Sep 16

Israeli History – Israel-Arab Wars – Yom Kippur War 1973

Despite the fact that Israel was taken by surprise at the start of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the only actual surprise was the timing of the attack.

After the end of the War of Attrition, it was evident to the Israeli defense establishment that Egypt would not tolerate Israeli forces being present along the Suez Canal just as the Syrians found the occupation of the Golan unacceptable. The only question was when actual war would break out. It seemed that the decision lay in the hands of the Soviet advisors who had been training and arming the armies of both Egypt and Syria.

Towards the end of 1970 Anwar Sadat become president of Egypt after the death of Nasser and in 1971 Sadat made it clear that Egypt intended going to war. However the following year passed quietly and it only became clear in mid 1973 that war plans by Egypt and Syria were in the pipeline. As Egyptian and Syrian troops were massing along their respective borders, Israel’s regular army was forming along the borders with the plan that if an attack took place they would be able to hold the borders for at least 24 hours until the reserve forces could be called up to relieve them.

Yom Kippur war On October 6th 1973 as Israelis were making their way to Synagogue on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)- the holiest day of the Jewish religious Calendar, at 2.05 in the afternoon the war began, and as a result even despite warnings earlier in the day, it was already too late to begin an orderly call up of reserves.

100,000 Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal and attacked the Bar-Lev Line which was manned by approximately 8,500 Israeli soldiers, simultaneously on the Golan, 5000 Israeli troops were attacked by 45,000 Syrian soldiers with 500 tanks.

At the end of the first day, twelve of the thirteen Israeli outposts along the Bar-Lev Line had been taken by Egypt and 190 of Israel’s 290 tanks along the front had been destroyed. The Syrian advance forces had already reached the center of the Golan and were on the brink of breaking into Israel proper.

Twenty four hours after the attack had begun, the Israeli reserve units had raced to the front lines and the Israeli Chief of staff Lt.General David Elazar had brought the Syrian attack on the Golan to a halt and immediately planned a counter attack in the Sinai. Two fresh reserve divisions were available and one was placed under Gen. Ariel Sharon and the second under the command of Avraham Adan. The regular Sinai division was under the command of Gen. Avraham Mandler.

Yom Kippur war - IsraelWithin two days Israeli forces were fully deployed and it was decided to give the Syrian front priority and on October 10th the entire Golan was recaptured except for area of the Hermon which took a little longer. During that time an expeditionary force from Iraq was blocked and shortly afterwards the IDF was within artillery range of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

A counter attack was then launched on the Egyptian front and within a few days Israeli troops were in control of the west bank of the Suez Canal and 100 km from Cairo, the Egyptian capital.

The war came to an end on October 22nd when the U.N. Security Council called for an immediate cease fire. This vote came at the exact time that Israel had isolated the Egyptian Third Army and was at the point of destroying it.

Despite the ultimate successes by the IDF against what were insurmountable odds in favor of the enemy, the Yom Kippur war or 4th Arab-Israeli war was always considered a failure due to a total of 2,688 Israeli soldiers killed and 7,250 wounded. The odds had seemed insurmountable

Sep 06

Israel – Wars in Israel – The war of Attrition

Only 5 months after the end of the Six Day War, the Egyptian navy, on the 21st October 1967 attacked and sunk the “Eilat”, an Israeli navy destroyer. This action took place in international waters.  Israel retaliated by attacking the Oil refinery in Suez City and the Egyptians response was to open fire along the Suez Canal, inviting Israeli return fire.

The result of these actions were that the inhabitants of the cities Suez, Ismailia and Kantara left their homes and the cities became ghost towns.  Thus the War of Attrition began.

For nearly a year the Egyptian front was quiet and during this time the Egyptian army together with their Russian advisors dug in along the full length of the Suez Canal. Then with Nasser’s public negation of the June 67 cease-fire agreement daily clashes became the norm.

After the Six Day War the surrounding Arab States, realizing that they had not achieved their objectives in a full scale war, began a strategy of sporadic isolated attacks against Israel – mainly along the Suez Canal and in the Jordan Valley and on a smaller scale on the Golan heights, the Lebanese border and Judea and Samaria, all fighting a terrorist war against Israel and Israeli overseas targets.

The Syrian and Lebanese fronts were relatively quiet up until February 1969 when large numbers of terrorists began to infiltrate across the borders which led to forceful air strikes by Israel deep into Syria. More and more attacks from Syria took place until the 7th of August of that year when a cease-fire came into effect after Israel took very heavy action against the Syrian army.

The PLO had in the meantime entrenched themselves all along Southern Lebanon which became known as “Fatahland” and clashes ensued between the Lebanese army and the PLO. This sparked a very long political crisis between Lebanese Christians and Muslims and an agreement was eventually reached whereby the Lebanese government gave the PLO free reign to attack Israel.

Attacks across the border with Jordan by the PLO, with the collaboration of the Jordanian army, continued until “Black September” 1970, when the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, rounded up and expelled the PLO terrorists.

The heaviest fighting took place with Egypt with daily attacks from artillery and commando actions as well as attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Strong retaliation from Israel took place with air strikes and Israeli commandos attacking and taking control of the Egyptian island of Sadwan which was strongly fortified.

As a result the Egyptians pressed hard for even more Russian aid which they received, including Russian pilots who were flying the Russian fighter jets that were supplied to Egypt. An incident took place when a dog fight ensued over the Suez Canal with The Russians engaging with Israeli fighter jets and ended with 5 Russian jets being downed

After 18 months of incessant fighting and many Egyptian losses Nasser finally agreed to a cease-fire with Israel in August 1970 under the auspices of the United States which effectively ended the War of Attrition. The agreement was that there would be an immediate cease-fire and a military halt for 30 miles on each side of the Canal.

Unfortunately, the day after the cease-fire and despite Israeli objections which were not heeded, the Egyptians began a move that brought their missiles forward and began a system of major fortifications along the Canal and Russian missiles covered the Israeli side of the Canal. Thus the seeds for the next war were sown.

Sep 02

History of Israel – Israeli Wars – The Six Day War 1967

The 1967 Arab Israeli war also known as The Six-Day War was waged between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria with contribution of troops and arms from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria.

Map of Israel before the 1967 WarFrom the beginning of the establishment of the State, Israel’s leaders had been expressing a desire for peace negotiations to begin with all its neighbors, however the surrounding Arab States were at no stage ready to reach any sort of peace agreement and in fact all overtures were met with rhetoric that made it clear that their stated goals were to eradicate the Zionist State. During the early part of the 60’s Israel faced constant border attacks especially from Jordan and Lebanon, and shelling of Israeli Kibbutzim and Moshavim in the Galilee from Syrian positions on the Golan Heights.

This led to tension along the borders which gradually escalated. In 1965 there were 35 terrorist attacks mounted against Israel which increased to 41 in 1966 and 37 attacks in the first 4 months of 1967.

1967 war in IsraelIn April 1967 Israeli kibbutzim in the Hula Valley were shelled heavily from Syria resulting in Israeli fighter planes bombing targets in Syria and 6 Syrian MiG fighter planes being destroyed during the dogfights. Two of these fighter planes were hit in full view of thousands of Syrians on the outskirts of Damascus.

In May 1967 Nasser, President of Egypt, began the massing of troops in the Sinai, 130,000 fighters and he informed the Egyptian public that the time had been reached to destroy Israel. On May 18th Nasser ordered the withdrawal of the U.N. Emergency force from Sinai and on the 23rd of May he once again closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. During this time the world was indifferent to the actions taking place and the United Nations warned Israel not to take unilateral action.

There was pressure from the U.S and the U.S.S.R. on Israel not to act and France put into effect an arms embargo on the Middle East which effectively meant no arms for Israel. During this time Israel began mobilizing reserves and the situation caused Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister, to establish a unity government and Moshe Dayan was appointed Minister of Defense.

On June 5th 1967 at 7.45 a.m. Israeli planes attacked Egyptian Air Bases, in two separate waves and by 9.45 a.m. the Egyptian Air Force was effectively destroyed with 304 of their 419 planes taken out.

Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi planes immediately retaliated but their plans failed as they missed most of their intended targets. This led to The Israeli Air Force attacking the Syrian and Jordanian air forces and bringing down the entire force of 82 Jordanian planes and 53 Syrian planes out of their total of 112. By this action, Israel was in complete control of the skies.

Destroyed Egyptian tank in the Six-Day WarOn the Egyptian front, one hour after the first Air Strike, columns of Israeli tanks began their advance into Sinai and within five days the destruction of the Egyptian army was complete and Israeli forces were in control of the banks of the Suez Canal.

At 11.45 am on the first day of the war, Jordanian forces began firing on Israel starting in Jerusalem and following that, across the entire length of the armistice lines between Jordan and Israel.  Israel had pleaded with King Hussein to desist from taking part in the war, a plea which he failed to heed. It took Israel only two days to overcome the Jordanian forces and take control of the West Bank of the Jordan River.

After seeing what was happening on the ground the Syrians made a decision to minimize their part in the war and only sent 4 tanks into Israel, one of these overturned, a second fell into the Banias river canyon and a third caught fire. The fourth tank made a hasty withdrawal.

As the scale of the Israeli victory became apparent, the residents of the Hula Valley as well as those of the Jordan Valley began to lobby the Prime Minister to finally rid their lives of the constant shelling by Syria, by taking control of the Golan Heights. On June 9th Israeli forces broke through Syrian defenses and realized their objective. The Golan Heights were in Israeli hands. By this stage Israel was in a position to reach Amman, Cairo and Damascus but as the main objective had been to take control of the Golan Heights and the Sinai for security reasons, there was no need to continue on.

After the Six Day War a further set of cease-fire agreements were reached between Israel and its neighbors which were to be enforced by the United Nations.  At this stage, the Israeli Government made a declaration that in return for signed peace agreements with the Arab States, Israel would be ready to withdraw to the international borders.

The response was a resonant resolution that rejected the offer from Israel. The resolution stated as follows “No peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; no negotiations with Israel.”

Sep 01

Israel History – Arab-Israeli Wars – The Sinai Campaign 1956

The Sinai Campaign of 1956 had different meaning for the three countries involved in the military operation  – Israel, France and Great Britain. The State of Israel needed to end incursions into Israel by terrorists as well as remove the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran which is a narrow passage that links the Port of Eilat in Southern Israel to the Red Sea. At the same time, Egypt blocked Israeli ships from passing through the Suez Canal thus violating the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli Armistice agreement. Both these actions caused severe damage to Israel’s trade with the Far East and Africa.

Problems began in July 1956 when British and French interests were threatened by the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Gamal Abdel Nasser the President of Egypt.  This action was a surprise to the world and particularly to the owners and stockholders of the Suez Canal Company most of whom were British and French.

After all diplomatic means to resolve the situation failed, Britain, France and Israel entered into a secret agreement to attack Egypt. Israel’s requirement was to attain free navigation through International waters and to put an end to terrorist attacks. Britain and France wanted control of the Suez Canal.

On the 29th October 1956 under the leadership of the Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, a military operation was launched against Egypt. In the short time of 100 hours the whole of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza strip came under Israel’s control with the loss of approximately 220 men but inflicting Egyptian fatalities of more than one thousand and taking 6000 prisoners.

Israel halted their attack 10 miles short of the Suez Canal so that British and French troops could move into the area in order to protect the Canal.   Heavy pressure from the United States caused the Straits of Tiran to be opened for Israeli shipping and in return Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza and Sinai. A peace keeping United Nations buffer force was put in place in the Sinai and Gaza strip.

Aug 31

History of Israel – Wars – War of Independence

On the 29th November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine. Immediately after the vote the first Arab attack was launched in Jerusalem and it did not take long before the fighting spread throughout the country. When Britain made it clear that their mandate would end on the 14th May 1948 and that their forces would be withdrawn by then the surrounding Arab countries stated that if the Jews declared independence they would immediately invade the country to prevent partition.

Independence Hall Tel Aviv

While the armies of seven countries amassed on Palestine’s borders, 37 Jewish leaders signed the declaration of the State of Israel and on the 14th May 1948 David Ben-Gurion read out the declaration as follows –

Declaration of Independence May 14th 1948
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish People. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books…And thus we the members of the Peoples Council, representatives of the Jewish community of the Land of Israel and the Zionist Movement, are here assembled…to declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

 

Only a few hours passed before the Arab armed columns advanced upon the fledgling State, from the south, the east and the north. After 1878 years when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman armies, Jews were again fighting for their independence.

Despite the fact that the Arab forces were better equipped and significantly larger than Israel’s, they were uncoordinated and disorganized, with the exception of the British trained Arab Legion from Transjordan, as opposed to the Jewish fighters who despite their relatively small numbers were organized, disciplined and well trained and included a large number of World War II veterans from around the world.

War of Independence IsraelAt the start it was the Arab armies that took the offensive causing severe casualties to the Israeli forces, however the Haganah then took the initiative and within six weeks had captured the Arab sections of Tiberias and Haifa and later Safed and Acre (Akko) and gained control of much of the territory allocated to the State of Israel under the Partition Plan. On the 31st of May 1948 the Haganah was renamed the “Israel Defense force”

By January 1949, Israel had taken control of an area significantly larger than that designated by the United Nations and this remained Israel’s territory until 1967. The areas remaining in Arab hands were Gaza held by Egypt and the area of the west bank and the old city of Jerusalem including the Western Wall and Solomon’s Temple, upon which the Muslim Dome of the Rock had been built, were in the hands of Jordan. Armistice agreements were signed by all the surrounding Arab States except for Iraq who withdrew their forces and handed over its positions to Jordan.

Aug 30

Israel History – Wars in Israel – leading up to the War of Independence

Since biblical times and as recorded in the Torah, the Land of Israel was promised to the Jewish people by God and has been sacred to them ever since. After the establishment of the First Kingdom of Israel in about the 11th century BCE the area was ruled by the Israelites sporadically for the next 1000 years.

Historical map of IsraelOver centuries the Jewish presence dwindled due to persecution and massacres at the hands of invaders, the scattering of the Jews throughout the world began. However a Jewish presence constantly remained, particularly in the Galilee which became the religious centre. Eventually after the land had been conquered and ruled over by most of the major civilizations that had power at various times, The Land of Israel was captured in 1516 by the Ottoman Empire who ruled the area up until the 20th century.

Throughout the centuries the Jews who had been dispersed around the world had always had a yearning to return to their land and in 1492 many Jews, on being expelled from Spain, returned to their land and communities began to grow in the four Holy Cities of Judaism : Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron and Safed.

Pogroms in Eastern Europe started the first Aliyah in 1881 which was the beginning of what is known as modern immigration. At around that time the Zionist movement founded by Theodor Herzl started to take root. This movement had as its basis the wish to establish a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.

The second Aliyah began in 1904 and those who came were mainly orthodox Jews but amongst them were socialists who began to establish the kibbutz movement. This Aliyah lasted until 1914 and the outbreak of World War I.  During the war Arthur Balfour, who was the British Foreign Secretary, issued The Balfour Declaration which favored the establishment of a National Home for the Jewish People in Palestine.

The Jewish Legion, composed mainly of Zionist Volunteers, assisted the British in their conquest of the Ottoman Empire in Palestine. In 1920, rioting Arabs vehemently opposed the Balfour plan and this led to the forming of the Haganah (Hebrew word for Defense).

The years between 1919 and 1929 brought 100,000 Jews returning to their land during the third and fourth  Aliyah and after the rise of Nazism the 5th Aliyah began with the arrival of about a quarter of a million Jews fleeing the situation in Europe. This influx caused Arab Riots and resulted in the notorious British White Paper that stopped the arrival of Jews to Palestine.  All those Jewish refugees trying to flee the Holocaust were being turned away by countries around the world. This led to the formation of the underground Aliyah Bet organization who sought to bring these Jews to Palestine.

The "Exodus" Ship arriving in Haifa on July 20 1947A furious conflict between the Jewish Community and Britain began after 1945 when the Haganah joined the underground movements Irgun and Lehi in armed resistance as thousands of Jewish Refugees and survivors of the Holocaust who were seeking refuge in Palestine were being turned away by the British or placed in Detention Camps.

In 1947 Britain found themselves unable to reach any acceptable solution to the situation and decided to withdraw from the Mandate of Palestine and in November of that year the Partition Plan for Palestine was approved by the United Nations with two states, Arab and Jewish with Jerusalem an International City under U.N. rule. This was accepted by the Jewish leadership but immediately rejected by the Arabs who began a series of attacks against Jewish communities.

On the 14th May 1948 Independence of the new State of Israel was declared and the next day the armies of 5 Arab States: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt with contingents from the Sudan, crossed their borders, in an attempt to overthrow the new state and so began Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.