Operation Yiftach (Hebrew: מבצע יפתח, Mivtza Yiftah) was a Palmach offensive carried out between 28 April and 23 May 1948. The objectives were to capture Safed and to secure the eastern Galilee before the British Mandate ended on 14 May 1948. It was carried out by two Palmach battalions commanded by Yigal Allon.
Operation Yiftach was part of Plan Dalet which aimed at securing the areas allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan before the end of the British Mandate in Palestine. With the ending of the Mandate in sight, British forces had begun to withdraw from less strategic areas such as north-eastern Galilee. In these areas there was a scramble by both sides to occupy abandoned police and military facilities. Local militias and Arab volunteers had taken over the Palestine Police forts in Safed and at Nebi Yusha.
On 17 April the Haganah launched an attack on the fort at Nebi Yusha, which failed. A second attack on 20 April resulted in the deaths of twenty two of the attackers. As a result of this defeat Yigal Allon, the Palmach C.O. was given command of the operation. Nebi Yusha was finally taken on 20 April in an attack in which planes dropped incenduary bombs on the fort. The army camp at Rosh Pinna was handed over to the Haganah/Palmach by its British commander on 28 April. Allon approached the campaign believing that the best way of securing the frontiers was to clear the area completely of all Arab forces and inhabitants. This operation was to be the foundation of his reputation that 'he left no Arab civilian communities in his wake.'
Safed had a pre-war population of 10,000–12,000 Arabs and 1,500 Jews, and was the base for 700-800 local and foreign irregulars. The attack on Safed was similar to the attack on Arab Tiberias on 16–17 April, in that it began with a particularly destructive attack on a neighbouring village resulting in loss of morale in the town.
On 1 May 1948, the Palmach's 3rd Battalion attacked the village of Ein al-Zeitun 1 km North of Safed. It began shelling the village at 03:00 in the morning, using one of the first Davidka mortars as well as two 3-inch and eight 2-inch conventional mortars. The Davidka was a homemade mortar that fired an oversized shell and was nearly useless due to its inaccuracy, but was useful because of the loud noise of the projectile when it flew and detonated. Although hardly capable of causing casualties, the weapon actually was quite effective in demoralizing defending Arabs, some of whom reportedly even thought the explosions were "atomic bombs", which they knew Jews had helped to develop.
Once they entered the village most of the 'young adult males' fled but 37 were taken prisoner and were probably amongst the 70 men executed in a valley between the village and Safed two days later. Those who remained in the village were rounded up and expelled. Over the next two days Palmach sappers blew up and burnt houses in the village. There followed a sub-operation, Operation Matateh, starting on 4 May, which cleared five Bedouin tribes from the Jordan Valley south of Rosh Pinna."
On 6 May the Palmach launched a ground attack on Safed, but failed to take the citadel. The failure was blamed on insufficient bombardment. Despite Arab attempts to negotiate a truce and the British Army being authorised to intervene, a second attack was launched on night of 9–10 May. It was preceded by a 'massive, concentrated' mortar bombardment in which the Davidka was used again. An Israeli account describes the final assault as occurring in heavy rainfall, with Palmach forces fighting "all night, attacking in waves up the hilly streets of the town, fighting from house to house and from room to room."
Following the capture of Safed, Palmach units moved north to secure the borders with Lebanon and Syria. On 14–15 May the Palmach's 1st Battalion was involved in a clash with Lebanese units at Qabas. In his later writing Allon claimed that a 'whispering' campaign he launched was of great importance. This involved local Jewish mukhtars who had contacts in local Arab communities being told "to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that giant Jewish reinforcements had reached Galilee and were about to clean out the villages of the Hula". An IDF intelligence report attributed success to this tactic in the case of ten villages, though it suggest that some may also have been bombarded. There is some evidence that 'Syrian officers or Arab irregular commanders' ordered women and children be evacuated from villages north-east of Rosh Pinna.
In the words of Chaim Herzog, on the morning of 11 May "the by-now-familiar mass Arab evacuation from the town began." The only civilians who remained in Safed were "about" 100 Muslims, "average age 80" and "34-36 elderly Christian Arabs". In late May or early June the Muslims were "expelled" to Lebanon and on 13 June the Christians were removed by lorry to Haifa. 4-5,000 Bedouin and villagers who remained in the Hula area after the creation of the state of Israel were trucked across the Syrian border during the 1956 Suez War.
Arab communities captured during Operation Yiftach
|'Arab al-Zubayd||20 April 1948||villagers fled||n/a||800|
|Al 'Ulmaniyya||20 April 1984||n/a||n/a||260|
|Kirad al-Ghannama||22 April 1948||evacuated||n/a||350|
|Kirad al-Walid||22 April 1948||evacuated||n/a||280|
|Kirad al-Baqqara||22 April 1948||n/a||Palmach 1st Battalion||360|
|Tulayl||late April 1948||n/a||n/a||340|
|Ein al-Zaytun||1 May 1948||none||Palmach 3rd Battalion||820|
|Biriyya||1 May 1948||n/a||n/a||240|
|Ghuraba||1 May 1948||n/a||n/a||220|
|Khiyam al-Wali||1 May 1948||evacuated||n/a||280|
|Al-Muftakhira||1 & 16 May 1948||n/a||n/a||350|
|Fir'im||2 & 26 May 1948||n/a||n/a||740|
|Mughr al-Khayt||2 May 1948||n/a||n/a||490|
|Qabba'a||2 May 1948||n/a||n/a||460|
|Al-Wayziyya||2 May 1948||n/a||n/a||100|
|Jubb Yusuf||4 May 1948||n/a||n/a||170|
|Harrawi||5 & 25 May 1948||Arab Liberation Army||n/a||n/a|
|'Akbara||9 May 1948||15-20 villagers||Palmach 1st Battalion||390|
|Al-Ja'una||9 May 1948||n/a||n/a||1,150|
|Safed||9/10 May 1948||Arab Liberation Army
|Abil al-Qamh||10 May 1948||n/a||Palmach 1st Battalion||330|
|Al-Zahiriyya al-Tahta||10 May 1948||village militia
|Dallata||10–11 May 1948||n/a||n/a||360|
|Qaddita||by 11 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||240|
|Al-Buwayziyya||11 May 1948||villagers fled||n/a||510|
|Al-Khalisa||11 May 1948||village militia||n/a||1,840|
|Al-Zuq Al-Tahtani||11 May 1948||n/a||n/a||1,050|
|Al-Malikiyya||12 May 1948
15 May, 29 May, 7 June,
|Arab Liberation Army
2nd Yarmuk Battalion
|Hunin||14 May 1948||village militia||n/a||1,620|
|Al-Na'ima||14 May 1948||n/a||n/a||1,240
inc. 210 Jews
|Al-Shawka al-Tahta||14 May 1948||villagers fled||n/a||200|
|Khan al-Duway||15 May 1948||n/a||n/a||260|
|Qatiyya||19 May 1948||n/a||n/a||940|
|Lazzaza||21 May 1948||evacuated||whispering campaign||230
inc 100 Jews
|Al-Zuq al-Fauqani||21 May 1948||village militia
|'Ammuqa||24 May 1948||evacuated||Palmach||140|
|Al-Zawiya||24 May 1948||n/a||n/a||760|
|Al-Manshiya||24 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||n/a|
|Al-'Abisiyya||25 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||1,510
inc. 290 Jews
|Baysamun||25 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||20|
|Al-Dawwara||25 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||1,100
inc. 400 Jews
|Al-Khisas||25 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||530
inc. 60 Jews
|Mallaha||25 May||villagers fled||whispering campaign||890|
|Al-Mansura, Safad||25 May 1948||n/a||whispering campaign||360|
|al- Salihiyya||25 May 1948||n/a||n/a||1,520|
7 June, Operation Hiram
- Chaim Herzog, 'The Arab-Israeli Wars'. ISBN 0-85368-367-0. p.33
- All That Remains, p.481
- Morris, p.121
- Herzog. p.33. For Allon's appointment (his Palmach code-name was Sasha) see Morris, p.121
- Morris, p.121. 'simplest and best way...'
- Morris, p.219
- Morris, p.102
- All that remains, p.428. Morris p.71. Describes the 12 April attack on Khirbet Nasir ad-Din above Tiberias: 'some non-combatants were apparently killed and some houses destroyed.'
- Morris, page 102. 'All that Remains', p.437: "The sight of the village being leveled had a demoralizing effect in the city'.
- Morris, p.103. The same night a unit of Trans-Jordanian Volunteers were ordered to leave the city due to political divisions in the Arab leadership.
- Herzog, p.34. But he makes no mention of the bombardment.
- All that remains, p.483
- Morris, pp.122-123. Page 124: "far more complex than Allon's subsequent recollection."
- Morris, p.121
- Herzog, page 34.
- Morris, p.105
- Survey of Palestine 1945/1946. ISBN 978-0-88728-213-3. (Estimate as at 31 December 1946). Page 12.
- Walid Khalidi, All That Remains, ISBN 0-88728-224-5. Uses 1945 census for population figures.
- Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949,ISBN 0-521-33028-9.