fluid at the front of the turret was discovered to be a severe vulnerability. After the war, Israel had only about 200 M48A3 and M60A1 tanks, after a large number of Israeli tanks were destroyed or terminally hit during the war, mostly in the Sinai front against entrenched Egyptian infantry armed with 9M14 Malyutka anti tank missiles. War losses were replaced with new M48A5 (Magach 5) and M60 (Magach 6) during the 1970s.
Prior to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon (1982 Lebanon War), Magach 6 tanks were fitted with explosive reactive armor (ERA). Further work has been done on the upgraded Magach 6 models, including new armor, Merkava-based tracks, new fire controls, a thermal sleeve for the gun and smoke grenades, eventually resulting in the Magach 7 model, which is still in use with the IDF.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, the Magachs have been gradually replaced by Merkava tanks as Israel's front-line main battle tank. However, a large majority of the IDF's armored corps continued to consist of Magach variants until the 1990s, and the tank was continuously upgraded during this time.
By 2006, all Magachs in regular units had been replaced by Merkavas.
In July 2015, Israel officially unveiled the existence of the Pereh missile carrier. The Pereh is a guided missile carrier disguised as a tank. A Magach is converted into a Pereh tank destroyer by replacing the main battle gun with an anti-tank guided missile launch station. The original turret is enlarged to install a launcher under armor for 12 "Tamuz" Spike NLOS missiles, which can destroy targets out to 25 km (16 mi). Disguised as a standard tank, the Pereh is fitted with a fake cannon barrel to the front, but can be identified easily by the curved antenna mounted at the rear on the roof of the turret, which is erected in firing position; additional features include add-on frontal armor and stowage boxes on the turret sides. Pictures of the Pereh were first released during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014.