War of Independence
WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
WAR OF INDEPENDENCE (Heb. מִלְחֶמֶת הָעַצְמָאוּת Milḥemet ha-Aẓma'ut, or מִלְחֶמֶת הַקּוֹמְמִיּוֹּת Milḥemet ha-Komemiyyut, or מִלְחֶמֶת הַשִּׁחְרוּר Milḥemet ha-Shiḥrur (the War of Liberation)), war waged by the Jews of Palestine for survival, freedom, and political independence against the Arabs, mainly from the neighboring countries, between the end of November 1947 and July 1949.
The war was divided into two distinct phases: the first began on Nov. 30, 1947, the day after the un General Assembly adopted its resolution on the partition of Palestine, and ended on May 15, 1948, when the British forces and administration were withdrawn from the country; the second started on the day after the British evacuation and came to an end on July 20, 1949, when the last of the armistice agreements was signed (with Syria). In the first phase, the yishuv and its defense forces, organized in the *Haganah, were under attack by Palestinian Arabs, aided by irregular volunteers from Arab countries. In the second phase, the army of newly independent Israel – officially established on May 28 as the Israel Defense Forces (see *Israel, State of: Defense Forces) – fought primarily against regular troops from Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon, who were supported by volunteer detachments from Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the Yemen. In both phases, the avowed purpose of the Arabs was to frustrate the un partition resolution and prevent the establishment and consolidation of the Jewish state.
the first phase: november 30, 1947–may 14, 1948
The Jewish Forces
At the beginning of the first phase, Arab attacks were carried out by loosely organized bands led by representatives of the Palestine Arab political organizations. As early as October 1947, however, the *Arab League had instructed its member states to train volunteers and collect money and arms for the Palestine Arabs. The first Arab onslaughts were resisted by the mobilized units and active reserves of the Haganah, which consisted, in addition to headquarters, service units, and a small ordnance industry, of four battalions of *Palmaḥ, consisting of 2,100 men and women and 1,000 reserves (in October); Ḥish (Ḥeil Sadeh – field force or infantry), with 1,800 on active service and 10,000 reserves; and Ḥim (Ḥeil Mishmar – guard or garrison force), with 32,000 registered members, responsible for static defense. The Ḥish was organized mainly in area commands named after the region (e.g., Givati, Golani, Carmeli), which later developed into brigades. There were also the *Gadna, trained in auxiliary functions, who would later fill the ranks of the Palmaḥ and the Ḥish. On the eve of the war, the Haganah had in its secret arsenals over 15,000 rifles of various makes, a small quantity of light machine guns, and a few dozen medium machine guns and 3-inch mortars, as well as hand grenades, explosives, and Sten submachine guns manufactured in its clandestine workshops. There were also two other armed underground organizations that operated independently during the first phase: the iẒl (*Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi), with 5,000 members at the beginning of the war, and Leḥi (*Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel), with 1,000 members.
Repelling the Arab Offensive: November 29, 1947–March 1948
From the start, the nature of the Arab offensives was determined by a number of factors: the existence of a considerable number of Jewish settlements in predominantly Arab areas, the mixed Arab-Jewish population of several cities, and Arab control of most of the hill region and of the major road arteries. The first attack took place on Nov. 30, 1947, when a Jewish bus was ambushed near Lydda. The next day, the Arab Higher Committee declared a general strike, and on December 2 an Arab mob attacked and destroyed the commercial center in Jerusalem. There was also Arab firing in Haifa and on the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. After Arab attacks, on December 10, on Jewish vehicles in the Negev and on the Jerusalem–Kefar Eẓyon road, Haganah and iẒl forces started to hit back at concentrations of Arab bands. During December, Arab- and Jewish-controlled areas were gradually demarcated; in the mixed cities, areas between Jewish and Arab residential quarters were evacuated and contested. In the battle for the roads, which was gaining in intensity, the Arabs had the upper hand, largely as a result of the attitude of the British forces, which were neutral in theory and pro-Arab in fact. For political reasons, 33 Jewish settlements, which according to the partition resolution were to be included in the Arab state, were not evacuated.
On January 10, a 900-man force of the Arab Liberation Army, commanded by Fawzī al-Qāwuqjī and trained on the other side of the border, attacked Kefar Szold and was repulsed. The following days were marked by attacks on isolated Jewish settlements in the Jerusalem and Hebron hills, Upper Galilee, and the Negev. A platoon of 35 men, on its way to reinforce the isolated Eẓyon bloc of settlements (Kefar Eẓyon, Massu'ot Yiẓḥak, Ein Ẓurim, and Revadim) was wiped out in a fierce engagement near Beit Nattīf. There were continual attacks against Jewish population centers and Jewish workers in enterprises employing both Arab and Jewish labor. Explosive charges were set off in Jewish areas of Haifa and Jerusalem; in the capital, the targets were the offices of The Palestine Post (February 1), Ben-Yehuda Street, one of the principal shopping thoroughfares (February 22), and *Jewish
Agency headquarters (March 11). The outlying Jewish quarters in the southeastern part of Jerusalem were cut off from the center. On most of the roads, Jewish communications were maintained by means of armored vehicles and convoys, which left at odd hours, usually at night, and used circuitous routes. In March, Jewish traffic to several quarters of Jerusalem and on some of the country's principal roads came to an almost complete standstill.
On February 16, the Arab Liberation Army attacked Tirat Ẓevi and was forced to withdraw with heavy losses. In March, having failed to capture Jewish settlements, the Arab forces concentrated on the battle for the roads, while continuing their attacks on outlying districts in the mixed towns and on settlements in the north, the Jerusalem mountains, and the Negev. Nevertheless, a convoy of armored trucks succeeded in making the trip from Negbah to Gat, which had been cut off for a long period, and an Arab arms convoy was ambushed and destroyed near Kiryat Motzkin. In general, the Arabs scored considerable success in the battle for the roads: on March 26 Jewish traffic on the coastal road leading to the Negev came to a complete stop; a convoy on its way back to Jerusalem from the Eẓyon bloc was trapped near al-Nabī Dāniyāl and another, which tried to reach Yeḥi'am, was ambushed and wiped out.
Throughout this period, however, the Jewish defense forces made substantial progress in organization and training. By the end of March, 21,000 men aged 17–25 were under arms. The manufacture of antitank projectors, submachine guns, and explosives was greatly stepped up, and large quantities of light arms, purchased in Czechoslovakia, were expected to arrive. The yishuv 's air force consisted of 30 light planes for reconnaissance, transportation, and supply to isolated areas. The Arab forces – both the locally organized National Guard and the volunteers from the Arab states – were also growing.
Jewish Forces Take the Initiative: April 1948–May 15, 1948
The hour of military decision was fast approaching. The impending British evacuation made action imperative in order to gain control of the area allotted to the Jewish state and to improve the Jewish position in the face of the expected Arab invasion, while the growth of its strength made it possible for the Haganah to take the initiative. A comprehensive operational plan ("Plan d") had been adopted for execution in stages, depending upon the rate of British withdrawal and developments on the various fronts. The first objective was to open the road to Jerusalem. For this purpose Operation Naḥshon was planned; a force of 1,500 men was mobilized and equipped, in part with Czech arms which had been secretly landed on April 1. Two preparatory actions were carried out: the blowing up of the headquarters of Hasan Salāma, the Arab area commander, near Sarafand, and the capture of Qasṭal (Castel), an Arab village dominating the approaches to Jerusalem. Operation Naḥshon began on April 6, Haganah forces taking the Arab village of Ḥuldah, the Wadi al-Ṣarrār Camp, and Deir Muḥaysin (Beko'a). They encountered fierce opposition, especially on the Qasṭal hill, which changed hands several times until April 10, when the Arabs finally withdrew; on the previous day, the commander of the Arab forces in the Jerusalem area, ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Husseini, was killed in battle. By April 15, when Naḥshon came to an end, three large convoys carrying food and arms had reached Jerusalem.
Meanwhile the Arab Liberation Army, still under Qāwuqjī's command, had made another attempt to capture a Jewish settlement. On April 4 it had shelled Mishmar ha-Emek, following up with an infantry attack, which was beaten back. A second attack, next day, was halted by the intervention of British troops, and a cease-fire was proclaimed, during which the women and children were evacuated. At the end of the cease-fire, Haganah forces counterattacked, capturing several strongholds southeast of the village on April 12 and routing an Arab force which was trying to renew the attack. Qāwuqjī appealed for help to the commander of a battalion of Druze mercenaries encamped at Shfāʾ ʿAmr (Shefaram). This force attacked two strongholds east of Ramat Yoḥanan between April 12 and 14, but was repulsed with heavy losses and took no further part in the war. Qāwuqjī was now in danger of being cut off from his base, and he decided to withdraw to Jenin. The artillery at his disposal was transferred to Jerusalem
and at the beginning of May began shelling the Jewish quarters of the city.
The success of Naḥshon and the defeats inflicted on the Arabs at Mishmar ha-Emek and Ramat Yoḥanan encouraged the Haganah to continue the implementation of Plan d. On April 18, troops of the Golani area command (later the Golani Brigade) and the Palmaḥ cut in two the Arab part of Tiberias, where the Jewish quarter was under heavy attack. The Arabs decided to leave the town and were evacuated with British aid. On April 21, when the British started to concentrate their remaining forces in the Haifa port area, the battle for Haifa began. The Jewish forces captured it within 24 hours and most of the Arab inhabitants left, despite Jewish assurances that no harm would befall them if they stayed.
The capture of Tiberias and the opening of roads leading to eastern Galilee made it possible to reinforce the Haganah
troops in "the finger of Galilee" at the northern tip of the country. On April 14, a Palmaḥ unit infiltrated into Safed, bolstering the defenses of the besieged Jewish quarter. As part of Operation Yiftaḥ – designed to win Upper Galilee and gain control of its major arteries – Haganah forces occupied the Rosh Pinnah police fortress and a neighboring army camp as soon as these were evacuated by the British (April 28). Two attempts were made to capture al-Nabī Yūshaʿ, the fort on a ridge dominating the Ḥuleh Valley, which had been handed over to the Arabs by the British, but failed, with the loss of 28 Haganah men. On May 1 the Arabs launched an attack on the beleaguered village of Ramat Naftali, with the support of Lebanese army artillery and armored cars. With the help of a few Piper Cub airplanes, the settlers managed to hold out, and Operation Yiftaḥ could proceed according to plan. On May 3, a second Palmaḥ battalion entered Safed, but the first Jewish
attack, on May 6, ended in failure; the Arabs brought in reinforcements and began using artillery. A new attack, on May 10, resulted in the capture of the key positions in the town. The Safed Arabs, numbering some 10,000, fled en masse, followed by the Arab villagers of the Ḥuleh Valley, and on the eve of the Arab states' invasion the Jewish forces were in control of a continuous area in eastern and upper Galilee.
Further south, Golani troops occupied the Arab town of Samakh (Ẓemaḥ) and the police fortresses at Samakh and Gesher as soon as the British had withdrawn from them
(April 29). Arab Legion troops, supported by artillery and armored cars, attacked Gesher but were beaten back. Beisan (Beth-Shean) fell to the Haganah on May 12; so did a number of villages in the Mount Tabor area, Arab Shajara, Bethlehem (in Galilee), the erstwhile German colony of Waldheim, and Umm al-Zīnat in the southern Carmel. In Operation Ben-Ami, troops of the Carmeli area command captured the strongholds dominating Acre, A-Ziv (Akhziv), and Basah (Beẓet), and reestablished overland connection with Yeḥi'am and the Ḥanitah group of settlements. (Acre itself was taken on May 17.)
In the Tel Aviv area, the Alexandroni, Kiryati, and Givati brigades launched Operation Ḥameẓ on the eve of Passover and occupied several Arab villages, including Hiriya, Sakiya,
Salame, and Yazur, and encircled Jaffa, which had been included in the area of the Arab state envisioned in the partition resolution. Meanwhile, i.Ẓ.l. forces attacked Manshiye and other northern quarters of Jaffa, but met with heavy resistance, and British forces intervened. The attack was renewed on April 26 and Manshiye was cut off. The encirclement of Jaffa was completed on April 29, and most of its 70,000 Arab inhabitants fled. Its final surrender came on May 13, when the British troops had left.
On April 9, a combined iẒl and Leḥi force attacked Deir Yassin, an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Two hundred Arabs, including women and children caught up in the fighting, were killed. The heavy casualties were given wide publicity in the Arab world as a deliberate massacre and intensified the panic among the Arab population, which was one of the causes of their flight. On April 13, a convoy to the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus was attacked by Arabs and 77 people – mainly doctors and other medical personnel – were massacred. British troops stationed nearby made no attempt to interfere with the slaughter. In view of rumors that the British intended to advance the date of their evacuation of Jerusalem, the Harel Brigade of the Palmaḥ was transferred to the capital. As soon as the brigade convoy had passed through, the Arab Liberation Army seized the strongpoints dominating the road to Jerusalem, and once again the city was cut off. Although the rumors of an earlier British withdrawal proved false, it was decided to launch Operation Yevusi to reestablish the links with the isolated quarters and nearby settlements: Neveh Ya'akov, Atarot, and Mount Scopus in the north, and Mekor Ḥayyim, Ramat Raḥel and Talpiyyot in the south. An attack on Nebi Samwil, on April 22, ended in failure, and while Harel troops succeeded in taking the Sheikh Jarraḥ quarter of Jerusalem on April 26, British troops forced their withdrawal. Two days later, an attempt was made to capture the Augusta Victoria buildings on the Mount of Olives and thereby gain control of the road to Jericho, but this, too, was unsuccessful. An attack on the St. Simon Convent in the Katamon quarter, launched on April 29, was successful, however. Both sides had reached the point of exhaustion when Haganah reinforcements were sent in and decided the issue. The resulting capture of Katamon made it possible to reinforce the isolated Mekor Ḥayyim quarter. Another attempt to open the road to Jerusalem, Operation Makkabbi, also failed: although the Harel Brigade took the village of Beit Maḥsir and Givati captured the *Latrun detention camp, only a few dozen trucks got through to Jerusalem before the road was once more blocked.
On May 4 the Arabs attacked the Eẓyon bloc with the support of an Arab Legion armored unit and four British tanks. The attack was beaten off, but the defenders suffered heavy losses, which were irreplaceable owing to the complete isolation of the four villages. On the eve of May 12 the Arab forces succeeded in cutting the block in two; the following day they captured a strongpoint dominating the area between Kefar Eẓyon and Massu'ot Yiẓḥak, and Arab Legion armored cars penetrated into Kefar Eẓyon. After the defenders had surrendered, many were massacred by Arab villagers from the Hebron area, and on May 14 the survivors were taken captive by the Arab Legion. On May 14, when the last British troops left Jerusalem, forces of Eẓyoni, the capital's infantry brigade, launched Operation Kilshon ("Pitchfork") to seize the areas evacuated by the British and prevent their being taken over by the Arabs.
In the six weeks preceding the establishment of the State of Israel and the invasion by regular Arab armies, the Jewish forces had taken over Haifa, Jaffa, Safed, and Tiberias, encircled Acre, and captured about 100 Arab villages. Apart from the Latrun sector of the Jerusalem road, the Jewish armed forces could move freely on most of the major arteries of communication. The Palestine Arab forces had been routed, and the Arab Liberation Army had suffered heavy defeats in the north and in the Jerusalem Corridor. The Jews had lost several hundred men, but they now had 30,000 young men under arms, ready to meet the invaders. The arrival of the first boatload of Czech arms and the acquisition of antitank and antiaircraft guns had considerably improved the quantity and quality of the arms at their disposal, but they still lacked field artillery and fighter planes.
the second phase: may 15, 1948–july 20, 1949
The Arab Armies Invade
On May 15, 1948, the day the British Mandate over Palestine ended, the regular armies of five neighboring Arab states invaded the new State of Israel, which had proclaimed its independence the previous afternoon. The invasion, heralded by an Egyptian air attack on Tel Aviv, was vigorously resisted. From the north, east, and south came the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, and Egypt. (Saudi Arabia sent a formation that fought under Egyptian command; Yemen considered itself at war with Israel but sent no contingent.)
The Jews found themselves in a precarious situation. The invading forces were fully equipped with the standard weapons of a regular army of the time – artillery, tanks, armored cars and personnel carriers, in addition to machine guns, mortars and the usual small arms in great quantities, and full supplies of ammunition, oil, and gasoline. Egypt, Iraq, and Syria had air forces. As sovereign states, they had no difficulty (contrary to the pre-state Jewish defense force) in securing whatever armaments they needed through normal channels from Britain and other friendly powers.
The Jews had no matching artillery, no tanks, and no warplanes in the first days of the war. Some supplies of these weapons arrived in the days that followed, however, and turned the tide. Little more than small arms – and not enough of those to go round – a few homemade, primitive armored cars, and some light training planes were all that had been available to the *Haganah, the underground defense force controlled by the responsible Jewish authorities during the British Mandate. However, it could now emerge aboveground as the army of the sovereign State of Israel, though the constitutional formalities establishing the army were completed only on May 28 with the publication by the Provisional Government of the Israel Defense Forces (idf) Establishment Order. Haganah's general staff and commanders continued their functions in the idf, with the difference that their identities were now no longer secret. The two dissident organizations, Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi (iẒl) and Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel (Leḥi), agreed to discontinue their independent activities, except in Jerusalem, and to the absorption of their members into the idf. Their units in Jerusalem were disbanded in September, following an ultimatum by the idf.
Invaded from all directions, Israel had suddenly to cope, as it were, with the outbreak of a thousand fires, and to do so with limited means. Numerous settlement outposts in Galilee and the Negev were isolated, open on all sides to Arab attack, and had to rely on their own tenacity and meager armories to stave off defeat. The hastily mobilized army had to engage in offensive action to dislodge the enemy from key positions, block the advance of their columns, and rush to seal gaps in Israel's defenses.
Until the First Truce: May 15–June 11, 1948
the egyptian advance
In the south, Egyptian forces jumped off from their advance bases in Sinai and crossed the frontier. Passing through Arab-populated territory, one formation moved up the coastal road to Gaza; another was landed by ship at Majdal further north; a third drove up from Abu Aweigila northeast to Beersheba, some of its units pressing on later to the Arab towns of Hebron and Bethlehem, where they linked up with Transjordan's Arab Legion and took up positions just south of Jerusalem. The major enemy forces were those at Gaza and Majdal, and their main thrust was aimed at Tel Aviv, though they could also penetrate from Majdal to other vital sectors in the interior of the country. To stop them, Israel deployed the Negev Brigade, operating south of the Majdal–Bet Guvrin line, and part of the Givati Brigade deployed north of it. There were also some 27 settlements scattered in the area, 22 of which had less than 30 defenders. Five of these kibbutzim lay alongside what was later known as the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians decided to wipe them out before proceeding to Tel Aviv, to protect their rear and flanks. Their first target was Kefar Darom (see *Benei Darom), a religious kibbutz 7 mi. (11 km.) south of Gaza, which had already withstood attacks by units of the extremist Egyptian movement, the Muslim Brothers, in the pre-state fighting. In an assault only a few days earlier, the Orthodox Jewish defenders had filled the small bags that held their tefillin with tnt and flung them at their assailants, after they had exhausted their stock of hand grenades. On the morning of May 15, eight Egyptian tanks approached the kibbutz, their guns blazing, followed by infantry. Having no artillery, the 30 defenders had no other course but to wait until the enemy came within range of their small arms, and then they opened fire. One Piat antitank weapon that had been rushed to the kibbutz during the night was quickly put in to action, and direct hits were scored on the enemy lead tanks. The remaining tanks thereupon turned around in retreat, exposing the infantry to fire from the kibbutz. Enemy armored vehicles returned later, but only to cover the retreat of the infantry. As a parting gesture, they mortared and shelled the kibbutz but made no further attempt to take it, contenting themselves with occupying positions covering its perimeter.
While Kefar Darom was under attack, another formidable Egyptian column attacked kibbutz Nirim, with its 40 defenders, further to the south. Nirim lost more than half its men in killed and wounded, but repulsed the enemy. Next day the Egyptians returned to their attack, accompanied by air bombardment. They were again driven back. Thereafter they did not attempt a ground assault, but kept the settlement isolated and subjected it to periodic shelling and air bombardment. The pattern at Kefar Darom and Nirim was to be typical of all but a few of the encounters between the enemy and kibbutzim on all fronts throughout the country.
There was, however, one kibbutz which the Egyptians considered it vital to liquidate if they were to proceed with their drive on Tel Aviv. This was Yad Mordekhai, close to the coastal highway between Gaza and Majdal and blocking the linkup of these two Egyptian bases. After their bitter experience, the Egyptians prepared the attack more carefully and assigned larger forces – two infantry battalions, one armored battalion, and one artillery regiment. Nevertheless, it took them five days of hard fighting to overcome the defenders, who numbered, together with reinforcements from the Negev Brigade, no more than one infantry company. Shortly before dawn on May 24, their plight desperate, with many killed and wounded, ammunition spent, and their last machine gun out of action, the defenders abandoned the settlement, creeping through the enemy lines under cover of darkness and carrying their wounded with them. Although Yad Mordekhai fell, the five days of resistance proved crucial. It held up the main Egyptian advance, and in that time the idf was able to strengthen the defenses nearer to Tel Aviv, dispatch reinforcements to the south, and acquire heavier weapons and some fighter planes, which were to play a key role in the major confrontation.
The major phase of this confrontation began on May 29, when the Egyptian forces had regrouped after the Yad Mordekhai battle and a column of brigade strength, numbering some 500 vehicles, moved north from Majdal, passed Ashdod, and halted at the Ashdod bridge 2 mi. (3 km.) to the north. The idf units in this area were from the Givati Brigade, and their sappers had blown up the bridge the night before. With the column held up, the idf ghq sent the first four Messerschmidt fighter planes, which had just arrived and been hastily made ready for action, to attack it. It was the first time the enemy had seen Israeli fighter planes, and this new factor made the column vulnerable. The Egyptians accordingly proceeded to dig in. Now they were subjected to another weapon that they had not encountered from Israel before – some 65 mm. artillery which had just been landed and rushed into action. These guns shelled the column, while other Givati units harassed it continuously. The destroyed Ashdod bridge, only some 20 mi. (32 km.) from Tel Aviv, was to prove the northernmost limit of the Egyptian advance throughout the war. Though halted and harassed, the Egyptian brigade had not lost its fighting capacity, and during the next few days it sought out targets in the vicinity. Attacks on the kibbutz of *Negbah failed. The attack on kibbutz *Niẓẓanim, launched on June 7, succeeded, however. Givati also had its gains and failures in attacks and counterattacks.
By now, after feverish efforts at the United Nations, it was evident that a truce would soon be called. Each side tried desperately to improve its positions before the cease-fire. The most important Israeli failure was the unsuccessful attempt to take the ʿIrāq Suwaydān police fort and breach the east-west line from Majdal through Suwaydān to Fālūja. This meant that the Negev was cut off from land communication with the north. On June 11, the first truce went into effect. It lasted a month.
the fight for jerusalem
Jerusalem and the corridor to the west were the scenes of continuous bitter fighting throughout the four weeks that ended with the June truce. The Israelis suffered heavy losses and several serious setbacks, the most important of which were the loss of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the failure to take Latrun at the western end of the corridor. But they emerged with West Jerusalem intact and in possession of a tenuous link with the coast. The Arabs had several military successes, but they failed in their major objective – the conquest of West Jerusalem (the New City), with its 100,000 Jews, whose citizens were holding out on starvation food rations and the troops on "starvation rations" of ammunition. They now had to cope not only with hunger, but with a military onslaught from all directions and with the constant shelling of their homes by Arab Legion 25-pounders and Egyptian heavy artillery and mortars from positions near Bethlehem. As the British departed and the Arab Legion came in, the Eẓyoni Brigade succeeded, in "Operation Pitchfork," in consolidating all the Jewish areas in the New City and beating off all penetration attempts by the enemy. But the perimeter of these areas was now the front line. The main Jewish outpost in the south, the Eẓyon Bloc, had fallen on May 14. On that night and the next, the two northern settlements in the heart of the Arab hills, *Atarot and Neveh Ya'akov, were evacuated. On May 21, there was a powerful attack by units of the Arab Legion and the Egyptian Muslim Brothers on *Ramat Raḥel at the southern edge of Jerusalem, which changed hands three times in the next four days, being captured during the day and recaptured at night. On the 25th, the defenders, assisted by a unit from the Harel Brigade, fought a daylong battle and routed their assailants. Successive Arab Legion attempts to break into the New City were all repelled, often in hand-to-hand fighting, while armored cars were knocked out at close range with Molotov cocktails.
In the most desperate position was the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, close to the *Western Wall, whose strategic situation was far outweighed by its deep meaning for Jewry. The Jews living there, mostly elderly folk engaged in religious study, with their families, were completely surrounded by Old City Arabs and Arab Legion forces. The Jews had been strengthened during the previous months by some 80 members of the Haganah, some of whom had been there for months, and others who had fought their way through the walled city to help organize the defenses. There were also some iẒl personnel. On May 16 the Arab Legion attacked from all directions, and although the Jews resisted with homemade incendiary bombs, hand grenades, submachine guns, and a meager quantity of explosives, they were steadily pressed back from house to house, as each was destroyed by the powerfully armed Legion. On May 19 a Harel unit managed to blast the Zion Gate and reach the Jewish Quarter; but it withdrew the following day. Legion pressure mounted, but renewed attempts to reinforce the beleaguered defenders failed. On May 28 the Jewish Quarter surrendered.
To break the siege of Jerusalem, it was essential to capture Latrun, astride the highway from the coast. The Israel ghq set up a special brigade, the 7th, for this task. It was composed of one hastily assembled armored battalion, with half-tracks that had just reached Israel's shores; one infantry battalion with men drawn from existing formations; and one battalion made up of new immigrants who had also just arrived in the country and who had received some training with dummy weapons in the displaced persons' camps in Europe and the immigrant camps in Cyprus.
The 7th Brigade was thrown into action immediately, without time to organize and train together. At the last minute, a veteran battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade was included. A two-battalion attack was launched on May 25, Alexandroni making a frontal assault on the Latrun police fort and village, with the battalion of new immigrants assigned to secure its right flank. The assault should have started in darkness, but there was a delay and it was past dawn when they approached the fortified Arab Legion positions. The element of surprise was lost, and the assault came under such fierce fire that they were forced to retire with heavy casualties. The brigade tried again on May 30, the Alexandroni battalion being replaced by a battalion from Givati. The armored battalion made the main assault this time, fighting its way right up to the police fort, and even succeeding in breaking into the courtyard. But the battalion sappers, who were to breach the wall of the fort, were hit by Legion shells, and the untrained infantry units failed to reach them. The battalion retired. The third attempt to capture Latrun was made on the nights of June 9 and 10, the Yiftaḥ Brigade of the Palmaḥ, which had been operating in Galilee, replacing the 7th Brigade, and a Harel battalion also taking part. This attack also failed, and it was about to be resumed when the cease-fire took effect at 10:00 on June 11.
In the meantime, however, an alternative link between Jerusalem and the coast had been discovered and rendered serviceable. This was a rough dirt track, broken by a steep wadi, on which hundreds of elderly men worked night after night to make it fit for vehicles. They dubbed it the "Burma Road." With the truce, Jerusalem was joined to the coastal plain, its siege days over.
in the coastal strip
In the central sector, the narrow coastal strip in the Sharon was gravely threatened by the tough-fighting Palestinian Arabs in the Samarian bulge, stiffened by the surviving irregulars of the Arab Liberation Army under Fawzī al-Qāwuqjī. Their chief centers were the towns of Nablus, Jenin, and Tulkarm, the point of a dagger thrusting at nearby Netanyah on the coast. On May 24 one Iraqi armored brigade and two infantry brigades occupied this "triangle" and prepared for offensive operations. The Iraqi forces had started crossing the Jordan on May 15 and were active in the southern part of the Jordan Valley, south of the Syrian invaders. But they had suffered two severe setbacks, being repulsed at kibbutz *Gesher and by a Haganah unit at *Belvoir. When the Arab Legion moved its main forces in the "triangle" to the Latrun and Jerusalem sectors, the Iraqis moved in. Defense of the Sharon was in the hands of the Alexandroni Brigade.
On May 25, the Iraqis tried to cut through to Netanyah, capturing one kibbutz and attacking three others near Tulkarm. The captured kibbutz was retaken by Alexandroni and the Iraqi drive was temporarily stopped. But it was evident that the only way for the Israel forces to prevent an all-out assault toward the coast by so powerful an enemy force was to keep it on the defensive. On May 29, the Golani Brigade penetrated the "triangle" from the north, taking several villages plus the strongholds of *Megiddo and al-Lajjūn, which offered a good base for an attack on Jenin. This was undertaken on the nights of May 31 and June 1 by one battalion from Golani and two battalions of the Carmeli Brigade, which had been operating in western Galilee. Golani captured all enemy positions in the valley leading to Jenin, and on the following night the Carmeli formations seized the two key hills southeast and southwest of the town, holding them against fierce counterattacks throughout the next day. Then the men of Golani entered and took the town. The Iraqis rushed up more reinforcements, and the fighting was heavy. But the Israel troops held firm. Since the idf could spare no forces for an operation to take the whole of the Arab bulge, it decided on an orderly withdrawal from Jenin. This was carried out on June 4, with the Israeli units taking up defensive positions on the southern slopes of Mt. Gilboa. Shortly thereafter, an Alexandroni unit captured the key village of Qāqūn just north of Tulkarm. The only Iraqi gain before a truce was the seizure of the head-waters of the Yarkon river and the pumping station at *Rosh ha-Ayin (Raʾs al-ʿAyn).
the syrian attack repulsed
In the north, the Syrians crossed into Israel just south of Lake Kinneret and spear-headed their invasion on the night of May 15 with a crack infantry brigade, a battalion of armored cars, one of artillery, and a company of tanks. Facing them in the Jordan Valley were a cluster of kibbutzim, whose members were a kind of Haganah garrison force and a Haganah battalion for offensive action drawn from the Golani Brigade. The Syrian aim was to rout the kibbutzim, cross the Jordan, and then make a lightning dash westward through mostly Arab-held territory of Lower Galilee to Haifa. The first Syrian targets were Ẓemaḥ, at the southern tip of Lake Kinneret, and *Sha'ar ha-Golan, and *Massadah (not to be confused with Masada on the Dead Sea), the two easternmost kibbutzim in the area. Though they suffered heavy losses, the Jewish defenders held all three positions. On the 18th the enemy again assaulted Ẓemaḥ in full force. It fell after stubborn fighting; Sha'ar ha-Golan and Massadah had been evacuated shortly before. The front line now shifted to *Deganyah, the very first kibbutz to have been established (in 1909). The attack on Deganyah was launched early on May 20 by a Syrian infantry company, five tanks, and numerous armored cars, after the kibbutz had been heavily shelled. They managed to reach the outer perimeter and came steadily on. Then one tank was knocked out. A second, which had got right through to the kibbutz, was halted by a Molotov cocktail (the remains of the tank are still there), and a third was disabled by a three-inch mortar. Armored cars that reached the trenches were put out of action by Piats and Molotov cocktails. The infantry was dealt with by small-arms fire. At noon two old pieces of artillery, which had just arrived in the country, were rushed to Deganyah and put into action against Syrian concentrations of armor and support units. This probably tipped the balance, for the Syrians then retired, also evacuating Ẓemaḥ and taking up positions in the hills to the east.
Apart from minor clashes, the Syrians made no further attacks in this sector, and their aim of a lightning drive to Haifa was abandoned.
Instead, they sought to make local territorial gains and use their powerful force to nip off the northeastern tip of Upper Galilee. While they were regrouping, a huge supply base was blown up by a Haganah sabotage squad, and the Syrian assault was postponed. It came, however, on June 6, directed against *Mishmar ha-Yarden, north of Lake Kinneret, and was accompanied by heavy shelling and air bombardment of the kibbutzim in the area. The attack was repelled with heavy losses on both sides; but a renewed attack on June 10 was successful, so that the truce found the Syrians with a foothold on the Israel side of the Jordan. On the same day, *Ein Gev, the only Jewish kibbutz on the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret at the time, fought off a heavy enemy attack, and did so again when it was attacked the next day despite the truce. The cease-fire became effective in this sector only on June 12.
the lebanese assault
The invasion route chosen by the Lebanese army was through Malkiyyah, just west of the powerful, Arab-held police fort of Nabī Yūshaʿ, on the ridge dominating the Ḥuleh Valley. Jewish defense in this sector was the responsibility of the Yiftaḥ Brigade of the Palmaḥ, which had effected the remarkable capture of *Safed a few days earlier. On the night of May 14/15, a Yiftaḥ battalion cut across the mountains on foot toward the Lebanese border, skirted the Nabī Yūshaʿ fort, and, without resting, went straight in to storm Malkiyyah and nearby Kadesh. Both fell after heavy fighting. But the next day the Lebanese put in a determined counterattack, and the Palmaḥ men were forced to retire, taking up positions between the border and Nabī Yūshaʿ. That night, a unit of the battalion infiltrated deep into Lebanon and cut an important supply route. This action, together with their casualties in retaking Malkiyyah and Kadesh, stopped the Lebanese from pursuing the Yiftaḥ battalion, which accordingly attacked Nabī Yūshaʿ the next night and was successful. (In an earlier, heroic but unsuccessful, attempt just before independence, 28 Yiftaḥ men had lost their lives.) On the 18th the Palmaḥ launched the attack on Malkiyyah, taking the enemy by surprise by approaching from the rear – from inside Lebanese territory. Malkiyyah fell. With the Lebanese advance halted, the Yiftaḥ Brigade was rushed south to take part in the urgent actions in Jerusalem and the Corridor. Replacing Yiftaḥ was the newly formed Oded Brigade, consisting of men from local settlements, a Haifa Haganah battalion, and new recruits.
In western Galilee, the Carmeli Brigade, ready to meet a possible Lebanese invasion through *Rosh ha-Nikrah on the coast, cleared the stretch from Haifa to the border, taking Acre on May 17. Carmeli later operated in the Jordan Valley and in the Jezreel Valley just north of Jenin.
On June 6, simultaneously with the Syrian attack on Mishmar ha-Yarden, a combined two-brigade force of Syrians, Lebanese, and Qāwuqjī's reorganized Arab Liberation Army attacked Malkiyyah and overran the small Israel garrison that had been left there. Through this gap poured units of the Liberation Army that proceeded to consolidate themselves in heavily Arab-populated Central Galilee and remained there when the truce went into effect.
The First Truce: June 11–July 9
The truce was supervised by Count Folke *Bernadotte, the mediator for Palestine who had been appointed by the un General Assembly on May 21, together with teams of un observers made up of army officers from Belgium, France, Sweden and the United States. It was to last 28 days (the un hoped it would be extended), and the observers were to ensure that neither side gained any "military advantage" during the truce by the acquisition of additional arms or "fighting personnel."
On the tenth day of the truce, a grave intra-Jewish incident occurred when an iẒl arms vessel, the Altalena, attempted to land its weapons on the shores of Israel. It had left a French port early in June, and iẒl refused to hand it over to the Israel government. When iẒl persisted in its refusal to agree to the government's conditions, the landing was resisted by force. The ship was set on fire just off the Tel Aviv beach by idf troops, who then waded into the water to rescue iẒl personnel. There were casualties on both sides.
In the meanwhile, both the Arab and Israel armies used the truce to improve their positions. The idf engaged in more rigorous training of its men – established settlers, new immigrants (*Gaḥal), and volunteers from overseas (*Maḥal) with World War ii battle experience; regrouping its forces; and readying for action more of the newly arrived heavy weapons and planes (flown by local pilots and overseas volunteers). Toward the end of the truce period it became clear that the truce would not be prolonged. The one agreement Bernadotte was able to arrange between the two sides was the demilitarization of the Mount Scopus area in Jerusalem. The truce ended at 6 a.m. on July 9 and hostilities were resumed. They lasted ten days and were followed by the second truce.
The "Ten Days": July 9–18
on the egyptian front
In the south, the Egyptians had taken advantage of the truce to bolster their Majdal-Bet Guvrin line, cutting northern Israel off from the Negev. Their strength was now four brigades. Twenty-four hours before the truce ended, on the morning of July 8, they launched a series of attacks on both sides of the line, ejecting an idf unit from Kawkaba to the south, but being badly mauled when they tried to take Beit Darās to the north. That night, Givati units attacked the line from the north, capturing the villages of ʿIrāq Suwaydān, Beit (Bayt) ʿAffa, and ʿIbdis – the last in a tough battle in which they routed two Egyptian companies and captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition. A Negev Brigade unit, attacking the line from the south, was less successful; it seized several positions but failed in its assault on the ʿIrāq Suwaydān police fort. (Suwaydān village and, later, Belt ʿAffa had, accordingly, to be abandoned.) For the next eight days, the two idf brigades fought continuously to contain the more powerful Egyptians, break their line, and join in the defense of local kibbutzim, notably Negbah and *Be'erot Yiẓḥak, which held out miraculously against overwhelming enemy forces. On the night of July 17, with another truce about to be called, the idf launched a determined attack on two positions astride the Egyptian line, Ḥatta and Karatiyya, located between ʿIrāq Suwaydān and Fālūja. Taking a key role in the combined Givati-Negev brigades action was a commando battalion from a newly created armored brigade that had made a spectacular dash through the town of *Lydda a few days earlier and had been rushed down to reinforce Givati. Ḥatta and Karatiyya fell, thereby breaching the Majdal-Fālūja line. When the truce came on the evening of July 18, Egyptian east-west communications were thus severed, and the Israelis had a direct land connection with the Negev.
on the central front
The idf's greatest offensive effort during the ten days of fighting was directed against the Arab Legion on the central front, the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. With the major objective of taking the two towns of Lydda and *Ramleh, clearing the central area, and then, if there was still time, attempting the capture of Ramallah and Latrun, the idf organized a strong force, headed by the commander of the Palmaḥ, consisting of the Yiftaḥ Brigade, the new 8th Armored Brigade – comprising a tank battalion, a commando battalion of jeeps and half-tracks – and two battalions from the Kiryati and Alexandroni Brigades, as well as additional artillery and engineering units. The action was called "Operation Dani." Two forces struck in a pincer movement, one moving on Lydda and Ramleh from the northwest, the other from the southwest. Yiftaḥ, the southern force, captured ʿInāba and Jimzū and by the afternoon of the 10th fought its way through to *Ben Shemen, to the rear of Lydda. One unit turned westward to take Kefar Daniel, which cut off Ramleh from the east. The armored brigade moved off along the northern arc on the morning of the 10th and captured Wilhelma, Ṭīra, and other villages en route and then swung south to Deir Ṭarīf, ready to meet the southern pincer forces at Ben Shemen. During this advance, a small force darted off to capture al-Sāfiriyya and then pushed on to capture the Lydda airport. Thus, within a day and a half of the resumption of hostilities, the largest airport in the Middle East and a dozen key villages had fallen to the idf in the first engagements in which Israel units had used armor. At Deir (Dayr) Ṭarīf the tank battalion was held up by strong Arab Legion forces based on Beit Nabālā across the road, on the western slopes of the hills. Fighting there was heavy, and Deir Ṭarīf fell only on the following day. The commando battalion did get through to Ben Shemen, however, on the afternoon of the 10th, having bypassed Deir Ṭarīf. Then, without pausing to rest or wait for the required artillery support, it made a surprise dash to Lydda, breaking into the city past Arab positions, driving right through it and shooting it up, and repeating the same maneuver on its way back. This was one of the most daring actions of the war and caused utter confusion in the enemy ranks. They were still dazed when Yiftaḥ troops moved in to effect the city's capture. The Arab Legion counterattacked the next day without success. On July 12, Kiryati units took Ramleh, which surrendered after a brief engagement, and, north of this sector, Rosh ha-Ayin, which had been seized by the Iraqis in June, was recaptured.
The Arab Legion now regrouped its forces to strengthen the defenses of Ramallah and Latrun. With reinforcements brought from Jerusalem, the Legion held the Latrun enclave with a full brigade and considerable armor. For the next few days it fought stubbornly – and effectively – being saved by the truce from the attacks of the Yiftaḥ and Harel units. But north of Latrun, Israel units pressing southward from Lydda and Ramleh captured Shiltā, Barfīlyya, Burj, Bīr (Bi'r) Maʿin, and Salbit. This brought them to positions from which they dominated the Ramallah-Beit Nūba-Latrun road. Southeast of Latrun, Harel, again responsible for the Jerusalem Corridor, widened it by capturing important positions on its southern edge, including Hartuv. In and around Jerusalem, *Ein Kerem and Malḥa were captured by local Jerusalem units, who had been engaged in heavy fighting throughout the ten days in different quarters of the city. But the truce found the Old City still held by the Arab Legion. The one Legion gain was the capture of a building belonging to a certain Mr. Mandelbaum. This later became the celebrated Mandelbaum Gate, the crossing point between Jordan and Israel during the period from the armistice to the *Six-Day War.
operations in the north
The most spectacular operation in the north during the ten days of fighting was "Operation Dekel," which culminated in the capture of Nazareth. It was carried out by a group consisting of the 7th Brigade and a battalion from Carmeli, with some support from Golani. After capturing several Arab positions between the coast and the foothills southeast of Acre, the force successfully attacked the Shefaram (Shefāʿ Amr) on July 14 and pressed on southeast to take Ẓippori the following day after stubborn fighting. The opposing Arab force in this region was Qāwuqjī's Arab Liberation Army, which at that moment was placing very heavy pressure on *Sejera, to the east. With the fall of Ẓippori, and Qāwuqjī's main force still being resisted by the Jewish settlement of Sejera, the people of Nazareth began to panic as the main brigade column advanced on the city. At the same time, a small unit from Golani moved toward Nazareth from the Jezreel Valley, suggesting to Qāwuqjī that he was also threatened by a strong force from the south. When the brigade was less than a mile from the town, however, the commander of Nazareth sent out an armored car unit to block its advance. The brigade column went straight on without pausing, firing as it moved. After desultory fighting, the city surrendered on the evening of July 16. Qāwuqjī himself, together with the bulk of his forces, succeeded in escaping into the mountains to the north through trails that idf troops had not yet had a chance to seal. The result of "Operation Dekel" was to free the entire belt of Lower Galilee from Haifa Bay to Lake Kinneret.
Further north, the Carmeli Brigade undertook operations whose major aim was the elimination of the Syrian salient at Mishmar ha-Yarden, and whose lesser purpose was the containment of the enemy within the area of the bridgehead. Fighting was intense throughout the entire ten days, with positions like Dardara and Hill 223 changing hands as many as three times. The battles ended in a stalemate, with the Syrians still in Mishmar ha-Yarden; but the Syrians were stopped from advancing even the short distance westward to cut the Rosh Pinnah-Metullah road.
air and naval operations
The Israel air force, with its newly acquired warplanes, though inferior in number and type to those of the enemy, was very active during these ten days, carrying out support, pursuit, and bombing missions. Three World War ii Flying Fortresses carried out air attacks on Egypt en route to Israel on July 14, one bombing Cairo and the others attacking Rafa and El Arish. Damascus was also bombed. The Israel navy, having feverishly reconditioned the hulks of "illegal" immigrant boats, bombarded Arab centers along the Carmel coast, sabotaged ships near Gaza, and shelled the Lebanese port of Tyre. Most of the navy's casualties, however, were suffered on land when an amphibious company was rushed to the southern front during the critical operation to break the Egyptian Majdal-Fālūja line to reinforce Givati.
The Second Truce
Breaches of the second truce, which went into effect at 7 p.m. on July 18, began almost from the first day. In the Jerusalem area the Arab Legion intensified its bombardment of the New City, and during the remainder of July, August, September, and October, Jerusalem was shelled, mortared, and machine-gunned almost every night. (The attacks stopped only on November 30, when both sides agreed to a "sincere cease-fire.") On August 12, the Legion destroyed the Latrun pumping station, even though it was under un control, but Israel quickly laid a pipeline along the "Burma Road" and kept Jerusalem supplied with water. In the north, Qāwuqjī's Arab Liberation Army kept up sporadic harassment of Jewish positions.
Clearing the Road to the Negev: October 15–22
In the south, the Egyptians soon ignored the truce provisions and denied Jewish convoys passage through the Ḥatta-Karatiyya gap in their line. They seized positions outside the truce boundaries and then extended their attacks to several idf posts that covered the gap. On October 15, the Israel army and air force turned to the offensive after the Egyptians had attacked a convoy proceeding south and raided inter-kibbutz communications. In a brisk seven days' campaign, the road to the Negev was opened and the Negev was cleared of Egyptian troops.
During this period, Operation Yo'av (also known by its preliminary name, Operation Ten Plagues) was carried out. In the reorganization that the army had carried out during the preceding truce months (when, incidentally, officers had been given ranks for the first time), the country had been divided into four military commands. The southern front command, headed by the Palmaḥ commander, was responsible for Operation Yo'av. The force consisted of three infantry brigades, Negev, Givati and Yiftaḥ, plus an armored battalion from the 8th Armored Brigade and the largest artillery formation that had ever been available to the idf. (The Oded Brigade joined the command on October 18.) During the truce months, Yiftaḥ was flown south in an extraordinary airlift – since the Egyptians had blocked the road – to relieve the Negev Brigade, which was lifted north to rest, reorganize, and prepare for resumed action.
On the night of October 15 the Israel Air Force bombed bases from which Egyptian assaults had been launched and also attacked Egypt's advanced airfield at Rafa. This action kept most of the Egyptian front-line fighters out of the skies and gave the idf air superiority for the first time. The Israel navy also took part in these southern engagements, shelling enemy coastal installations, preventing supplies from reaching Gaza and Majdal by sea, and scoring a spectacular triumph on the very eve of the truce, when its special unit sank the Amir Fārūq ("Emir Farouk"), flagship of the Egyptian navy, off the shores of Gaza.
On the ground, Yiftaḥ troops led off by carrying out a series of raids and sabotage actions against Egyptian concentrations and communications in the coastal strip north and south of Gaza, to the links between Rafa and Gaza, and between Gaza and Majdal. The Givati and the armored battalion went into action to break the Majdal-Bet Guvrin line. In heavy fighting, the tank unit failed to take ʿIrāq al Manshiyya, just east of Fālūja. Next night, Givati units made a breakthrough west of Fālūja, fighting their key battles at Hill 113 and nearby Egyptian strongholds dominating the crossroads between Majdal and Fālūja. After stiff hand-to-hand engagements, the positions were captured and held against heavy Egyptian counterattacks. On the night of the 16th, Givati advanced southward and took the Heights of Kawkaba, commanding the road running north–south. But Yiftaḥ failed to take the Heights of al-Ḥulayqāt further south, which also commanded that road. Ḥulayqāt fell only on October 20, after other Yiftaḥ units had succeeded in capturing several nearby positions. The road to the Negev was now clear, in spite of the fact that the ʿIrāq Suwaydān police fort had successfully resisted a further Israel attack to capture it.
Meanwhile, the Security Council was anxiously trying to effect a cease-fire, and the idf recognized that it had little time to exploit the successful opening of the Negev road. At 4:00 on the morning of October 21, the idf moved to capture Beersheba. Taking part were the bulk of the 8th Brigade; a Negev Brigade battalion, which had dashed south along the road within hours of the capture of Ḥulayqāt; and the Negev Brigade's commando battalion, which had already been operating in the south, harassing the enemy in the Gaza-Rafa region. While some units took up blocking positions north and south of the town to hold up Egyptian reinforcements, and another carried out a diversion action in the direction of Hebron, the main idf force advanced on the city from the west. There was stiff fighting inside the city, but at 8:00 a.m. a white flag went up on the police fort, and by 9:15 the capture of Beersheba was complete.
During Operation Yo'av, the Harel Brigade was active in the mountainous area between the Jerusalem Corridor and Bet Guvrin, greatly widening the approaches to Jerusalem and cutting the Egyptian artery from Bet Guvrin to Bethlehem. Detachments from the Eẓyoni and Givati Brigades took part in some of these actions. A truce was ordered for 3:00 p.m. on October 22, but there was some action in the days immediately following. The police fort of Bet Guvrin fell on October 27, and after the Egyptians had retreated southward from Ashdod (October 28) and Majdal (November 6) to Gaza, idf troops occupied the coastal strip down to Yad Mordekhai. Trapped in a pocket, which was centered around Fālūja and included ʿIrāq Suwaydān on the west and ʿIrāq al Manshiyya on the east, was an entire Egyptian brigade, consisting of some 4,000 troops headed by a brave Sudanese commanding officer who refused to surrender. On November 9, the area of the "Fālūja Pocket," as it came to be called, was reduced by idf's capture of the village and police fort of ʿIrāq Suwaydān, in one of the numerous actions in which both sides engaged to improve their positions despite the truce.
The Arab Liberation Army Driven Off: October 29–31
In the north, Qāwuqjī's Arab Liberation Army which did not consider itself bound by the United Nations truce, carried out local attacks during the cease-fire months. On October 22, thinking that the idf would be too preoccupied with actions in the Negev, Qāwuqjī launched a strong attack on the outpost of kibbutz *Manarah, a kibbutz on the ridge near the Lebanese border above the Ḥuleh Valley. They captured the strongpoint of Sheikh ʿAbbād, repelled a counterattack by the local idf unit, and ambushed the reinforcements who were rushed in to relieve Manarah, inflicting heavy casualties on them as they tried to negotiate the steep heights. Israel's protests to the un were unavailing. The Arabs continued to hold Sheikh ʿAbbād and captured further hill positions, cutting the Manarah-Nabi Yūshaʿ track and dominating the *Rosh Pinnah-*Metullah road. On the night of October 28, the idf initiated Operation Ḥiram, striking not at the point of attack selected by Qāwuqjī, but at his main bases, in an effort to rout his army. The forces available to the northern front commander were four brigades: the 7th (together with the armored battalion that had fought with it in Operation Dekel), Oded, Golani, and Carmeli. The air force was active in bombing and ground-support missions. The main action fell to the 7th Brigade, which pushed off from Safed in a western and northwestern drive on Sasa, the heart of Upper Galilee. In less than 24 hours of hard fighting, they made a lightning advance through the rugged hills and captured Meron (succeeding in the second attack); took Safsāf; sped on to the powerful stronghold of Jish, which had been reinforced by a Syrian battalion and which they overcame in stiff combat; and by nightfall on the 29th were in Sasa. In a coordinated action, Oded started eastward at zero hour from bases near Nahariyyah also aiming for Sasa, so that the Arab Liberation Army would be encircled and squeezed by Oded thrusting from one direction and the 7th Brigade from the other. Oded's first objective was Tarshīḥa. Several outposts near the approaches to the town were captured, but Tarshīḥa itself held firm. It surrendered only on the morning of the 30th, after Golani had undertaken a series of diversionary actions in the south that sent the Liberation Army northward.
In a quick change of plan, Golani was ordered to exploit its success and push on to ʿAylabūn, which it captured, while the 7th Brigade, further north, also exploited its success by advancing northeastward on Malkiyyah. Oded detachments, who by now were driving eastward beyond Tarshīḥa, engaged Arab forces retreating from the south, and then, after reaching the frontier road with Lebanon, changed direction and pushed due west, clearing the entire road up to the Mediterranean coast. The 7th Brigade took Malkiyyah by surprise, coming at it from the south, and captured it. This relieved the pressure on Manarah, and the Carmeli Brigade, covering the eastern sector to prevent a Syrian breakthrough from Mishmar ha-Yarden, now moved to the offensive. It crossed into Lebanon and captured a number of villages lying near the Manarah road. Some of its detachments reached the Litani River. (The Lebanese villages were given up by Israel in the *armistice agreement which was signed in March 1949.) When the survivors among Qāwuqjī's forces realized that they were being squeezed from the east, south, and west, and particularly after the fall of their key centers at Jish, Sasa, and Tarshīḥa, they started evacuating the pocket, using little-known tracks to make their way northward into Lebanon. When the cease-fire was ordered on October 31, 60 hours after the start of the action, the entire Galilee was clear of the Arab Liberation Army.
Expelling the Egyptians: December 22–January 7
In the south, there were infractions of the truce by both sides throughout November and December; but those of the Egyptians were more serious, as they had more to gain, having lost so much. They attacked Jewish settlement communications, sabotaged the inter-settlement water pipeline, and tried to seize Negev outposts in order to improve their military positions. They also refused to implement a Security Council order (which Israel accepted) to start armistice talks, unless Israel first allowed the release of the trapped Fālūja brigade. Israel said it would release the force as soon as talks got under way. Egypt remained adamant, and its forces continued their harassing activities in the Negev. Israel then decided to launch Operation Ḥorev, aimed at expelling the Egyptians from the borders of the country. The forces taking part, under the commander of the southern front, were the 8th Armored and the Negev brigades, which had participated in Operation Yo'av; the Alexandroni and Golani brigades, which replaced Givati and Yiftaḥ; and two battalions and an additional unit from the Harel Brigade. The Egyptians were entrenched along two main wings, the western and stronger of the two, forking north from ʿAwjā al-Ḥafīr along the Sinai border into the coastal strip through Rafa to Gaza, and the eastern one curving in an arc northeast from ʿAwjā through al-Mushrifa and Bīr (Bī'r) ʿAslūj to 15 mi. (24 km.) south of Beersheba. The main effort called for in the first phase of idf's operation was the destruction of the eastern arm, with its heavily defended strongpoints ranged all along the main, hard-topped Beersheba-ʿAwjā highway. To effect surprise, the idf decided to use a little known old Roman road cutting directly across the desert through Wadi al-Abyaḍ from Beersheba to ʿAwjā, which would bring its forces in the rear of ʿAwjā and of the Mushrifa and Bīr ʿAslūj bases. This ancient track had to be prepared by the engineers to take vehicles, however, and such work could not be started without losing the element of surprise until the campaign was under way. It was accordingly decided to start operations with feinting and diversionary attacks on the western Egyptian wing, which would also promote the impression that this was the main objective, and then deliver the principal punch to the east wing.
On the afternoon of December 22, the coastal strip was heavily shelled, and that night Golani units went into action cutting enemy communications between Rafa and Gaza and trying to seize key hills. For the next 48 hours idf fought bitter battles and suffered many casualties in strong Egyptian counterattacks, displaying particular heroism in the battle for Hill 86 (from which they eventually had to retreat). But they fulfilled their task of diverting the enemy's attention from the eastern wing and misleading them as to idf's true intentions.
On the morning of December 25 (a storm and flooding forced a postponement of zero hour by a day) the 8th Armored and Negev brigades set forth from al-Khalaṣa, south of Beersheba, on their appointed tasks. The Negev Brigade cut southward, aiming for Mushrifa, and had to fight a series of stiff battles for the well-defended group of hills round al-Thamila, close to the ʿAwjā-Bīr (Biʾr) ʿAslūj road. The Egyptians counterattacked heavily, and one Negev unit lost half its men trying to hold one key height. But it was soon regained, and by the morning of December 26 the key middle bastions of the Egyptians between ʿAwjā and Bīr ʿAslūj were in Israeli hands, with Bir ʿAslūj, the northeastern terminal of the Egyptian line, cut off and the rear of ʿAwjā exposed.
Meanwhile, the Armored Brigade had had a very difficult drive southwest across the Roman road to the south, and despite the brilliant work of the engineers in making the track passable, there were delays. The main force, which was to have reached the ʿAwjā area by dawn on the 26th, did not get there until the late afternoon, when it engaged ʿAwjā's outposts but was not in a position to launch its main attack. The offensive was carried out on the morning of the 27th, after roadblocks had been established north and west of ʿAwjā. The attack, in which the commando battalion of the Armored Brigade played a key part, was heavily resisted; Egyptian ground forces were aided by their air force, which bombed and strafed the Israeli units. But by 8:00 a.m., ʿAwjā fell, and thereafter Egyptian troops began evacuating their strongholds in the rear of ʿAwjā, with Israeli units in hot pursuit. The Negev Brigade completed its task of clearing the entire line up to and including Bīr ʿAslūj, which it occupied just after midday, and then raced westward along the paved road, joining up with the Armored Brigade at ʿAwjā in the afternoon. The Beersheba-ʿAwjā highway was now open, and no Egyptian troops were left on Israeli soil.
idf then continued westward and northwestward from ʿAwjā into Sinai in pursuit of the Egyptian forces. On the night of the 28th, the Negev Brigade plus the Armored Brigade's tank battalion carried out an attack on Abu Aweigilā, some 30 mi. (48 km.) west of the international border, commanding the important junction of the road west to Ismailia and the road northwest to El-Arish. Golani units assisted by carrying out operations to halt enemy reinforcements. Captured enemy transport was used for the fast move (which led to a mishap soon after they crossed the border when, with enemy markings still on them, they were attacked by Israeli planes). The column advanced, battling defensive strongpoints en route, until they reached the outposts of Abu Aweigilā itself. There was stubborn fighting through the night, but the outposts were finally captured, and by dawn Negev units entered Abu Aweigilā. Almost without pause, part of the force pressed forward to raiding operations, though subjected to Egyptian air bombing. The tanks and commando units advancing northwest reached the El-Arish airfield, destroying installations and capturing one Spitfire intact, and went on to fight a brisk battle with the battalion-held outpost of Bīr Laḥfan, which they captured. But with no supporting troops, and the tanks badly in need of maintenance, the units returned to Abu Aweigilā on December 30. On the previous day as well, a light mobile unit sped westward to raid the air base at Bīr Ḥamma more than 50 mi. (80 km.) west of Abu Aweigilā, and returned. The 30th was spent in capturing Egyptian defense positions between Abu Aweigilā and El-Arish, between ʿAwjā and Rafa, and al-Quṣayma, some 20 mi. (32 km.) south of ʿAwjā.
By this time, however, with idf forces inside Sinai in pursuit of the enemy, strong diplomatic pressure was being exercised on the government of Israel. Britain even threatened to activate the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 unless the idf withdrew to the international boundary. The front command was accordingly given orders to evacuate Sinai by January 2, 1949, but to continue operations within the boundaries of mandatory Palestine. The last Israeli actions inside Sinai were a Harel raid on Bīr Ḥassneh and the destruction of a large bridge spanning the Ismailia-Abu Aweigilā road. The next few days were spent in bitter fighting in the Rafa area, mostly by the Golani and Harel brigades, supported by the Armored and Negev brigades, in which several outposts of Rafa, stubbornly contested by both sides, kept changing hands. With the enemy squeezed back toward the coast, the idf prepared to attack Rafa itself, but was prevented from doing so by the cease-fire, which became effective on the afternoon of January 7. On that day, five British fighters zoomed low over Israel battle positions and were shot down by Israeli planes. It transpired later that they were on armed reconnaissance flights, but they had been taken for Egyptian warplanes, which had been strafing Israeli units daily. This action caused a furor in the British parliament, where the government was strongly criticized – particularly by Winston Churchill, who was then leader of the opposition – for sending planes over the battle area in what seemed an open act of British intervention.
The Alexandroni Brigade had been assigned to contain and then subdue the Egyptian brigade trapped in the Fālūja Pocket. It attacked ʿIrāq al-Manshiyya on the night of December 27 and fought a hard battle. But the defenders under their Sudanese commander put up very stout resistance, battling with bravery and skill and effecting determined counterattacks when any position fell. The Israelis withdrew. The Fālūja Brigade was released only with the signature of the Israel-Egypt armistice agreement at Rhodes on February 24, and was saluted for its bravery by its Israeli adversaries as it left.
Under that agreement, Israel was permitted to maintain only defensive troops in the western Negev, from Fālūja to Eilat. They were free, however, to maintain whatever forces they considered necessary in the eastern half of the Negev. Up to then, Israel had controlled the Negev by regular patrols, without having a permanent force at the southern tip on the Gulf of Akaba. Early in March, the Negev Brigade set off from the northern Negev to trek south along interior tracks through sand and rock, hill barriers, and canyons, while the Golani Brigade moved along the Arabah. On the afternoon of March 10, 1949, the Israeli flag was hoisted on a few mud buildings, abandoned by a Transjordanian detachment, at what was known then as Umm Rashrash and now as Eilat. The spearheads of both brigades arrived almost simultaneously. The armistice agreement with Transjordan was signed, also at Rhodes, on April 3, 1949. On March 23 an agreement was signed with Lebanon at Rosh ha-Nikrah; and the last armistice agreement, with Syria, was signed on July 20. These acts officially ended Israel's War of Independence.
N. Lorch, The Edge of the Sword (19682), includes bibliography; M. Pearlman, Army of Israel (1950); E. O'Ballance, Arab Israeli War 1948 (1956); J. Kimche, Seven Fallen Pillars (1950); J. and D. Kimche, Both Sides of the Hill (1960); W. Eytan, First Ten Years (1958); J.R. Carlson, Cairo to Damascus (1951). add. bibliography: U. Millstein, History of Israel's War of Independence, 4 vols. (1996–99).
"War of Independence." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/war-independence
"War of Independence." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/war-independence