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  • Written by Chaim Herzog and Shlomo Gazit
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The Arab-Israeli Wars

War and Peace in the Middle East

Written by Chaim HerzogAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Chaim Herzog and Shlomo GazitAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Shlomo Gazit

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Now in its third edition, this classic study has been updated for the first time in more than twenty years.

Chaim Herzog, former President of Israel, was involved in every conflict involving Israel and its Arab neighbors from before the 1948 War of Independence. The Arab-Israeli Wars is Herzog’s acclaimed history of Israel’s fight since 1947 to preserve her existence against repeated attacks. Revised after his death by friend and colleague General Shomo Gazit, this new edition also covers the events of the past twenty years, including the pullout from Lebanon, both intifadas, the first Gulf War, the Oslo Process, and beyond. Riveting, informative, and comprehensive, this authoritative account tells the story of Israel’s struggle to survive but gives a clear picture of the people and politics that continue to shape the destiny of this crucial region.




As Britain prepared to withdraw her forces in May 1948, and as the
Jewish community in Palestine braced itself for the inevitable Arab
onslaught, there emerged a factor that was to influence Israel’s
military considerations throughout the initial part of the War of
Independence. The leadership of the British armed forces had expressed
itself in unequivocably hostile terms about the struggle of the Jewish
population. They controlled the country’s major arteries and
strongpoints; their ships patrolled the eastern Mediterranean and the
coast; and the Royal Air Force controlled the skies above Palestine.
Furthermore, their forces included two Arab elements, namely the Arab
Legion and the Transjordan Frontier Force. Both these units were to
play no small part in favour of the Arab forces during the ensuing

Israeli forces and dispositions

The most vulnerable aspect of the Jewish position lay in tenuous lines
of communications between settlements, and it was inevitable that these
would become the first targets for Arab attacks. The Jewish population
was concentrated mainly in long strips of agricultural communities in
eastern Galilee, across the valley of Jezreel and down the coastal
plain to the south of Tel Aviv. In many towns and areas there was no
clear dividing line between Jewish and Arab populations; the
institutions and offices of government and major utilities such as
electricity and oil refineries were common to both. Particularly
vulnerable were communications with the isolated settlements of western
Galilee and the Negev and the links between Jerusalem’s 100,000 Jews
and the coastal plain (not to mention those linking the outlying Jewish
Jerusalem settlements with the bulk of the Jewish population in the
city proper). Nor were the official frontiers secure. Controlled
primarily by units of the Arab Legion and the Transjordan Frontier
Force, the long land borders could not be closed effectively to the
passage of Arab forces and military supplies into Palestine. The Legion
numbered some 8,000 troops, while the Frontier Force was 3,000 strong;
in addition, the British Palestine Police numbered some 4,000.
Nominally, the British forces were responsible for law and order in the
country, but both Jewish and Arab irregulars were by now operating
freely within the areas under their respective control.

Over the years, the Jewish armed forces or militia had grown, sometimes
with the connivance and assistance of the British and sometimes
‘underground’, despite the British. At the outset, locally organized
defence units had been established throughout the country in order to
defend Jewish settlements, but these had gradually been amalgamated
into a national organization, the ‘Haganah’. The Arab revolt of 1936—39
brought into existence the field companies of the Haganah, which were
the first units activated on a national country-wide basis, to counter
the effects of the uprising and to protect the oil pipeline crossing
the valley of Jezreel on its way from Iraq to a terminal at Haifa. They
were inspired by a British Army Captain, Orde Wingate (later to become
famous as leader of the ‘Chindits’ in Burma during the Second World
War), who set up ‘Special Night Squads’ to fight against the Arab
guerrillas bent on sabotaging the pipeline. There also existed
auxiliary forces known as the ‘Jewish Settlement Police’, who assisted
in the defence of Jewish settlements and the maintenance of the lines
of communications between them. Numbering some 2,000 men, officered by
the British and financed by the Jewish Agency, they were organized in
sections and armed only with small-arms.

In May 1941, the Haganah created a full-time military force known as
the ‘Palmach’ (from ‘Plugot Mahatz’ or ‘shock troops’). This force was
under the exclusive control of the Haganah, and was led initially by
Yitzhak Sadeh, a large and flamboyant Haganah leader who, by
personality and example, was a major driving force in its creation.
(Later, with the establishment of the Israel Defence Forces, his record
as a military leader in conventional operations did not live up to the
promise of these early years.) He gathered around him a group of
youngsters destined to be the leaders of Israel’s armed forces–indeed,
many of the men who were later to lead Israel’s army into battle
received their first training in the ranks of the Palmach–men such as
Yitzhak Rabin (later Chief of Staff and Prime Minister), Chaim Bar-Lev
(later Chief of Staff and a minister in the Israeli Government), David
Elazar (Chief of Staff in the 1973 Yom Kippur War) and many others. It
was in one of the first operations of the force, acting with the
British to oust the Vichy French from Syria, that Moshe Dayan (later to
become Chief of Staff, Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign
Affairs in various Israeli Governments, and to command Israel’s army in
the 1956 Sinai Campaign) lost an eye. In command of one of two select
reconnaissance units of the Palmach sent to secure a bridge across the
River Litani, his binoculars were hit by a French sniper’s bullet as he
was surveying the bridge. In command of the second unit that day was
Yigal Allon, later to become commander of the Palmach and subsequently
Deputy Prime Minister and a minister in several Israeli Governments.

During the Second World War, many Jews had volunteered for service in
the British armed forces, either as individuals or in Palestinian
units. In 1944, a Jewish Brigade Group was established and saw action
in Italy against the Germans. The wartime experience acquired by some
30,000 volunteers, in all arms of the British forces, later proved to
be invaluable in the creation of the Israel Defence Forces, providing
as it did much of the organizational, training and technical background
that hitherto had been absent in the Haganah. By the time that Rommel’s
army–which had threatened to overrun Egypt and enter Palestine–had been
defeated by the British in 1942, the Palmach under Yitzhak Sadeh
comprised a force of over 3,000, including some 2,000 reserves. In
1947, at the time of the United Nations Partition Resolution, the
Palmach numbered over 3,000 men and women with approximately 1,000 on
active reserve who could be called up at a moment’s notice. (In 1944, a
naval company, ‘Pal Yam’, and an air platoon had been established
within the Palmach organization.)

In mid-1947, David Ben-Gurion, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for
Palestine (which was, in effect, the government of the Jewish
population in Palestine), began preparing the Haganah for the expected
war. By six months before the outbreak of hostilities, he had created
military districts or commands astride the possible invasion routes of
the Arab armies, established brigades on a territorial basis and set
out the guidelines for the acquisition of arms and the training of
forces. Thus, by February 1948, the ‘Golani’ Brigade was operating in
the Jordan valley and eastern Galilee; the ‘Carmeli’ Brigade covered
Haifa and western Galilee; the ‘Givati’ Brigade the southern lowlands;
the ‘Alexandroni’ Brigade the Sharon central area; the ‘Etzioni’
Brigade the Jerusalem area; and the ‘Kiryati’ Brigade covered the city
of Tel Aviv and its environs. In the course of the following months,
three other Palmach brigades were created out of the independent
Palmach battalions: the ‘Negev’ Brigade in the southern lowlands and
the northern Negev; the ‘Yiftach’ Brigade in Galilee; and the ‘Harel’
Brigade in the Jerusalem area.

It is well to recall that, when one talks about brigades and military
units, one is not depicting a normal military line-up. The entire
Haganah operation was an underground one, and its military organization
and deployment had to be carried out under the vigilant eyes of British
troops and police in the full knowledge that the possession of weapons
was a crime punishable by death. Moreover, British soldiers carried out
raids on Jewish villages and towns from time to time, revealing secret
storage dumps of weapons. Ingenious, devious means of transporting and
storing weapons were an essential facet of Haganah skills. The Arabs
did not suffer from this disability, because they were less in
confrontation with the British forces and often moved around freely in
the areas under their control openly armed. In this respect, they
benefited considerably from the active support of the units of the Arab
Legion, which were part of the British forces. A modest domestic war
industry was created in which small-arms such as Sten guns and hand
grenades were manufactured, but the disadvantage with which the Jewish
forces set out to do battle is emphasized by the fact that the total
armament at the Haganah’s disposal in 1947 consisted of 900 rifles, 700
light machine-guns and 200 medium machine-guns with sufficient
ammunition for only three days’ fighting–even the standing force, the
Palmach, could only arm two out of every three of its active members.
At this stage, heavy machine-guns, anti-tank guns and artillery were
but a dream: not one existed in the Jewish forces.

The total Jewish force that could be mobilized from an overall Jewish
population of 650,000 was some 45,000, but these included some 30,000
men and women whose functions were limited to local defence,
particularly in the villages throughout the country–they could at no
time be included in the field forces. The effective force that the
Jewish population could field on a national basis on the outbreak of
hostilities therefore numbered approximately 15,000. The air platoon of
the Palmach consisted of eleven single-engined light aircraft manned by
twenty Piper Cub pilots plus some twenty fighter pilots with Royal Air
Force experience. These civilian aircraft were the nucleus of the
Israeli Air Force. No airport or landing strip was at their exclusive
disposal, and only two airfields in the country, Haifa and Lod (Lydda),
could be used by civilian aircraft. The naval company numbered some 350
sailors with Royal Navy and ‘illegal’ immigrant-running experience,
with a few motor boats and a number of frogmen.

In addition to the Haganah, there existed in Palestine the two Jewish
dissident organizations, who did not accept the authority of the Jewish
Command. The 2,000—4,000 members of the Irgun, under the command of
Menachem Begin, continued with militant anti-British activity even when
the official Jewish policy was not to engage in such activity. Pursuing
a policy of constant attack on British police posts, government and
army installations, it was trained primarily to carry out small-unit,
commando-type raids, but had very little experience in large-scale,
open fighting. The 500—800 member Lehi, or Stern Group, was even more
extreme in its dissident policy, and remained consistently anti-British
throughout the war. The ultimate integration of these two units into a
unified Israeli Army was not to be accomplished without severe problems
and some internecine bloodshed.

Arab forces and dispositions

The bulk of the Arab population in Palestine was led by Haj Amin
el-Husseini, exiled Mufti of Jerusalem. His openly-declared purpose was
to destroy the entire Jewish community of Palestine or to drive it into
the sea. Born in Jerusalem in 1893, his active participation in the
Arab nationalist movement dates from about 1919, and he led the
anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem in April of the following year, for
which he was jailed by the British authorities. But the British High
Commissioner at the time, Sir Herbert Samuel, attempted to appease the
nationalists and to improve the balance of power between the rival Arab
families by appointing him Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. Husseini,
however, made use of his new power to encourage an extreme policy: he
took an active part in organizing the anti-Jewish riots in 1929, and
headed the Arab Higher Committee that directed the 1936 rebellion. In
1937, the British dismissed him and outlawed his Committee, but he
escaped to Damascus, from where he led the rebellion. In 1940, he moved
to Iraq, where he took part in the pro-German coup of 1941, after the
failure of which he escaped to Germany. At the end of the war, he made
his way to Cairo, from where he began to organize the Arabs in
Palestine once more. (After the Arab defeat in 1948, he was to remain
in exile, primarily in Egypt and Lebanon, his influence waning rapidly
until his death in exile in his late seventies.)

Most Arab villagers carried weapons and could be mobilized by the
Faza’a, an Arab alarm system whereby each sheikh could call up the
males in his district for an operation, whether for defence or attack,
on a purely guerrilla basis. The Palestinian Arabs had two paramilitary
organizations, the Najada and the Futuwa, which operated openly as
scout movements. Within their framework, a certain amount of urban
guerrilla training was given to their members, but they were to be no
match for the Haganah. They could, of course, rely on the backing of
the local Arab population and benefited also from a loose co-operation
with the Arab Legion and the Transjordan Frontier Force. From time to
time, the Arab forces were able to make use of a number of deserters
from British units: posing as British regular troops on duty and
travelling around in stolen British Army vehicles, these were used to
cross into heavily-populated Jewish areas in the cities, particularly
Jerusalem, and introduce bombs, which created considerable damage and
heavy casualties. Thus, of the three major attacks that succeeded in
Jerusalem, two–the blowing-up of the Palestine Post building and the
attack in Ben Yehuda Street in which some fifty people were killed and
most of the area destroyed–were carried out by such deserters. The
third attack was perpetrated at the Jewish Agency Headquarters by the
use of a United States consular car, which was driven into the
courtyard. (On the other side, when the war developed, a small number
of deserters from the British forces joined the Haganah, in one case
bringing the first tank, a Cromwell, to join Israel’s armed forces.)

The Mufti’s two guerrilla forces, known as ‘The Army of Salvation’,
each about 1,000 men strong, were led by his cousin, Abd el Kader
el-Husseini, and Hassan Salameh, who had undergone a certain degree of
military training with the Germans during the war. Arriving in
Palestine to begin the ‘jihad’ (‘holy war’), Abd el Kader began
operations in the area of Jerusalem while Salameh became active in the
Lod-Ramle district. To complicate the Arab military picture further,
there existed in southern Palestine a radical and somewhat disorderly
group of guerrillas organized by the extreme fanatical Moslem
Brotherhood of Egypt, who maintained but a tenuous liaison with the
other Arab parties. Backing these Arab forces was the military
potential of the Arab world, which numbered several hundred aircraft in
the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, plus British and French
artillery and armour. In addition, they had ready access to arms,
ammunition and spares, in contrast to the embargo that affected the
Jewish forces.

As the date of the British withdrawal from Palestine drew near, the
decision was taken by the Arab League that its member states would
intervene militarily in Palestine. But the preparation for war against
the infant Israeli state took place against a background of the
inevitable inter-Arab differences, intrigues and manoeuvrings of the
various rulers against each other. In April 1948, they appointed King
Abdullah of Transjordan to be Commander-in-Chief of the invading
armies: not only did he control the most effective of the Arab armies,
the Arab Legion, but he also enjoyed the initial advantage of having
part of his forces already in Palestine, within the framework of the
British Army. This served to increase the other leaders’ suspicions of
his motives, for there was little doubt of his desire to reunite the
west and east banks of the River Jordan and create a
Palestinian-Jordanian kingdom. There was always the possibility that he
would enter into active co-operation with the Mufti of Jerusalem. In
sum, the various Arab countries were more divided than united, their
common cause being limited to opposing Jewish settlement in Palestine,
and the creation of a Jewish state. It was a pattern that was to
continue over the years.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Revised Edition


1. Confrontation in Palestine
Israeli forces and dispositions
Arab forces and dispositions
Military confrontation
The struggle intensifies
Operation ‘Nachshon’
Plan D
The battle for Jerusalem
The Mandate ends

2. To the First Truce 15 May to 11 June 1948
The northern front
The central front
The battle for Jerusalem
The southern front
The first truce

3. To the Second Truce, 18 July to 15 October 1948
The northern front
The central front and Jeruslaem
The southern front
The second truce

4. The Decision
Decision in Galilee
The southern front: the Faluja pocket
The southern front: The ‘Horev’ offensive

Summary: The Israeli Victory


New régimes: the rise of Nasser’s Egypt
The arena of war and the opposing forces
The war — the Mitla battle
The battle of Abu Agelia
The battle for Rafah
The battle for the Gaza Strip
The battle for the Straits of Tiran
The air and naval war
Britain, France and the United Nations


The Confrontation
The pre-emptive strike

1. The Second Sinai Campaign

2. The War with Jordan
The encirclement of Jerusalem
The West Bank: Samaria
The fall of Jerusalem
To the Jordan Valley

3. The Golan Heights

Summary: A Vindication


‘Defensive rehabilitation’'
‘Offensive defence’ and the Bar-Lev Line
Jordan and the PLO
The ‘liberation’ phase
‘Flying artillery’
Soviet and SAMs
The cease-fire




1. The Southern Front
The deception
The onslaught
Defending the Bar-Lev Line
‘Shovach Yonim’
The first counterattack
The crisis
The Israeli plan
Opening the gap
The crossing
The battle for the corridor
On the west bank
The cease-fire

2. The Northern Front
The Syrian attack
The Isreali break-in
Syria’s plight
Iraqi and Jordanian counterattacks
The recapture of Mount Hermon

3. The Air and Naval War
SAMs vs. ‘Flying artillery’
Missles at sea

Summary: A New Era



Iraq’s nuclear programme
The concerns in Israel
The political backdrop
Prime Minister Begin calls for a decision
Planning Operation ‘Opera’
Operation ‘Opera’
The international reaction
The UN anti-Israeli resolution


1. Operation ‘Peace for Galilee’

2. Ending the Entanglement
The war for the security zone
The night of the hang gliders
The Lebanese border during the first intifada
The Al-Naima raid
Car bomb near Metula
The end of the Lebanese civil war
Operation ‘Grapes of Wrath’
The Four Mothers movement
The Yitzhak Mordechai initiative
Changin military conditions
Ehud’s Barak’s unilateral pledge



A change of Government
A new Knesset, a new government
The writing on the wall
The Palestinian uprising
The ‘Ship of Return’
The assasination of Abu Jihad
Attacks on Israelis
The Temple Mount tragedy
Reassessing the intifada
The intifada and the IDF



Iraq occupies Kuwait
The Gulf War
Military lessons for Israel
Political Developments


The Hebron massacre
The abduction of Nashon Wachsman
Beit Lid and its aftermath
A new spell of violence
The tunnel incident



Characteristics of the El-Aqsa intifada
Stages of the conflict
The debate over the security fence
After 1,000 days: a first balance sheet
Towards the end of the intifada?



The Israeli military experience
The Arab military experience
The role of the superpowers
The Palestinians

Select Bibliography


"The best single-volume history of the Arab-Israeli wars." --The New York Times

"A volume that anyone who wants to understand what Israel has endured will have to read." --The New York Times Book Review

"Masterly and all-embracing." --John Keegan, Sunday Times

“Lucid, remarkably fair minded.” –Business Week

“Masterly.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

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