First Arab-Israeli War: Contending Forces (1948-49)

Palestinian irregulars
Figure 1.--This group of Palestinian irregulars in i946 captured arrested Irgun leader Menachem Begin and several Haganah operatives. They were released after he convinced their captors that he worked as a cook in a restaurant and the rest were his colleagues. Began was a Polish Jew who managed to escape the clutches both the NAZIs and Soviet NKVD. He would become Israel's sixth prime minister. The Palestinian text read, " المقاومة الفلسطينية مجموعة من قوات المجاهدين الفلسطينيين عام ١٩٤٦ تقوم باعتقال الارهابي مناحيم بيغن وعدد من قادة العصابة الصهيونية الارهابية “الهاغاناة” وقد تم اطلاق سراحه بعد ان اقنع آسريه بأنه يعمل طباخ في أحد المطاعم والبقية زملاءٌّ له!! مع العلم انه لم يكن معروفا في تلك الفترة ولم تكن وسائل الاعلام متوفرة مثل هذه الايام ."

There were various military and para-military groups in Palestine. The major force was the Btitish Army. They struggled to keep order as the violence between the Arabs and Jews increased. They attempted to keep arms out of Arab and Jewish hands and for the nost part succeeded. Neither side acquired heavy weapons, but this actually aided the Arabs. They could easily smuggle small arms from the friendly Arab states surrounding Palestine. And the armies of the Front-Line Arab states were heavily armed. The British also prevented substantial Jewish immigration, but did not even try to regulate Arab immigration. Finally the British gave up and asked the United Nations to solve the problem. After the United Nations voted for Partition, the British were focused only getting out with the termination of the mandate authotity. The two contending forces were poorly organized, but numerous Palestinian irregulars. The primary Jewish force was the Hagenah which was an underground army and self defense forcce. It develope when the Brutish Army proved incapable of defending Jewish kibutzes from Palestinian terror attacks. It became heavily involved in smuggling refugees and arms. The Hagenah which became the Israeli Army when Israel declared indpendence. And because of the Holocaust, the Hgenah was extrenely disciplined and well organized. Another Israeli group was the Irgun terror organization. Outside of Palestine was several well armed Aran armies with modern weapons. The two most important were the small but well trained Arab (Jordanin) Legion nd the larger but poorly trained Egyptian Army.

British Army

There were various military and para-military groups in Palestine. The major force and the only one with heavy weapons was the Btitish Army. They struggled to keep order as the violence between the Arabs and Jews increased. They attempted to keep arms out of Arab and Jewish hands and for the nost part succeeded. Neither side acquired heavy weapons, but this actually aided the Arabs. They could easily smuggle small arms from the friendly Arab states surrounding Palestine. And the armies of the Front-Line Arab states were heavily armed. The British also prevented substantial Jewish immigration, but did not even try to regulate Arab immigration. Unlike the Arab Revolt before World War II, after the War it was Jewish groups that began targetting the British. The Nritish after the ar were banjrupt and were losing their aoetite for empire, especially colonial possessions of little value abd were costly to maintain. Finally the British gave up and asked the United Nations to solve the problem. After the United Nations voted for Partition (November 1947), the British were focused only on getting out and the expiration of the League Mandate gav them the perfect excuse to do so.

Arab Liberation Army

One of the two contending forces was the poorly organized, but numerous Palestinian irregulars styled the Arab Liberation Army (ALA). The ALA was composed of volunteers from Palestine and neighboring Arab countries. Syria bought small arms in Czechoslovkia for the ALA, but Hagenah manahed to interdict the shipmenrs. the shipment never arrived due to Haganah force intervention. [Gelber (2006), p. 50.] The Hagenah proved much more effective than the Arab irregulars and by the time that independence was declared had largely defeated them. They had, however, been unable to open a secure route to the Jews in Jerusalem which was deep in he Arab populated zone.

Israeli Forces

The primary Jewish force was the Haganah which was the the primary Zionist self-defense force whic deveoped into an underground army as the attacks of the Aran irregulars increased. It developed when the British Army and police proved incapable of defending Jewish kibutzes from Palestinian terror attacks. It became heavily involved in smuggling refugees and arms. The Hagenah which became the Israeli Army when Israel declared indpendence. And because of the Holocaust, the Hgenah was extrenely disciplined and well organized. Two other Jewish groups were thhe Irgun/Etzel and Lehi terror organizations.

Hagenah

The Haganah (Hebrew for Defense) was the primary Zionist military organization on and was supported by the majority of the yishuv, Jewish comminity Palestine, (1920-48). It was organized to defend isolated Jewish kibbutzes and other settlements from the attacks of Arab irregular forces. It was founded by the socialist Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) (June 1920). The socialist were ine of the two major wings of the Zionist mivement. The other was the religious wing. The Arab riots and attacks on Jews (1920-21) left no doubt that the British security forces could not defend the jishuv. The conclusion was that the yishuv required its own independent defense force. Although the Haganah was banned by the British Mandate officials and thus was poorly armed, it suceeded in defending even isolated Jewish kibbutzes and other settlements. The Haganah pursued moderate operations, although Palestnian sources refer to it as a terror group and after the War as Arab attacks escalated and the British coninued to limit immigration, even of Holocaust survibors, operations became more violent. Jewish political and rligious leaders adopted a policy of 'havlaga' (self-restraint). They opposed terrorist attacks of the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Gang. The Hagenah volunteers served on a part-time basis. It was not until World War II (1941), a full-time commando force, the Palmach (Pluggot Machatz--Shock Companies) were organized. After World War II, when the British continued to placate Arabs demands to allow unlimited Jewish immigration. Jews were incensed that even Holocaust survivors were denied access to Palestine. The main activ=ties of the Hagenah became to smuuggle Jewish refugees and arms. Ben-Gurion concluded that the Yishuv would probably have to defend itself against both the Palestinian irregulars Arabs and the armies of the neighbouring Arab states (1946). The Hagenah began a covert arms acquisition campaign and despite the British naval patrols managed to acquire a small arsenal of small arms and some mortars. [Morris, 2003, p. 16.] It is at this time that Haganah began to carry out terror actions, bombing bridges, rail lines, and ships used to deport illegal Jewish immigrants. After the United Nations approved a Partition Plan (March 1947), the Haganah came into the open as the defense force for the soon to be Jewish state. There were clashes with the well-armed British Army and increased combat with the Arab irregulars. As the British began to prepare to depart, clashes declined, but increased with the Palestinian irregulars. As a result, the Hagenah when Israel declared independence (March 1948) had possession of most of the settled areas the United Nations had assigned to to Iarael in addition to some Arab cities (Akko/Acre and (Yafo/Jaffa). Its major problen was the savingvthe Jews in Jerusakem surrounded by Arab force. One of the first actions of the Israeli provisional government was to disolve the Haganah as a private organization and estanish it as the national army of the new Jewish state (May 31). Its name is preserved in the official name of the Israeli armed services--Tzva Haganah le-Yisraʾel (Israel Defense Forces--IDF).

Irgun/Etzel

The Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization) or Etzel was the Zionist right-wing underground movement in Palestine. It was founded as some Jews believed thr the Hagenah was not acting forcefully enough o f=deal with the attaks of Palestinian irregulars (1931). Its support at first came from the non-socialist Zionist parties, especilly religious Jews. It became associated with the Revisionist Party, an extreme nationalist group that had seceded from the World Zionist Organization (1936). Its goal was to establish a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, fully cognizabt that this meant the use of force. The initial terror attacks was on the British which it viewed as illegal occupiers. It was also vehemntly anti-Arab seeing Arabs as impossible to deal with. The Irgun was deeply involved in smuggling of Jews iPalestine after after the publication of the British White Paper on Palestine (1939). The British respondding to Arab demands, sharply reduced immigration otas. The Irgun attacks led to the British executing many members. The Irgun retaliat by executing British soldiers they took histage. The Irgun operatives prived both disciplined and daring. They managed to capture the Akko/Acre prison, an imposing medieval fortress that even Napoleon failed to capture. nd in th final days of the British Mmandate, they seized much if Yafo/Jaffa. It was he Urgun that carried out the most deadly attack of campaign, blowing up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 soldiers and civilians (British, Arab, and Jewish) (July 22, 1946). Irgun commandos raided the Arab village of Dayr Yāsīn (Kefar Shaʾul) and killed some 100 people (April 9, 1947). With the Israeli declaration of indepndence, Irgun's surviving units disbanded and the former mmbers took the oath of loyalty to the Hagenah which had becom the IDF (September 1, 1948). Its members and supportes became the core of the Ḥerut (Freedom) Party, one of Israel’s most hard core itant right-wing groups. They eventually merged with the Liberals to form the Gaḥal Party.

Lehi/Stern Gang

Lehi was the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) pejoratively known as the Stern Gang. It was a small underground organization founded by Avraham (Yair) Stern (1940). They broke away from Etzel, primarily regardung thevBritish Stern wanted a terror campaign against British forces even hough the British were fighingbthe NAZIs. Lehi refused to regonize the authority of the Yishuv's elected representatives and interntionl Zionist movement. There were clashed with the Haganah. Lehi's goals were basically absurd, wr with the Brutish Empire and the conquest and liberation of Eretz Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile. And to achieve this theyhad only a small group of poorly armed militants. This dictated their tactics, daring actions to gain funding and arms. British detectives fond nd mi=rdered Stern (February 1942). Followers cinunued operatiins with the more focsed objective of driving Britain out of Palestine. Here their cstrategy was to make it to oainful and exoensive to remain. Two Lehi operatives assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister for Middle East Affairs in Cairo. (November 1944). They were caught, and hanged (March 1945). After World War II, the Hebrew Resistance Movement was founded (November 1945). Lehi along with the Haganah and Etzel joined. Lehi carried out several terror attacks, the largest of which was the bombing of the Haifa railroad workshops (June 1946). Some 11 Lehi members were killed. The Hebrew Resistance Movement broke up following Etzel's bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (July 1946). Lehi continued its harassing attacks. Lehi decided to focus its limite activities in Jerusalem, concerned about the U.N. Partition Plan which included making Jerusalem n international city. Like Etzel, Lehi disbanced when Hagenah was transormed into the IDF (May 31, 1948). Members enlisted in the IDF. Lehi continued to operate independently in Jerusalem justifying it out of fer that Israel would nitvgain control of the city. Lehi opertives are suspected of the asasination of U.N. mediator, Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem (September 7, 1948). The Israeli Governmnt moved to supress the Lehi operation in Jerusalem.

Arab Armies

Outside of Palestine was several well armed Aran armies with modern weapons. The two most important were the small but well trained Arab (Jordanin) Legion nd the larger but poorly trained Egyptian Army. There was serious divisions among the Arabs. Rumours pread that King Abdullah was re-opening bilateral negotiations with Israel that he had conducted in secret with the Jewish Agency. As a esult, the Arab League, led by Egypt, decided to set up the All-Palestine Government in Gaza (September 8, 1947). The Egyptians placed it under the nominal leadership of the Mufti. [Shlaim, 2001, p. 97.] King Abdullah regarded the attempt to revive al-Husayni's Holy War Army as a challenge to his authority and desire to seize territory. As a result, hedisbaned the armed bodies operating in the areas controlled by the Arab Legion. The Legion's commander, Glubb Pasha, executed the order ruthlessly and efficiently. [Morris (2003), p. 189.]

Arab (Jordanian) Legion

The Arab Legion was an internal security militia to protect Emir Abdulah and the new monarchy. It was recruited from men who conducted the Arab Revolt and intensely loyal to the Hashemite monarchy. The AL evolved into the regular army of Trans-Jordon. There was considerable support for the Axis inthe Arab world, epecially mandates like Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. Trans-Jordon was a British ally during the War. John Bagot Glubb, known as Glubb Pasha, was appointed the AL's commander. Major General Abdul Qadir Pasha Al Jundi, a Jordanian, was appointed deputy commander. These two men created the best trained Arab army during World War II, albeit very small and lightly armed. The AL at the time of World War II consisted of 1,600 men. It was part of Iraqforce and made an important contribution in the Anglo-Iraqi War and in the Syria-Lebanon campaign (1941), two rare Allied victories in the early years of World War II. Syria was being used by the Germans to funnel arms to the pro-NAZI Iraqi Government. The Arab League fought in the First Arab-Isreali War (1948-49). The AL managed to seize much of Jerusalem. Several years later the Legioin became the regular Jordanian Army (1956). It was at first called the Arab Army, but Legion was used informally by the men for years.

Egyptian Army

Egyptian generals confidently informed their government that the invasion will be 'A parade without any risks' and Tel Aviv "in two weeks". [Morris 2008 p. 185]

Lebanese Army


Syrin Army


Sources

Gelber, Yoav. Palestine 1948. War, Escape and the Emergence of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Sussex Academic Press: 2006).

Morris, Benny. 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press, New Haven: 2008).

Shlaim, Avi. "Israel and the Arab Coalition," in Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds.). The War for Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2001), pp. 79–103.






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Created: 6:42 AM 11/2/2007
Last updated: 7:30 PM 11/3/2017