1948 Arab–Israeli War
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War or the First Arab–Israeli War was fought between the State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states and Palestinian Arab forces. This war was the second stage of the 1948 Palestine war, known in Arabic as al-Nakba (Arabic: النكبة, "The Catastrophe") and in Hebrew as the Milkhemet Ha'atzma'ut (Hebrew: מלחמת העצמאות, "War of Independence") or Milkhemet Hashikhrur (Hebrew: מלחמת השחרור "War of Liberation").
The war was preceded by a period of civil war in the territory of the Mandatory Palestine between Jewish Yishuv forces and Palestinian Arab forces in response to the UN Partition Plan. An alliance of Arab states intervened on the Palestinian side, turning the civil war into a war between sovereign states. The fighting took place mostly on the former territory of the British Mandate and for a short time also in the Sinai Peninsula and southern Lebanon.
As a result of the war, the State of Israel kept nearly all the area that had been recommended by the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 and took control of almost 60% of the area allocated to the proposed Arab state, including the Jaffa, Lydda and Ramle area, Galilee, some parts of the Negev, a wide strip along the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem road, West Jerusalem, and some territories in the West Bank. Transjordan took control of the remainder of the West Bank and East-Jerusalem, and the Egyptian military took control of the Gaza Strip. No Arab Palestinian state was created. Armistice agreements were signed between all belligerents except Iraqis and Palestinians.
Important demographic changes occurred in the country. Between 600,000 and 760,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from the area that became Israel and they became Palestinian refugees. The war and the creation of Israel also triggered the Jewish exodus from Arab lands. In the three years following the war, about 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, residing mainly along the borders of the State.
UN Partition Plan
Following World War II, on 14 May 1948, the British Mandate of Palestine came to an end. The surrounding Arab nations were also emerging from mandatory rule. Transjordan, under the Hashemite ruler Abdullah I, gained independence from Britain in 1946 and was called Jordan in 1949, but it remained under heavy British influence. Egypt, gained nominal independence in 1922, but Britain continued to exert a strong influence on the country until Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 which limited Britain presence to a garrison of troops on the Suez Canal until 1945. Lebanon became an independent state in 1943, but French troops would not withdraw until 1946, the same year that Syria won its independence from France.
In 1945, at British prompting, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan, and Yemen formed the Arab League to coordinate policy between the Arab states. Iraq and Transjordan coordinated policies closely, signing a mutual defence treaty, while Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia feared that Transjordan would annex part or all of Palestine, and use it as a steppingstone to attack or undermine Syria, Lebanon, and the Hijaz.
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of a plan to partition Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, and the City of Jerusalem. Each state would comprise three major sections, linked by extraterritorial crossroads; the Arab state would also have an enclave at Jaffa. The Jews would get 56% of the land, of which most was in the Negev Desert; their area would contain 498,000 Jews and 407,000 Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs would get 43% of the land, which had a population of 725,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews. In consideration of its religious significance, the Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, with 100,000 Jews and an equal number of Palestinian Arabs, was to become a Corpus separatum, to be administered by the UN. The Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan, without reservation, as "the indispensable minimum," glad to gain international recognition but sorry that they did not receive more.
Arguing that the partition plan was unfair to the Arabs with regard to the population balance at that time, the representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League firmly opposed the UN action and rejected its authority to involve itself in the entire matter. They upheld "that the rule of Palestine should revert to its inhabitants, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations."
1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine
The 1947–1948 civil war in Mandatory Palestine started on 30 November 1947, one day after the UN General Assembly vote on the UN Partition Plan. It finished on 14 May 1948 when the Jewish People's Council approved a proclamation which declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.
During this period, the Arab and Jewish communities of Palestine clashed, while the British, who had the obligation to maintain order, organised their own withdrawal and intervened only on an occasional basis.
From January onwards, operations became increasingly militarized. A number of Arab Liberation Army regiments intervened inside Palestine, each active in a variety of distinct sectors around the different coastal towns. They consolidated their presence in Galilee and Samaria. On 16 February 1948, UN Palestine Commission to the security council reported that: "Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein."
Arab Palestinians left, fled or were expelled in large numbers, especially after Jewish forces took the major seaport of Haifa in April 1948.
Initially, the aim was "simple and modest": to survive the assaults of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states. "The Zionist leaders deeply, genuinely, feared a Middle Eastern reenactment of the Holocaust, which had just ended; the Arabs' public rhetoric reinforced these fears". As the war progressed, the aim of expanding the Jewish state beyond the UN partition borders appeared: first to incorporate clusters of isolated Jewish settlements and later to add more territories to the state and give it defensible borders. A third and further aim that emerged among the political and military leaders after four or five months was to "reduce the size of Israel's prospective large and hostile Arab minority, seen as a potential powerful fifth column, by belligerency and expulsion".
Plan Dalet, or Plan D, (Hebrew: תוכנית ד', Tokhnit dalet) was a plan worked out by the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary group and the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces, in autumn 1947 to spring 1948, which was sent to Haganah units in early March 1948. According to the academic Ilan Pappe, its purpose was to conquer as much of Palestine and to expel as many Palestinians as possible, though according to Benny Morris there was no such intent. In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Pappé asserts that Plan Dalet was a "blueprint for ethnic cleansing" with the aim of reducing both rural and urban areas of Palestine. The intent of Plan Dalet is subject to much controversy, with historians on the one extreme asserting that it was entirely defensive, and historians on the other extreme asserting that the plan aimed at maximum conquest and expulsion of the Palestinians.
The Arab League as a whole
The Arab League, since its foundation in 1945, was the highest forum for the making of pan-Arab policy on Palestine. However, its members were divided by political differences, between 'Transjordan and Iraq' and 'Egypt and Saudi Arabia'. The Arab League had unanimously rejected the UN partition plan and were bitterly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state.
The Arab League before partition affirmed the right to the independence of Palestine, while blocking the creation of a Palestinian government.[clarification needed] Towards the end of 1947, the League established a military committee commanded by the retired Iraqi general Isma'il Safwat whose mission was to analyse the chance of victory of the Palestinians against the Jews. His conclusions were that they had no chance of victory and that an intervention of the Arab regular armies was mandatory. The political committee nevertheless rejected these conclusions and decided to support an armed opposition to the Partition Plan excluding the participation of their regular armed forces.
In the introduction to the cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General on 15 May 1948, the Arab League gave reasons for its intervention, On the occasion of the intervention of Arab States in Palestine to restore law and order and to prevent disturbances prevailing in Palestine from spreading into their territories and to check further bloodshed,. Clause 10.(a) of the Cablegram provided:-
- 10. Now that the Mandate over Palestine has come to an end, leaving no legally constituted authority behind in order to administer law and order in the country and afford the necessary and adequate protection to life and property, the Arab States declare as follows:
- (a) The right to set up a Government in Palestine pertains to its inhabitants under the principles of self-determination recognized by the Covenant of the League of Nations as well as the United Nations Charter;
The Cablegram goes on to note in sub-clause (b) Peace and order have been completely upset in Palestine, and, in consequence of Jewish aggression, approximately over a quarter of a million of the Arab population have been compelled to leave their homes and emigrate to neighbouring Arab countries. It further notes in sub-clause (c) The Mandatory has already announced that on the termination of the Mandate it will no longer be responsible for the maintenance of law and order in Palestine except in the camps and areas actually occupied by its forces, and only to the extent necessary for the security of those forces and their withdrawal.
The Cablegram also noted other clauses
- 5. Great Britain however placed Palestine in such a position as made it possible for the Jews to flood the country with waves of immigrants
- 7. The Governments of Arab states recognize the independence of Palestine, which has so far been suppressed by the British Mandate.
- 7. ..the only solution of the Palestine problem is the establishment of a unitary Palestinian
- 10. (b) The prevailing events in Palestine exposed the concealed aggressive intentions of the Zionists
- 10. (e) ..the Arab Governments find themselves compelled to intervene for the sole purpose of restoring peace and security and establishing law and order in Palestine.
Some unofficial statements before the war had been more aggressive. Arab League Secretary Azzam Pasha, according to an interview in an 11 October 1947 article of Akhbar al-Yom, said: "I personally wish that the Jews do not drive us to this war, as this will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades".
According to Yoav Gelber, the Arab countries were "drawn into the war by the collapse of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab Liberation Army [and] the Arab governments' primary goal was preventing the Palestinian Arabs' total ruin and the flooding of their own countries by more refugees. According to their own perception, had the invasion not taken place, there was no Arab force in Palestine capable of checking the Haganah's offensive". Anyway, the Yishuv perceived the peril of an Arab invasion as threatening its very existence. Having no real knowledge of the Arabs' true military capabilities, the Jews took Arab propaganda literally, preparing for the worst and reacting accordingly."
King Abdullah I of Jordan
In 1946–47, Abdullah said that he had no intention to "resist or impede the partition of Palestine and creation of a Jewish state." Hostile towards Palestinian nationalism, Abdullah wished to annex as much of Palestine as possible. Ideally, Abdullah would have liked to annex all of Palestine, but he was prepared to compromise. He supported the partition, intending that the West Bank area of the British Mandate allocated for the Arab state be annexed to Jordan.
Abdullah had secret meetings with the Jewish Agency (at which the future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was among the delegates) that reached an agreement of Jewish non-interference with Jordanian annexation of the West Bank (although Abdullah failed in his goal of acquiring an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea through the Negev desert) and of Jordanian agreement not to attack the area of the Jewish state contained in the United Nations partition resolution (in which Jerusalem was given neither to the Arab nor the Jewish state, but was to be an internationally administered area). In one stunning diplomatic coup, the strongest Arab army agreed not to attack the Jewish state.
However, by 1948, the neighbouring Arab states pressured Abdullah into joining them in an "all-Arab military intervention" against the newly created State of Israel, that he used to restore his prestige in the Arab world, which had grown suspicious of his relatively good relationship with Western and Jewish leaders.
Abdullah's role in this war became substantial. He saw himself as the "supreme commander of the Arab forces" and "persuaded the Arab League to appoint him" to this position. Through his leadership, the Arabs fought the 1948 war to meet Abdullah's political goals.
The other Arab states
King Farouk of Egypt was anxious to prevent Abdullah from being seen as the main champion of the Arab world in Palestine, which he feared might damage his own leadership aspirations of the Arab world. In addition, Farouk wished to annex all of southern Palestine to Egypt. Nuri as-Said, the strongman of Iraq, had ambitions for bringing the entire Fertile Crescent under Iraqi leadership. Both Syria and Lebanon wished to take certain areas of northern Palestine.
One result of the ambitions of the various Arab leaders was a distrust of all the Palestinian leaders who wished to set up a Palestinian state, and a mutual distrust of each other. Co-operation was to be very poor during the war between the various Palestinian factions and the Arab armies.
Arab Higher Committee of Amin al-Husayni
At the beginning of 1948, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee, Amin al-Husayni was in exile in Egypt. He was involved in high level negotiations between Arab leaders at a meeting held in Damascus in February 1948 to organize Palestinian Field Commands. Total distrust existed between him and the British as well as with the Arab League. He thought they had territorial ambitions in Palestine, while they took pains not to alienate the Hashemite kingdom. As a result, the Higher Committee had at its disposal some £750,000 as opposed to the $28 million dollars for the purchase of foreign armaments at the disposal of the Jewish Agency. The commanders of his Holy War Army, Hasan Salama and Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, were allocated only the Lydda district and Jerusalem. This decision
paved the way for an undermining of the Mufti's position among the Arab States. On 9 February, only four days after the Damascus meeting, a severe blow was suffered by the Mufti at the Arab League session in Cairo [where his demands for] the appointment of a Palestinian to the General Staff of the League, the formation of a Palestinian Provisional Government, the transfer of authority to local National Committees in areas evacuated by the British, a loan for administration in Palestine and appropriation of large sums to the Arab Higher Executive for Palestinians entitled to war damages [were all rejected].
The Arab League blocked recruitment to al-Husayni's forces, which collapsed following the death of his most charismatic commander, his cousin Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, on 8 April.
Following rumours that King Abdullah was re-opening the bilateral negotiations with Israel that he had previously conducted in secret with the Jewish Agency, the Arab League, led by Egypt, decided to set up the All-Palestine Government in Gaza on 8 September under the nominal leadership of the Mufti. Historian Avi Shlaim wrote:
The decision to form the Government of All-Palestine in Gaza, and the feeble attempt to create armed forces under its control, furnished the members of the Arab League with the means of divesting themselves of direct responsibility for the prosecution of the war and of withdrawing their armies from Palestine with some protection against popular outcry. Whatever the long-term future of the Arab government of Palestine, its immediate purpose, as conceived by its Egyptian sponsors, was to provide a focal point of opposition to Abdullah and serve as an instrument for frustrating his ambition to federate the Arab regions with Jordan.
Abdullah regarded the attempt to revive al-Husayni's Holy War Army as a challenge to his authority and on 3 October his Minister of Defence ordered all armed bodies operating in the areas controlled by the Arab Legion to be disbanded. Glubb Pasha carried out the order ruthlessly and efficiently.
Initial line-up of forces
According to Benny Morris, by the end of 1947, the Palestinians "had a healthy and demoralising respect for the Yishuv's military power" and if it came to battle the Palestinians expected to lose. The British Intelligence and Arab League military reached similar conclusions.. Howevern the British Foreign Ministry and C.I.A believed that the Arab States would finally win in case of war.
On the eve of the war, the number of Arab troops likely to be committed to war was about 23,000 (10,000 Egyptians, 4,500 Jordanians, 3,000 Iraqis, 3,000 Syrians, 2,000 ALA volunteers, 1,000 Lebanese and some Saudi Arabians), in addition to the irregular Palestinians already present. The Yishuv had 35,000 troops of the Haganah, 3,000 of Stern and Irgun, and a few thousand armed settlers.
Egypt, Iraq, and Syria all possessed air forces, Egypt and Syria had tanks, and all had some modern artillery. Prior to the war, Arab forces had been trained by British and French instructors. This was particularly true of Jordan's Arab Legion under command of Lt Gen Sir John Glubb.
On 12 May, three days before the invasion, David Ben-Gurion was told by his chief military advisers(who over-estimated the size of the Arab armies and the numbers and efficiency of the troops who would be committed — much as the Arab generals tended to exaggerate Jewish troops strength) that Israel's chances of winning a war against the Arab states were only about even.
In November 1947, the Haganah was an underground paramilitary force that had existed as a highly organized, national force,since the Arab riots of 1920–21, and throughout the riots of 1929, and Great Uprising of 1936–39. It had a mobile force, the HISH, which had 2,000 full-time fighters (men and women) and 10,000 reservists (all aged between 18 and 25) and an elite unit, the Palmach composed of 2,100 fighters and 1,000 reservists. The reservists trained three or four days a month and went back to civilian life the rest of the time. These mobile forces could rely on a garrison force, the HIM (Heil Mishmar, lit. Guard Corps), composed of people aged over 25. The Yishuv's total strength was around 35,000 with 15,000 to 18,000 fighters and a garrison force of roughly 20,000.
Two clandestine groups, Irgun and Lehi, had between 2,000–4,000 and 500–800 members, respectively. Irgun, whose activities were considered by MI5 to be terrorism, was monitored by the British. There were also several thousand men and women who had served in the British Army in World War II who did not serve in any of the underground militias but would provide valuable military experience during the war. Walid Khalidi says the Yishuv had the additional forces of the Jewish Settlement Police, numbering some 12,000, the Gadna Youth Battalions, and the armed settlers. Few of the units had been trained by December 1947.
In 1946, Ben-Gurion decided that the Yishuv would probably have to defend itself against both the Palestinian Arabs and neighbouring Arab states and accordingly began a "massive, covert arms acquisition campaign in the West". By September 1947 the Haganah had "10,489 rifles, 702 light machine-guns, 2,666 submachine guns, 186 medium machine-guns, 672 two-inch mortars and 92 three-inch (76 mm) mortars" and acquired many more during the first few months of hostilities. The Yishuv also had "a relatively advanced arms producing capacity", that between October 1947 and July 1948 "produced 3 million 9 mm bullets, 150,000 Mills grenades, 16,000 submachine guns (Sten Guns) and 210 three-inch (76 mm) mortars", along with a few "Davidka" homemade mortars that were highly inaccurate but had a spectacularly loud explosion that demoralized the enemy. Initially, the Haganah had no heavy machine guns, artillery, armored vehicles, anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons, nor military aircraft or tanks.
On 5 December 1947, conscription was instituted for all men and women aged between 17 and 25 and by the end of March, 21,000 had been conscripted. On 30 March, the call-up was extended to men and single women aged between 26 to 35. Five days later, a General Mobilization order was issued for all men under 40.
Sources disagree about the amount of arms at the Yishuv's disposal at the end of the Mandate. According to Karsh before the arrival of arms shipments from Czechoslovakia as part of Operation Balak, there was roughly one weapon for every three fighters, and even the Palmach could arm only two out of every three of its active members. According to Collins and LaPierre, by April 1948, the Haganah had managed to accumulate only about 20,000 rifles and Sten guns for the 35,000 soldiers who existed on paper. According to Walid Khalidi "the arms at the disposal of these forces were plentiful". The one weapon of which there was no shortage was locally produced explosives.
The Yishuv forces were divided into brigades:[clarification needed]
|Golani||Moshe Mann||4,500||Dekel, Hiram|
|Alexandroni||Dan Even||5,200||Latrun, Hametz|
|Kiryati||Michael Ben-Gal||1,400||Dani, Hametz|
|Givati||Shimon Avidan||5,000||Hametz, Barak, Pleshet|
|Etzioni||David Shaltiel||Battle of Jerusalem, Shfifon, Yevusi, Battle of Ramat Rachel|
|7th Armoured||Shlomo Shamir||Battles of Latrun|
|8th Armoured||Yitzhak Sadeh||Danny, Yoav, Horev|
|Oded||Avraham Yoffe||Yoav, Hiram|
|Harel||Yitzhak Rabin||1,400||Nachshon, Danny|
|Yiftach||Yigal Allon||4,500 inc. some Golani||Yiftah, Danny, Yoav, Battles of Latrun|
In addition to the local irregular Palestinians militia groups. The five Arab states that joined the war were Egypt, Jordan(Transjordan), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq sending expeditionary forces of their regular armies. Additional contingents came from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
- Local Palestinians
There was no national military organization in the Arab Palestinian community. There were two paramilitary youth organizations, the pro-Husayni Futuwa and the anti-Husayni Najjada ("auxiliary corps"). According to Karsh, these groups had 11,000–12,000 members, but according to Morris, the Najjada, which was based in Jaffa and had 2,000–3,000 members, was destroyed in the run-up to the 1948 war, during Husayni's attempt to seize control of it, and the Futuwa never numbered more than a few hundred. At the outbreak of the war, new local militia groups, the National Guard, mushroomed in towns and cities. Each was answerable to its local Arab National Committee.
The tendency of the Palestinians to dissipate their forces along village and clan lines would be a major weakness of the Palestinian side. In particular there was a split within the Palestinian community between those loyal to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haji Amin Husseini and those opposed to his leadership. In December, Abd al-Qadir Husseini, who was a protégé of his uncle the Grand Mufti arrived in Jerusalem with one hundred combatants who had trained in Syria and that would form the cadre of the Holy War Army. His forces were joined by a few hundred young villagers and veterans of the British army. There were 7,000 Palestinians who served in the British Army during World War II, and 10,500 Palestinians in the Mandate's para-military police force most of whom deserted during the winter of 1947–48 fight in the war.
The equipment of the Palestinian forces was very poor. The British confiscated most of their arsenal during the 1936–39 rebellion and World War II. A report of 1942 by the Haganah intelligence service assessed the number of firearms at the disposal of the Palestinians at 50,000 [but] this was probably an overestimate or even "highly exaggerated". In early February 1948 the Arab League's military Committee delivered 1,700 rifles to the Palestinian Arabs; at the same time the Egyptians gave the Mufti 1,200 rifles, Iraq sent 1,000 rifles and Syria gave 645 rifles, 78 machine guns and 8 mortars. The Arab Liberation Army (Jaysh al-Inqadh al-Arabi) had been set up by the Arab League. It was made up of around 6,000 volunteers, mostly from Syria, and was led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji. Its officially allotted area was northern Palestine, including Samaria.
- Arab states
Jordan's Arab Legion was considered the most effective Arab force. Armed, trained and commanded by British officers, this 8,000–12,000 strong force was organised in four infantry/mechanised regiments supported by some 40 artillery pieces and 75 armoured cars. Until January 1948, it was reinforced by the 3,000-strong Transjordan Frontier Force. As many as 48 British officers served in the Arab Legion. Glubb Pasha, the commander of the Legion, organized his forces into four brigades as follows:
|Military Division||Commander ||Rank||Military Zone of operations|
|First Brigade, includes: 1st and 3rd regiments||Desmond Goldie||Colonel||Nablus Military Zone|
|Second Brigade, includes: Fifth and Sixth Regiments||Sam Sidney Arthur Cooke||Brigadier||Support force|
|Third Brigade, includes: Second and Fourth Regiments||Teel Ashton||Colonel||Ramallah Military Zone|
|Fourth Brigade||Ahmad Sudqi al-Jundi||Colonel||Support: Ramallah, Hebron, and Ramla|
The Arab Legion joined the war in May 1948, but fought only in the areas that King Abdullah wanted to secure for Jordan: the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Jordanian forces were probably the best trained of all combatants. Other combatant forces lacked the ability to make strategic decisions and tactical maneuvers, as evidenced by positioning the fourth regiment at Latrun, which was abandoned by other combatants before the arrival of the Jordanian forces. In the later stages of the war, Latrun proved to be of extreme importance, and a decisive factor for Jerusalem's fate.
Iraq army in 1948, had an of 21,000 men in 12 brigades and the Iraqi Air Force had 100 planes, mostly British. Initially the Iraqis committed around 3,000 men to the war effort, including four infantry brigades, one armoured battalion and support personnel. These forces were to operate under Jordanian guidance During the first truce, the Iraqis increased their force to about 10,000. Ultimately, the Iraqi expeditionary force numbered around 15,000 to 18,000 men. The first Iraqi forces to be deployed reached Jordan in April 1948 under the command of Gen. Nur ad-Din Mahmud.
Egypt army in 1948, was able to put a maximum of around 40,000 men into the field, 80% of its military-age male population being unfit for military service and its embryonic logistics system being limited in its ability to support ground forces deployed beyond its borders. Initially, an expeditionary force of 10,000 men was sent to Palestine under the command of Maj. Gen. Ahmed Ali al-Mwawi. This force consisted of five infantry battalions, one armoured battalion equipped with British Light Tank Mk VI and Matilda tanks, one battalion of sixteen 25-pounder guns, a battalion of eight 6-pounder guns and one medium-machine-gun battalion with supporting troops.
Syria had 12,000 soldiers at the beginning of the 1948 War, grouped into three infantry brigades and an armoured force of approximately battalion size. The Syrian Air Force had fifty planes, the 10 newest of which were World War II–generation models.
On 14 May Syria invaded Palestine with the 1st Infantry Brigade supported by a battalion of armoured cars, a company of French R 35 and R 37 tanks, an artillery battalion and other units. On 15–16 May they attacked the Israeli village Tzemah, which they captured, following a renewed offensive, on 18 May. The village was abandoned following the Syrian forces' defeat at the Deganias a few days later. Subsequently, the Syrians scored a victory at Mishmar HaYarden on 10 June, after which they reverted to a defensive posture, conducting only a few minor attacks on small, exposed Israeli settlements.
Lebanese army was the smallest of the Arab armies, consisting of only 3,500 soldiers. According to Gelber, in June 1947, Ben-Gurion "arrived at an agreement with the Maronite religious leadership in Lebanon that cost a few thousand pounds and kept Lebanon's army out of the War of Independence and the military Arab coalition." According to Rogan and Shlaim, a token force of 1,000 was committed to the invasion. It crossed into the northern Galilee and was repulsed by Israeli forces. Israel then invaded and occupied southern Lebanon until the end of the war.
Saudi Arabia sent a contingent of 800–1,200 men. Saudi troops were attached to the Egyptian command. During the first truce, Sudan sent six companies of regular troops to fight alongside the Egyptians. Yemen also committed a small expeditionary force to the war effort.
British forces in Palestine
There were 100,000 British troops deployed in Palestine "in two ground forces divisions, two independent infantry brigades, two mechanized regiments, some artillery units and a number of RAF squadrons". The peak deployment was in July 1947, when 70,200 British troops were stationed in Palestine, supported by 1,277 civilian drivers and 28,155 civilian employees.
British forces were gradually withdrawn in 1948. British High Commissioner Cunningham left Palestine on 14 May 1948 yet British forces overseeing the withdrawal remained in Palestine for several weeks thereafter, maintaining an enclave in and around Haifa and its port. Four Royal Air Force airmen were killed on 22 May when the Royal Egyptian Air Force struck RAF Ramat David, mistaking the airfield for one occupied by the Israeli Air Force. The last British soldiers left Palestine on 30 June 1948.
First phase: 15 May – 11 June 1948
On 14 May 1948, the day of the termination of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel to be known as the State of Israel. Following the proclamation Iraq and the neighbouring Arab states Egypt, Jordan(Transjordan) and Syria, invaded territory in the former British Mandate on the night of 14–15 May 1948.
The initial Arab plans called for Syrian and Lebanese forces to invade from north while Jordanian and Iraqi forces were to invade from east. The Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, and Iraqi forces to link up in Galilee and then turn towards Haifa. In the south, the Egyptians were to advance and take Tel Aviv. But co-operation between the various Arab armies was extremely poor and Lebanon decided not to take part to the war at the last minute due to the still influential Christians' opposition and to Jewish bribes. Therefore the plan was not carried out in the spirit envisioned.
The first mission of the Haganah was to hold on against the Arab armies and stop them until reinforcements and weapons arrived.
Two Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF) Spitfires bombed Tel Aviv. One of them was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and its pilot taken prisoner. However, the Egyptians continued their bombing raids over the city, killing about 40 people. Most civilian casualties in Tel Aviv occurred on a 18 May raid against the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Efforts were also made to shell the city from the ground. For the first few weeks of the war, Egyptian warplanes were able to bomb Tel Aviv with almost complete impunity, meeting only ground fire. The Egyptians also attacked rural settlements and airfields, though few casualties were caused.
The Egyptian force, the largest among the Arab armies, invaded from the south. Its two main columns made its way along the shoreline, through what is today the Gaza Strip and east toward Beersheba. To secure their flanks, the Egyptians laid siege to a number of kibbutzim in the Negev, among those Kfar Darom, Nirim and Yad Mordechai. The Egyptians met fierce resistance from the lightly armed defenders of the besieged kibbutzim. They were stalled in their advance and took heavy losses, while losses sustained by the defenders were comparatively light.
Syrian forces advanced into Galilee on 15 May, but were bogged down by resistance from numerous kibbutzim. The Syrians were forced to besiege the kibbutzim rather than advance. Throughout the Galilee, numerous isolated Israeli settlement outposts were exposed to Arab attack on all sides, and had to rely on their own armories for defense.
An Iraqi force consisting of two infantry and one armoured brigade crossed the Jordan River from northern Jordan, attacking the Israeli settlement of Gesher with little success. Following this defeat, Iraqi forces moved into the strategic triangle bounded by the Arab towns Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm. On 25 May, they were making their way towards Netanya, when they were stopped. On 29 May, an Israeli attack against the Iraqis led to three days of heavy fighting over Jenin, but Iraqi forces managed to hold their positions. After these battles, the Iraqi forces became stationary and their involvement in the war effectively ended.
On 26 May 1948, Israel established the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), incorporating its various forces Haganah, Palmach, Irgun, and Lehi under one central command.
On 29 May, Israeli forces stopped the Egyptian drive towards Tel Aviv in Operation Pleshet. In the first combat mission performed by Israel's fledgeling air force, four Avia S-199s attacked Egyptian armored column of 500 vehicles on its way to Ashdod. The Israeli planes dropped 70 kilogram bombs and strafed the column, although their machine guns jammed quickly. Two of the planes crashed, killing a pilot. The attack caused the Egyptians to scatter, and they had lost the initiative by the time they had regrouped. The attack was followed by small-scale Israeli harassment of the Egyptian lines. Givati Brigade forces then launched a counterattack. Although the counterattack was repulsed, the Egyptian offensive was halted as Egypt changed its strategy from offensive to defensive.
As the war progressed, the IDF managed to field more troops than the Arab forces. In July 1948, the IDF had 63,000 troops; by early spring 1949, they had 115,000. The Arab armies had an estimated 40,000 troops in July 1948, rising to 55,000 in October 1948, and slightly more by the spring of 1949.
All Jewish aviation assets were placed under the control of the Sherut Avir (Air Service, known as the SA) in November 1947 and flying operations began in the following month from a small civil airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv called Sde Dov, with the first ground support operation (in an RWD-13) taking place on 17 December. The Galilee Squadron was formed at Yavne'el in March 1948, and the Negev Squadron was formed at Nir-Am in April. By 10 May, when the SA suffered its first combat loss, there were three flying units, an air staff, maintenance facilities and logistics support. At the outbreak of the war on 15 May, the SA became the Israeli Air Force. With its fleet of light planes it was no match for Arab forces during the first few weeks of the war with their T-6s, Spitfires, C-47s, and Avro Ansons. In the first few weeks of the war, the Israelis' light airplanes bombed Arab encampments and columns. The raids were usually carried out at night to avoid interception. These raids usually had little effect, except on morale.
During this time, the balance of air power began to swing in favor of the Israeli Air Force following the purchase of 25 Avia S-199s from Czechoslovakia, the first of which arrived in Israel on 20 May. Ironically, Israel was using inferior derivatives of the Bf-109 designed in Nazi Germany to counter British-designed Spitfires flown by Egypt.
On 3 June, Israel scored its first victory in aerial combat when pilot Modi Alon shot down a pair of Egyptian bombers over Tel Aviv. From then on, the Israeli Air Force began engaging the Arabs in air-to-air combat. By the fall of 1948, the IAF had achieved air superiority and had superior firepower and more knowledgeable personnel, many of whom had seen action in World War II. Israeli planes then began intercepting and engaging Arab aircraft on bombing missions, and Arab air raids gradually fell.
On 6 June, a Syrian-Lebanese-Arab Liberation Army force retook Malkiya. That was the only intervention of the Lebanese army in that war.
Following Israeli air attacks on Egyptian and Iraqi columns, the Egyptians repeatedly bombed Ekron Airfield, where IAF fighters were based. During a 30 May raid, bombs aimed for Ekron hit central Rehovot, killing 7 civilians and wounding 30. In response to this, and probably to the Jordanian victories at Latrun, Israel began bombing targets in Arab cities. On the night of 31 May/1 June, the first Israeli raid on an Arab capital took place when three IAF planes bombed Amman, hitting the King's Palace and an adjacent British airbase, killing around a dozen people and damaging a number of British planes. Israel did not bomb Amman again, as the British had threatened to attack Israeli airfields and planes. Israel also bombed Arish, Gaza, Damascus, and Cairo. Israeli B-17 bombers coming to Israel from Czechoslovakia bombed Egypt on their way to Israel. According to Alan Dershowitz, Israeli planes focused on bombing military targets in these attacks, though Benny Morris wrote that an 11 June air raid on Damascus was indiscriminate.
At the outset of the war, the Israeli Navy consisted of four former Aliyah Bet ships that had been seized by the British and impounded in Haifa harbor. These ships were refurbished by a newly formed naval repair facility with the assistance of two private shipbuilding and repair companies. In October 1948, a submarine chaser was purchased from the United States. The five warships were manned by former merchant seamen, former crewmembers of Aliyah Bet ships, Israelis who had served in the Royal Navy during World War II, and foreign volunteers. The newly refurbished and crewed warships served on coastal patrol duties and bombarded Egyptian coastal installations in and around the Gaza area all the way to Port Said.
Jerusalem and other fronts
The heaviest fighting occurred in Jerusalem and on the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv road, between Jordan's Arab Legion and Israeli forces. As part of the redeployment to deal with the Egyptian advance, the Israelis abandoned the Latrun fortress overlooking the main highway to Jerusalem, which the Arab Legion immediately seized. The Arab Legion also occupied the Latrun Monastery. From these positions, the Jordanians were able to cut off supplies to Israeli troops and civilians in Jerusalem.
Though some supplies, mostly munitions, were airdropped into the city, the shortage of food, water, fuel and medicine was acute. King Abdullah ordered Glubb Pasha, the commander of the Arab Legion, to enter Jerusalem on 17 May, and heavy house-to-house fighting occurred between 19 and 28 May, with the Arab Legion eventually succeeding in pushing Israeli forces from the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The Israeli forces were seriously short of food, water and ammunition. The Arab Legion fired 10,000 artillery and mortar shells a day.
The 1,500 Jewish inhabitants of the Old City's Jewish Quarter were expelled, and several hundred were detained. The Jews had to be escorted out by the Jordanian army to protect them against Palestinian Arab mobs that intended to massacre them. The Arab Legion also attacked West Jerusalem with sniper fire. Israeli attempts to take the Latrun fortress were unsuccessful.
Israeli forces suffered some 586 casualties, among them Mickey Marcus, Israel's first general, who was killed by friendly fire. The Arab Legion had about 30 casualties, though among the Jordanian dead was the fort's commander. The Israeli position in Jerusalem was only saved via the opening of the so-called "Burma Road", a makeshift bypass road built by Israeli forces that allowed Israeli supply convoys to pass into Jerusalem.
Parts of the area where the road was built were cleared of Jordanian snipers in May and the road was completed on 14 June. Supplies had already begun passing through before the road was completed, with the first convoy passing through on the night of 1–2 June. The Jordanians spotted the activity and attempted to shell the road, but were ineffective, as it could not be seen. However, Jordanian sharpshooters killed several road workers, and an attack on 9 June left eight Israelis dead. On 18 July, elements of the Harel Brigade took about 10 villages to the south of Latrun to enlarge and secure the area of the Burma Road.
Iraqi forces failed in their attacks on Israeli settlements with the most notable battle taking place at Gesher, and instead took defensive positions around Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm, from where they could put pressure on the Israeli center. On 25 May, Iraqi forces advanced from Tulkarm, taking Geulim and reaching Kfar Yona and Ein Vered on the Tulkarm-Netanya road. The Alexandroni Brigade then stopped the Iraqi advance and retook Geulim. On 1 June, the Carmeli and Golani Brigades captured Jenin from Iraqi forces. They were pushed out by an Iraqi counterattack, and lost 34 dead and 100 wounded.
On 21 May, the Syrian army was stopped at kibbutz Degania Alef in the north, where local militia reinforced by elements of the Carmeli Brigade halted Syrian armored forces with Molotov cocktails, hand grenades and a single PIAT. One tank that was disabled by Molotov cocktails and hand grenades still remains at the kibbutz. The remaining Syrian forces were driven off the next day with four Napoleonchik mountain guns—Israel's first use of artillery during the war.
On 22 May, Arab forces attacked kibbutz Ramat Rachel south of Jerusalem. After a fierce battle in which 31 Arabs and 13 Israelis were killed, the defenders of Ramat Rachel withdrew, only to partially retake the kibbutz the following day. Fighting continued until 26 May, until the entire kibbutz was recaptured. Radar Hill was also taken from the Arab Legion, and held until 26 May, when the Jordanians retook it in a battle that left 19 Israelis and 2 Jordanians dead. A total of 23 attempts by the Palmach's Harel Brigade to capture Radar Hill in the war failed.
On 23 May, the Alexandroni Brigade captured Tantura, south of Haifa. The same day, Thomas C. Wasson, the US Consul-General in Jerusalem and a member of the UN Truce Commission was shot dead in West Jerusalem. It was disputed whether Wasson was killed by the Arabs or Israelis.
Throughout the following days, the Arabs were only able to make limited gains due to fierce Israeli resistance, and were quickly driven off their new holdings by Israeli counterattacks, though the Arab Legion was able to repel an Israeli attack on Latrun. On 2 June, Holy War Army commander Hasan Salama was killed in a battle with Israeli forces at Ras al-Ein, north of Jaffa. The Jordanians launched two counterattacks, temporarily taking Beit Susin before being forced back, and capturing Gezer after a fierce battle.
On 6 June, nearly two brigades of the Arab Liberation Army and the Lebanese Army took Malkiya and Kadesh, while Syrian forces attacked Mishmar HaYarden, but were repulsed. In the Battle of Nitzanim, Egyptian forces attacked the kibbutz of Nitzanim on the same day, and the Israeli defenders surrendered after resisting for five days. On 10 June, the Syrians overran Mishmar HaYarden and advanced to the main road, where they were stopped by units of the Oded Brigade.
First truce: 11 June – 8 July 1948
The UN declared a truce on 29 May, which came into effect on 11 June and lasted 28 days. The ceasefire was overseen by UN mediator Folke Bernadotte and a team of UN Observers made up of army officers from Belgium, United States, Sweden and France. Bernadotte was voted in by the General Assembly to "assure the safety of the holy places, to safeguard the well being of the population, and to promote 'a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine'".
The truce was designed to last 28 days and an arms embargo was declared with the intention that neither side would make any gains from the truce. Neither side respected the truce; both found ways around the restrictions placed on them. Both the Israelis and the Arabs used this time to improve their positions, a direct violation of the terms of the ceasefire. "The Arabs violated the truce by reinforcing their lines with fresh units and by preventing supplies from reaching isolated Israeli settlements; occasionally, they opened fire along the lines".
At the time of the truce, the British view was that "the Jews are too weak in armament to achieve spectacular success". As the truce commenced, a British officer stationed in Haifa stated that the four-week-long truce "would certainly be exploited by the Jews to continue military training and reorganization while the Arabs would waste [them] feuding over the future divisions of the spoils". During the truce, the Israelis sought to bolster their forces by massive import of arms. The IDF was able to acquire weapons from Czechoslovakia as well as improve training of forces and reorganization of the army during this time. Yitzhak Rabin, an IDF commander at the time of the war and later Israel's fifth Prime Minister, stated "[w]ithout the arms from Czechoslovakia... it is very doubtful whether we would have been able to conduct the war".
The Israeli army increased its manpower from approximately 30,000–35,000 men to almost 65,000 during the truce. It was also able to increase its arms supply to more than 25,000 rifles, 5,000 machine guns, and fifty million bullets. As well as violating the arms and personnel embargo, they also sent fresh units to the front lines like the Arabs.
During the truce, Irgun attempted to bring in a private arms shipment aboard a ship called "Altalena". When they refused to hand the arms to the Israeli government, Ben-Gurion ordered that the ship be sunk. Several Irgun members were killed in the fighting.
After the truce was in place, Bernadotte began to address the issue of achieving a political settlement. The main obstacles in his opinion were "the Arab world's continued rejection of the existence of a Jewish state, whatever its borders; Israel's new 'philosophy', based on its increasing military strength, of ignoring the partition boundaries and conquering what additional territory it could; and the emerging Palestinian Arab refugee problem".
Taking all the issues into account, Bernadotte presented a new partition plan. He proposed there be a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel and that a "Union" "be established between the two sovereign states of Israel and Jordan (which now included the West Bank); that the Negev, or part of it, be included in the Arab state and that Western Galilee, or part of it, be included in Israel; that the whole of Jerusalem be part of the Arab state, with the Jewish areas enjoying municipal autonomy and that Lydda Airport and Haifa be 'free ports'—presumably free of Israeli or Arab sovereignty". Israel rejected the proposal, in particular the aspect of losing control of Jerusalem, but they did agree to extend the truce for another month. The Arabs rejected both the extension of the truce and the proposal.
On 8 July, the day before the expiration of the truce, Egyptian forces under General Muhammad Naguib renewed the war by attacking Negba. The following day, Israeli forces launched a simultaneous offensive on all three fronts. The fighting continued for ten days until the UN Security Council issued the Second Truce on 18 July. During the fighting, the Israelis were able to open a lifeline to a number of besieged kibbutzim.
Second phase: 8–18 July 1948
On 10 July, Glubb Pasha ordered the defending Arab Legion troops to "make arrangements...for a phony war". The fighting that followed was dominated by large-scale Israeli offensives and a defensive posture from the Arab side. Operation Danny was the most important Israeli offensive, aimed at securing and enlarging the corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by capturing the roadside cities Lod (Lydda) and Ramle.
In a second planned stage of the operation the fortified positions of Latrun—overlooking the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway—and the city of Ramallah were also to be captured. Hadita, near Latrun, was captured by the Israelis at a cost of 9 dead.
The second plan was Operation Dekel, which was aimed at capturing the lower Galilee including Nazareth. The third plan, to which fewer resources were allocated, Operation Kedem, was to secure the Old City of Jerusalem, but failed. To the north, Operation Brosh was launched in a failed attempt to dislodge Syrian forces from the Eastern Galilee and the Benot Yaakov Bridge. During the operation, 200 Syrians and 100 Israelis were killed. The Israeli Air Force also bombed Damascus for the first time.
In the south, the IDF carried out several offensives, including Operation An-Far and Operation Death to the Invader. On 12 July, the Egyptians launched an offensive action, and again attacked Negba, which they had previously failed to capture, using three infantry battalions, an armored battalion, and an artillery regiment. In the battle that followed, the Egyptians were repulsed, suffering 200–300 casualties, while the Israelis lost 5 dead and 16 wounded.
After failing to take Negba, the Egyptians turned their attention to more isolated settlements and positions. On 14 July, an Egyptian attack on Gal On was driven off by a minefield and by resistance from Gal On's residents. The Egyptians then assaulted the lightly defended village of Be'erot Yitzhak. The Egyptians managed to penetrate the village perimeter, but the defenders concentrated in an inner position in the village and fought off the Egyptian advance until IDF reinforcements arrived and drove out the attackers. The Egyptians suffered an estimated 200 casualties, while the Israelis had 17 dead and 15 wounded. The battle was one of Egypt's last offensive actions during the war, and the Egyptians did not attack any Israeli villages following this battle.
The objectives of Operation Danny were to capture territory east of Tel Aviv and then to push inland and relieve the Jewish population and forces in Jerusalem. Lydda had become an important military center in the region, lending support to Arab military activities elsewhere, and Ramle was one of the main obstacles blocking Jewish transportation. Lydda was defended by a local militia of around 1,000 residents, with an Arab Legion contingent of 125–300.
The IDF forces gathered to attack the city numbered around 8,000. It was the first operation where several brigades were involved. The city was attacked from the north via Majdal al-Sadiq and al-Muzayri'a, and from the east via Khulda, al-Qubab, Jimzu and Daniyal. Bombers were also used for the first time in the conflict to bombard the city. The IDF captured the city on 11 July.
Up to 450 Arabs and 9–10 Israeli soldiers were killed. The next day, Ramle fell. The civilian populations of Lydda and Ramle fled or were expelled to the Arab front lines, and following resistance in Lydda, the population there was expelled without provision of transport vehicles; some of the evictees died on the long walk under the hot July sun.
On 15–16 July, an attack on Latrun took place but did not manage to occupy the fort. A desperate second attempt occurred on 18 July by units from the Yiftach Brigade equipped with armored vehicles, including two Cromwell tanks, but that attack also failed. Despite the second truce, which began on 18 July, the Israeli efforts to conquer Latrun continued until 20 July.
While Operation Danny proceeded in the centre, Operation Dekel was carried out in the north. Nazareth was captured on 16 July, and by the time the second truce took effect at 19:00 18 July, the whole lower Galilee from Haifa Bay to the Sea of Galilee was captured by Israel.
Originally Operation Kedem was to begin on 8 July, immediately after the first truce, by Irgun and Lehi forces. However, it was delayed by David Shaltiel, possibly because he did not trust their ability after their failure to capture Deir Yassin without Haganah assistance.
Irgun forces commanded by Yehuda Lapidot were to break through at the New Gate, Lehi was to break through the wall stretching from the New Gate to the Jaffa Gate, and the Beit Horon Battalion was to strike from Mount Zion.
The battle was planned to begin on the Sabbath, at 20:00 on 16 July, two days before the second ceasefire of the war. The plan went wrong from the beginning and was postponed first to 23:00 and then to midnight. It was not until 02:30 that the battle actually began. The Irgun managed to break through at the New Gate, but the other forces failed in their missions. At 05:45 on 17 July, Shaltiel ordered a retreat and to cease hostilities.
On 14 July 1948, Irgun occupied the Arab village of Malha after a fierce battle. Several hours later, the Arabs launched a counterattack, but Israeli reinforcements arrived, and the village was retaken at a cost of 17 dead.
Second truce: 18 July – 15 October 1948
At 19:00 on 18 July, the second truce of the conflict went into effect after intense diplomatic efforts by the UN.
On 16 September, Count Folke Bernadotte proposed a new partition for Palestine in which the Negev would be divided between Jordan and Egypt, and Jordan would annex Lydda and Ramla. There would be a Jewish state in the whole of Galilee, with the frontier running from Faluja northeast towards Ramla and Lydda. Jerusalem would be internationalized, with municipal autonomy for the city's Jewish and Arab inhabitants, the Port of Haifa would be a free port, and Lydda Airport would be a free airport. All Palestinian refugees would be granted the right of return, and those who chose not to return would be compensated for lost property. The UN would control and regulate Jewish immigration.
The plan was once again rejected by both sides. On the next day, 17 September, Bernadotte was assassinated in Jerusalem by the militant Zionist group Lehi. A four-man team ambushed Bernadotte's motorcade in Jerusalem, killing him and a French UN observer sitting next to him. Lehi saw Bernadotte as a British and Arab puppet, and thus a serious threat to the emerging State of Israel, and feared that the provisional Israeli government would accept the plan, which it considered disastrous. Unbeknownst to Lehi, the government had already decided to reject it and resume combat in a month. Bernadotte's deputy, American Ralph Bunche, replaced him.
On 22 September 1948, the Knesset passed the Area of Jurisdiction and Powers Ordnance, 5708-1948. The law officially added to Israel's size by annexing all land it had captured since the war began. It also declared that from then on, any part of Palestine captured by the Israeli army would automatically become part of Israel.
The Arabs had blocked Israeli traffic along the Tel Aviv-Haifa highway. Assaults on 18 June and 8 July failed due to poor planning and stiff resistance by Arab militia in superior positions.
Operation Shoter was launched a week after the truce came into effect against an area known as the "Little Triangle" south of Haifa, with the aim of taking the final Arab pocket on the Tel Aviv-Haifa road. The Arabs had blocked the road to Israeli traffic along the highway, and poorly planned assaults on 18 June and 8 July had failed to dislodge Arab militia from their superior positions. The operation was launched on 24 July, in response to the killings of two Israeli civilians.
Israeli assaults on 24 and 25 July were beaten back by stiff resistance. The Israelis then broke the Arab defenses with an infantry and armour assault backed by heavy artillery shelling and aerial bombing. Three Arab villages surrendered, and Israeli soldiers and aircraft struck at one of the Arab retreat routes, killing 60 Arab soldiers.
The Arabs claimed that the Israelis had massacred Arab civilians, but the Israelis rejected the claims. A United Nations investigation found no evidence of a massacre. Following the operation, the Tel Aviv-Haifa road was open to Israeli military and civilian traffic, and Arab roadblocks along the route were removed. Traffic along the Haifa-Hadera coastal railway was also restored.
Third phase: 15 October 1948 – 10 March 1949
Israel launched a series of military operations to drive out the Arab armies and secure the borders of Israel. However, invading the West Bank might have brought into the borders of the expanding State of Israel a massive Arab population it could not absorb. The Negev desert was an empty space for expansion, so the main war effort shifted to Negev from early October.
On 15 October, the IDF launched Operation Yoav in the northern Negev. Its goal was to drive a wedge between the Egyptian forces along the coast and the Beersheba-Hebron-Jerusalem road and ultimately to conquer the whole Negev. This was a special concern on the Israeli part because of a British diplomatic campaign to have the entire Negev handed over to Egypt and Jordan, and which thus made Ben-Gurion anxious to have Israeli forces in control of the Negev as soon as possible.
Operation Yoav was headed by the Southern Front commander Yigal Allon. Committed to Yoav were three infantry and one armoured brigades, who were given the task of breaking through the Egyptian lines. The Egyptian positions were badly weakened by the lack of a defense in depth, which meant that once the IDF had broken through the Egyptian lines, there was little to stop them. The operation was a huge success, shattering the Egyptian ranks and forcing the Egyptian Army from the northern Negev, Beersheba and Ashdod.
In the so-called "Faluja Pocket", an encircled Egyptian force was able to hold out for four months until the 1949 Armistice Agreements, when the village was peacefully transferred to Israel and the Egyptian troops left. Four warships of the Israeli Navy provided support by bombarding Egyptian shore installations in the Ashkelon area, and preventing the Egyptian Navy from evacuation retreating Egyptian troops by sea.
On 19 October, a naval battle took place near Majdal (now Ashkelon), with three Israeli corvettes facing an Egyptian corvette with air support. An Israeli sailor was killed and four wounded, and two of the ships were damaged. One Egyptian plane was shot down, but the corvette escaped. Israeli naval vessels also shelled Majdal on 17 October, and Gaza on 21 October, with air support from the Israeli Air Force. The same day, the IDF captured Beersheba, and took 120 Egyptian soldiers prisoner. On 22 October, Israeli naval commandos using explosive boats sank the Egyptian flagship Emir Farouk, and damaged an Egyptian minesweeper.
On 22 October, the third truce went into effect. Irregular Arab forces refused to recognize the truce, and continued to harass Israeli forces and settlements in the north. On the same day that the truce came into effect, the Arab Liberation Army violated the truce by attacking Manara, capturing the strongpoint of Sheikh Abed, repulsing counterattacks by local Israeli units, and ambushed Israeli forces attempting to relieve Manara. The IDF's Carmeli Brigade lost 33 dead and 40 wounded. Manara and Misgav Am were totally cut off, and Israel's protests at the UN failed to change the situation.
On 24 October, the IDF launched Operation Hiram and captured the entire upper Galilee, driving the ALA and Lebanese Army back to Lebanon, and successfully ambushing and destroying an entire Syrian battalion. The Israeli force of four infantry brigades was commanded by Moshe Carmel. The entire operation lasted just 60 hours, during which numerous villages were captured, often after locals or Arab forces put up resistance. Arab losses were estimated at 400 dead and 550 taken prisoner, with low Israeli casualties.
Some prisoners were reportedly executed by the Israeli forces. An estimated 50,000 Palestinian refugees fled into Lebanon, some of them fleeing ahead of the advancing forces, and some expelled from villages which had resisted, while the Arab inhabitants of those villages which had remained at peace were allowed to remain and became Israeli citizens. The villagers of Iqrit and Birim were persuaded to leave their homes by Israeli authorities, who promised them that they would be allowed to return. Israel eventually decided not to allow them to return, and offered them financial compensation, which they refused to accept.
At the end of the month, the IDF had captured the whole Galilee, driven all Lebanese forces out of Israel, and had advanced 5 miles (8.0 km) into Lebanon to the Litani River, occupying thirteen Lebanese villages. In the village of Hula, two Israeli officers killed between 35 and 58 prisoners as retaliation for the Haifa Oil Refinery massacre. Both officers were later put on trial for their actions.
On 9 November 1948, the IDF launched Operation Shmone to capture the Tegart fort in the village of Iraq Suwaydan. The fort's Egyptian defenders had previously repulsed eight attempts to take it, including two during Operation Yoav. Israeli forces bombarded the fort before an assault. After breaching the outlying fences without resistance, the Israelis blew a hole in the fort's outer wall, prompting the 180 Egyptian soldiers manning the fort to surrender without a fight. The defeat prompted the Egyptians to evacuate several nearby positions, including hills the IDF had failed to take by force. Meanwhile, IDF forces were met with stiff resistance in Iraq Suwaydan itself, losing 6 dead and 14 wounded.
From 5 to 7 December, the IDF conducted Operation Assaf to take control of the Western Negev. The main assaults were spearheaded by mechanized forces, while Golani Brigade infantry covered the rear. An Egyptian counterattack was repulsed. The Egyptians planned another counterattack, but it failed after Israeli aerial reconnaissance revealed Egyptian preparations, and the Israelis launched a preemptive strike. About 100 Egyptians were killed, and 5 tanks were destroyed, with the Israelis losing 5 killed and 30 wounded.
On 22 December, the IDF drove the remaining Egyptian forces out of Israel with Operation Horev (also called Operation Ayin). The goal of the operation was to secure the entire Negev from Egyptian presence, destroying the Egyptian threat on Israel's southern communities and forcing the Egyptians into a ceasefire. During five days of fighting, the Israelis expelled the Egyptians from the Negev.
Israeli forces subsequently launched raids into the Nitzana area, and entered the Sinai Peninsula on 28 December. The IDF captured Umm Katef and Abu Ageila, and advanced north towards Al Arish, with the goal of encircling the entire Egyptian expeditionary force. Israeli forces pulled out of the Sinai on 2 January 1949 following joint British-American pressure and a British threat of military action. IDF forces regrouped at the border with the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces attacked Rafah the following day, and after several days of fighting, Egyptian forces in the Gaza Strip were surrounded. The Egyptians agreed to negotiate a ceasefire on 7 January, and the IDF subsequently pulled out of Gaza.
On 28 December, the Alexandroni Brigade failed to take the Falluja Pocket, but managed to seize Iraq el-Manshiyeh and temporarily hold it. The Egyptians counterattacked, but were mistaken for a friendly force and allowed to advance, trapping a large number of men. The Israelis lost 87 soldiers.
On 5 March, Operation Uvda was launched following nearly a month of reconnaissance, with the goal of securing the southern Negev from Jordan. The IDF entered and secured the territory, but did not meet significant resistance along the way, as the area was already designated to be part of the Jewish state in the UN Partition Plan, and the operation meant to establish Israeli sovereignty over the territory rather than actually conquer it. The Golani, Negev, and Alexandroni brigades participated in the operation, together with some smaller units and with naval support.
On 10 March, Israeli forces reached the southern tip of Palestine: Umm Rashrash on the Red Sea (where Eilat was built later) and took it without a battle. Israeli soldiers raised a hand-made Israeli flag ("The Ink Flag") at 16:00 hours on 10 March, claiming Umm Rashrash for Israel. The raising of the Ink Flag is considered to be the end of the war.
Anglo-Israeli air clashes
As the fighting progressed and Israel mounted an incursion into the Sinai, the Royal Air Force began conducting almost daily reconnaissance missions over Israel and the Sinai. RAF reconnaissance aircraft took off from Egyptian airbases and sometimes flew alongside Royal Egyptian Air Force planes. High-flying British aircraft frequently flew over Haifa and Ramat David Airbase, and became known to the Israelis as the "shuftykeit."
On 20 November 1948, an unarmed RAF photo-reconnaissance De Havilland Mosquito of No. 13 Squadron RAF was shot down by an Israeli Air Force P-51 Mustang flown by American volunteer Wayne Peake as it flew over the Galilee towards Hatzor Airbase. Peake opened fire with his cannons, causing a fire to break out in the port engine. The aircraft turned to sea and lowered its altitude, then exploded and crashed off Ashdod. Both of the crew were killed.
Just before noon on 7 January 1949, four Spitfire FR18s from No. 208 Squadron RAF on a reconnaissance mission in the Deir al-Balah area flew over an Israeli convoy that had been attacked by five Egyptian Spitfires fifteen minutes earlier. The pilots had spotted smoking vehicles, and were drawn to the scene out of curiosity. Two planes dived to below 500 feet altitude to take pictures of the convoy, while the remaining two covered them from 1,500 feet.
Israeli soldiers on the ground, alerted by the sound of the approaching Spitfires and fearing another Egyptian air attack, opened fire with machine guns. One Spitfire was shot down by a tank-mounted machine gun, while the other was lightly damaged and rapidly pulled up. The remaining three Spitfires were then attacked by patrolling IAF Spitfires flown by Slick Goodlin and John McElroy, volunteers from the United States and Canada respectively. All three Spitfires were shot down, and one pilot was killed.
Two pilots were captured by Israeli soldiers and taken to Tel Aviv for interrogation, and were later released. Another was rescued by Bedouins and handed over to the Egyptian Army, which turned him over to the RAF. Later that day, four RAF Spitfires from the same squadron escorted by seven No. 213 Squadron RAF and eight No. 6 Squadron RAF Hawker Tempests went searching for the lost planes, and were attacked by four IAF Spitfires. The Israeli formation was led by Ezer Weizman. The remaining three were manned by Weizman's wingman Alex Jacobs and American volunteers Bill Schroeder and Caesar Dangott.
The Tempests found they could not jettison their external fuel tanks, and some had non-operational guns. Schroeder shot down a British Tempest, killing pilot David Tattersfield. Weizmann severely damaged a British plane flown by Douglas Liquorish, but his own plane was lightly damaged by RAF pilot Brian Spragg. Two other British aircraft were lightly damaged during the engagement. The battle ended after the British wiggled their wings to be more clearly identified, and the Israelis eventually realized the danger of their situation and disengaged, returning to Hatzor Airbase.
Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion personally ordered the wrecks of the RAF fighters that had been shot down to be dragged into Israeli territory. Israeli troops subsequently visited the crash sites, removed various parts, and buried the other aircraft. However, the Israelis did not manage to conceal the wrecks in time to prevent British reconnaissance planes from photographing them. An RAF salvage team was deployed to recover the wrecks, entering Israeli territory during their search. Two were discovered inside Egypt, while Tattersfield's Tempest was found north of Nirim, four miles inside Israel. Interviews with local Arabs confirmed that the Israelis had visited the crash sites to remove and bury the wrecks. Tattersfield was initially buried near the wreckage, but his body was later removed and reburied at the British War Cemetery in Ramla.
In response, the RAF readied all Tempests and Spitfires to attack any IAF aircraft they encountered and bomb IAF airfields. British troops in the Middle East were placed on high alert with all leave cancelled, and British citizens were advised to leave Israel. The Royal Navy was also placed on high alert. At Hatzor Airbase, the general consensus among pilots, most of whom had flown with or alongside the RAF during World War II, was that the RAF would not allow the loss of five aircraft and two pilots to go without retaliation, and would probably attack the base at dawn the next day.
That night, in anticipation of an impending British attack, some pilots decided not to offer any resistance and left the base, while others prepared their Spitfires and were strapped into the cockpits at dawn, preparing to repel a retaliatory airstrike. However, British commanders refused to authorize any retaliation. The day following the incident, British pilots were issued a directive to regard any Israeli aircraft infiltrating Egyptian or Jordanian airspace as hostile and to shoot them down, but were also ordered to avoid activity close to Israel's borders.
UN Resolution 194
In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194. It called to establish a UN Conciliation Commission to facilitate peace between Israel and Arab states. However, many of the resolution's articles were not fulfilled, since these were opposed by Israel, rejected by the Arab states, or were overshadowed by war as the 1948 conflict continued.
Largely leftover World War II era weapons were used by both sides. Egypt had some British equipment; the Syrian army had some French. German, Czechoslovak and British equipment was used by Israel.
1949 Armistice Agreements
In 1949, Israel signed separate armistices with Egypt on 24 February, Lebanon on 23 March, Jordan on 3 April, and Syria on 20 July. The Armistice Demarcation Lines, as set by the agreements, saw the territory under Israeli control encompassing approximately three-quarters of the prior British administered Mandate as it stood after Transjordan's independence in 1946. Israel occupied territories of about one-third more than was allocated to the Jewish State under the UN partition proposal. After the armistices, Israel had control over 78% of the territory comprising former Mandatory Palestine or some 8,000 square miles (21,000 km2), including the entire Galilee and Jezreel Valley in the north, whole Negev in south, West Jerusalem and the coastal plain in the center.
The armistice lines were known afterwards as the "Green Line". The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were occupied by Egypt and Jordan respectively. The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization and Mixed Armistice Commissions were set up to monitor ceasefires, supervise the armistice agreements, to prevent isolated incidents from escalating, and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.
The exact number of Arab casualties is unknown, but is estimated at between 8,000 and 15,000. Another estimate puts the figure at about 7,000, including 3,000 Palestinians, 2,000 Egyptians, 1,000 Jordanians, and 1,000 Syrians.
During the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War that followed, around 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, out of approximately 1,200,000 Arabs living in former Mandatory Palestine. In 1951, the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine estimated that the number of Palestinian refugees displaced from Israel was 711,000.
This number did not include displaced Palestinians inside Israeli-held territory. More than 400 Arab villages, and about ten Jewish villages and neighbourhoods, were depopulated during the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of them during 1948. According to estimate based on earlier census, the total moslim population in Palestine was 1,143,336 in 1947. The causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus are a controversial topic among historians.
Displaced Palestinian Arabs, known as Palestinian refugees, were settled in Palestinian refugee camps throughout the Arab world. The United Nations established UNRWA as a relief and human development agency tasked with providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. Arab nations refused to absorb Palestinian refugees, instead keeping them in refugee camps while insisting that they be allowed to return.
Refugee status was also passed on to their descendants, who were also largely denied citizenship in Arab states. The descendants of refugees are also denied citizenship in their host countries. The Arab League instructed its members to deny Palestinians citizenship "to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right of return to their homeland." More than 1.4 million Palestinians still live in 58 recognized refugee camps, while more than 5 million Palestinians live outside Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
The Palestinian refugee problem and debate about the right of return are also major issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestinian Arabs and their supporters have staged annual demonstrations and commemorations on 15 May of each year, which is known to them as "Nakba Day". The popularity and number of participants in these annual al Nakba demonstrations has varied over time. During the Second Intifada after the failure of the Camp David 2000 Summit, the attendance at the demonstrations against Israel increased.
During the 1948 War, around 10,000 Jews were forced to evacuate their homes from Arab dominated parts of former Mandatory Palestine. But in the three years following the war, 700,000 Jews settled in Israel, mainly along the borders and in former Arab lands, duplicating the Jewish population of Israel. Some 300,000 arrived from Asian and North African nations as part of the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. Among them, the largest group (over 100,000) was from Iraq. The remaining came mostly from Europe, including 136,000 from the 250,000 displaced Jews of World War II living in refugee camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and more than 270,000 coming from Eastern Europe, mainly Romania and Poland (over 100,000 each).
Many of the Jewish immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries were forcibly expelled by their governments, while others left, fleeing either antisemitic violence, pogroms and government persecution brought on by the war or by political instability, or left to settle in Israel motivated for Zionist convictions or to find a better economic and secure home in the West. They constituted the first wave of a total of 800,000–1,000,000 Jews who over the course of the next thirty years would flee or be expelled from the Arab world. Approximately 680,000 of them immigrated to Israel; the rest mostly settled in Europe (mainly France) or the Americas.
Israel initially relied on Jewish Agency-run tent camps known as immigrant camps to accommodate displaced Jews from Europe and Muslim nations. In the 1950s, these were transformed into transition camps, where living conditions were improved and tents were replaced with tin dwellings. Unlike the situation in the immigrant camps, when the Jewish Agency provided for immigrants, residents of the transition camps were required to provide for themselves. These camps began to decline in 1952, with the last one closing in 1963. The camps were largely transformed permanent settlements known as development towns, while others were absorbed as neighborhoods of the towns they were attached to, and the residents were given permanent housing in these towns and neighborhoods.
Most development towns eventually grew into cities. Some Jewish immigrants were also given the vacant homes of Palestinian refugees. There were also attempts to settle Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries in moshavim (cooperative farming villages), though these efforts were only partially successful, as they had historically been craftsmen and merchants in their home countries, and did not traditionally engage in farm work.
After the war, Israeli and Palestinian historiographies differed on the interpretation of the events of 1948: in the West the majority view was of a tiny group of vastly outnumbered and ill-equipped Jews fighting off the massed strength of the invading Arab armies; it was also widely believed that the Palestinian Arabs left their homes on the instruction of their leaders.
From 1980, with the opening of the Israeli and British archives, some Israeli historians have developed a different account of the period. In particular, the role played by Abdullah I of Jordan, the British government, the Arab aims during the war, the balance of force and the events related to the Palestinian exodus have been nuanced or given new interpretations. Some of them are still hotly debated among historians and commentators of the conflict today.
- 1948 Palestinian exodus
- Jewish exodus from Arab lands
- Killings and massacres during the 1948 Palestine War
- List of Israeli military operations in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war
- List of villages depopulated during the Arab-Israeli conflict
- List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
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- Reiter, Yitzhak, National Minority, Regional Majority: Palestinian Arabs Versus Jews in Israel (Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution), (2009) Syracuse Univ Press (Sd). ISBN 978-0-8156-3230-6
- Sheleg, Yair (2001). A Short History of Terror Haaretz.
- Zertal, Idith (2005). Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85096-4
- The Hope by Herman Wouk, a historical novel that includes a fictionalized version of Israel's War of Independence.
- One of last surviving founders of IAF recalls mission that stopped Egypt from advancing on Tel Aviv.
- Pictorial History: Air Force Volunteers.
- Overview of The 1948 Israeli War of Independence (documentary)
- Video footage of the Israeli Independence War
- Resources > Modern Period > 20th Cent. > History of Israel > State of Israel > The Wars > War of Independence The Jewish History Resource Center, Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- About the War of Independence
- United Nations: System on the Question of Palestine
- Summary of Arab-Israeli wars
- History of Palestine, Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Palestinian viewpoint concerning the context of the 1948 war
- The BBC on the UN Partition Plan
- The BBC on the Formation of Israel
- Israeli War of Independence: an autobiographical account by a South African participant
- Israel and the Arab Coalition in 1948
- "I Have Returned". Time Magazine. 15 March 1948. Retrieved 31 October 2009.
- "War for Jerusalem Road". Time Magazine. 19 April 1948. Retrieved 31 October 2009.