War of Independance - 1948

IDF Halftracks of the 8th Brigade

From the moment the State of Israel came into being Arab Armies invaded. All were repulsed and when the war ended Israel had expanded on the original borders of the partition plan. However the price was high 6,000 Israelis died.

With the declaration of Independence, came the invasion of Israel by the armies of all the surrounding Arab states. On that day, the Israel army consisted of 30,000 troops with no armor or other heavy equipment. Its air force was but a few Piper Clubs. Though this would all change in the coming weeks, in those first days of the war the regular Arab armies held an overwhelming advantage in terms of men and materiel.

The Arab armies invaded on all fronts. In the North, the Lebanese army seized the border crossing of Malkiyah. The Syrians attacked the area around the Sea of Galilee and advanced on Kibbutz Degania, where they were turned back. The Iraqis attacked across the Jordan River near the town of Besian but were forced to retreat. They then moved their troops into Samaria, where they took up defensive positions.

The most dangerous advance was that of the Egyptians. That army divided itself into two columns; one headed into the Negev Desert and up through the Hebron Hills towards Jerusalem. The brigade heading for Jerusalem was stopped on the Southern approach to the city at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. The second column advanced along the coastal road toward Tel Aviv. For five fateful days, that army was delayed by the courageous defense of Kfar Mordechai. Next, they encountered Kibbutz Negba, which they eventually bypassed. The Egyptian forces continued on to where Ashdod is located today and paused. On May 29, the Israelis launched a counter-offensive which ended the Egyptian advance and the threat to Tel Aviv.

One other army invaded: the Arab Legion of Jordan. The Arab Legion was the best-equipped and trained Arab army; the Legion was commanded by experienced British officers. Fortunately for Israel, the Legion was relatively small, with 4,500 troops. It had been hoped that the Legion would stay out of the war completely. Secret negotiations had been taking place between the Jewish Agency and the Hashemite King Abdullah. But the King ultimately decided that not joining the other Arab states would make his position in the Arab world untenable. On the day that IsraelÕs independence was declared, the Arab Legion captured the Jewish settlements in the Etzion Bloc, located between Hebron and Bethlehem. But the critical battle was for Jerusalem. On May 28, the outnumbered and outgunned defenders of the ancient Jewish Quarter surrendered. The western portion of the city, however, was successfully defended. But it remained under virtual siege. As a result, grave problems faced Western JerusalemÕs Jewish inhabitants: hunger, thirst, and lack of arms. The road from the coastal plain to Jerusalem had been blocked since the beginning of the war when the Arab Legion occupied the Latrun fortress (having received it from the British.) Latrun stood on an especially strategic elevation that overlooked the road to Jerusalem at the point where the road began the initial ascent from the plain up through the mountains. Whoever controlled Latrun, controlled access to the Jerusalem road. Beginning on May 25, repeated attempts were made by the Israelis to capture the fortress, only to end in failure. Fortunately, Colonel David Marcus, an American member of Machal (Òvolunteers from overseasÓ) helped uncover another narrow path to Jerusalem. Under his direction, the path was hastily widened into a crude road, just in time to relieve the siege of Jerusalem before a first truce went into effect.
The truce took place when both sides were exhausted. Under the terms of the cease-fire, neither side was supposed to reinforce their forces. The Swedish Count Bernadotte was appointed as a mediator. But as was expected, the cease-fire agreement was violated and both sides substantially reinforced their positions. During the cease-fire, a ship full of arms purchased by the Irgun arrived off Israel's coast. When the Irgun insisted on retaining some of the arms for its use, Ben-Gurion ordered the army to seize the ship by force. Though the incident nearly caused a civil war, its ultimate effect was to make the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) the only legitimate arms-bearing force in Israel.

The truce was soon to expire. Aware of this, the Egyptians launched another assault against Kibbutz Negba. The attack was repulsed and during this period, the IDF achieved minor gains in the Negev region. The major activity included the capture of the Arab cities of Ramla and Lod in the heart of the new nation. While earlier in the war Israel's policy towards the local Arabs was a mixed one, in these two cities the Arab residents were encouraged to board trucks and were transported to Legion lines. The IDF also captured Nazareth and the Galilee areas that had been in Arab hands.

During a second cease-fire, Count Bernadotte proposed a settlement that would give the whole Galilee to Israel while giving the Negev desert to the Arabs; Jerusalem was to be internationalized. Both the Arabs and the Israelis categorically rejected the Bernadotte plan and the unlucky mediator was assassinated in Jerusalem by Jewish extremist on September 17, 1948
The second cease-fire ended with an Israeli attack on Egyptian positions. By this juncture, the Israelis were equipped with more modern aircraft and armored vehicles. Israeli forces quickly seized key Egyptian positions and captured the Negev city of Beersheva and soon opened the road to Eilat, at the southern tip of the country. A large Egyptian army was surrounded but refused to surrender. In the final stage of the war, Israeli troops advanced as far as El Arish in the Sinai desert. At that point, the British threatened to intervene, especially after Israel shot down 5 Egyptian planes during a single dogfight. Under British pressure, Israeli troops pulled back.