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by Leslie A. Stein


As mentioned at the conclusion of chapter one, although Israel's War of Independence formally ended in July 1949, the struggle for Israel's survival has continued ever since. It is understandable that the Arabs, who regarded all of Palestine as their patrimony, would have objected to the UN partition resolution. From their perspective, there was no justification for hiving off territory they considered theirs, for the purposes of allowing people, whom they perceived as foreigners, to establish a state in which some of their kinsmen would have had a minority status. But if the Arab position had been upheld, the Jews, who had deep historic and religious ties to Palestine, would, unlike the Arabs, have remained totally stateless. As the Jews saw things, there would have been no serious miscarriage of justice had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution. It would only have meant that half a million out of an estimated total of forty million of their compatriots would have lived in a Jewish state, where they would have been granted full citizenship and enjoyed civil rights not available in any other Arab country. Even in terms of the partition of Palestine, the Jews believed that the Arabs would not have been hard done by. Of what was originally all of mandated Palestine, the British, in 1922, set aside 77 percent for the exclusive use of Arabs in an area that became known as Transjordan. The UN partition scheme applied to the remaining 23 percent of Palestine. After Israel emerged from its war of Independence, it possessed merely 18 percent of the original mandated area. Alternatively, it laid claim to far less than one percent of all land within the Arab World.[1]

Within days after the war ended, the Arab media began to vent its anti-Israel spleen. As a case in point, one Syrian journalist wrote that the armistice agreements were a mark of shame that "would endure as long as that abominable state, known as Israel, remains within the heart of the Arab world."[2] In Egypt, a reporter claimed that "the Egyptian blood that saturates Palestine serves as a landmark which guides us to achieve the victory sought by our martyrs."[3] On the official level, despite article two of the UN Charter prohibiting threats of force against any member state, Arab rulers blithely and regularly did so. In April, 1953, General Naguib, who momentarily assumed the Egyptian leadership, exclaimed that "the existence of Israel is a cancer in the body of the Arab Nation, which ought to be exterminated."[4] (When Naguib seized power in July 1952, Ben Gurion indicated that "Israel wishes to see Egypt free, independent, and progressive...We have no enmity against Egypt.")[5]

In November 1954 mirroring Naguib's approach, the Syrian Prime Minister informed his parliament that "peace with Israel is not conceivable...Even if tefugees would be allowed to return, the Arabs will not conclude peace as long as Jews reside in the midst of Arab states."[6] A popular analogy that gained currency and which still circulates to the present day, was the suggestion that just as the Christian crusaders were finally evicted, so too would the Jews of Israel experience a similar fate. That the Jews were returning to their ancestral homeland and that they were redeeming its soil by dint of the sweat of their own brows, was a social and historic phenomenon with which they could never come to terms.

It did not take long for hostilities, albeit on a small scale, to resume. This occurred in the context of cross border incursions. With Israel's borders being lengthy, tortuous, largely unmarked, situated for the most part in desolate areas and generally not associated with natural barriers, they were relatively easily traversed. At first, very few infiltrators entered Israel with hostile intent. Most wished to return to their former homes, to retrieve some of their abandoned property or to harvest their fields and orchards. Others engaged in theft. In due course, the proportion of infiltrators deliberately setting out to inflict actual bodily harm and material damage rose.

From the outset, the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, wishing to avoid a premature resumption of war, took a dim view of individuals undertaking unauthorised guerrilla type actions. The capture of documents by the Israeli Army confirms that perfunctory efforts by Egypt were indeed made to curb private acts of infiltration. In 1954, roughly 300 Palestinians were mobilized into a "national guard" to serve as an auxiliary force for the Egyptian army to restrain illegal crossings into Israel. However Jordan and Egypt's ability to restrict infiltrators was limited. For one, their troops were thinly deployed along the frontiers in question. For another, the regimes were irresolute, especially at the local level where officials were wont to overlook border infringements and on occasion provided returning infiltrators with covering fire.

On first being confronted with the occurrence of Arabs stealing across Israel's frontiers, Ben-Gurion and others believed that it called for standard police intervention. Ben Gurion was not taken aback by its appearance and at a closed cabinet meeting he showed some understanding of the perpetrators' motives.[7] A special border unit (Hael Hatsfar) was formed and by 1950 it contained 600 men, including 100 Circassians. Three years later, it expanded into a force numbering 1,500 and was renamed Mishmar Hagvul (Border Patrol or Border Police). While Mishmar Hagvul sought to detect and prevent border infringements, the army undertook reprisal actions to punish and deter trespassers engaged in violence.

Over the period 1951-1956, Israel lost hundreds of its citizens as a result of acts of terror perpetrated by Arab intruders and the need to contain them. The precise death toll is not known. Ben Gurion put it at 884, while Morris suggests a total of 529.[8] Furthermore, millions of dollars of property damage were incurred, not to mention the cost of diverting scarce resources toward securing and protecting border settlements. Transport to and from frontier farming communities, which in 1954 numbered around 300, became hazardous on account of periodic ambushes, mines, and mortar attacks.[9] The sheer brazenness of the saboteurs caused Israelis to fear for their safety and to question whether their state was capable of providing them with a reasonable measure of protection and security.[10] Settlements populated by newly arrived immigrants lacking military experience were most at risk, particularly those without fences, lighting, shelters, telephones and internal means of communication.[11] In some instances, entire villages were abandoned. It was not just the dread of violence that distressed the farmers but the fatigue associated with night guard duty, for when so rostered, they still had to work the following day.

Unrestrained infiltration presented Israel with an existential threat. In Dayan's judgement had the IDF not resolutely combated the problem, Israel's borders would have become so porous that it might just as well have had no borders at all.[12] Military sources estimated that between the second half of 1948 and early 1949, some 50,000 Arabs had illegally resettled in Israel.[13] Among IDF concerns was the possibility of deserted Arab villages reconstituting behind Israel's front lines. After having designated certain strips along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders as "security zones" in which only IDF personnel had freedom of movement, interlopers were, in accordance with an order issued in the summer of 1949 by Yitzhak Rabin, shot on sight.[14] The order was rescinded within a week but it took quite a while before border patrols began firing on male infiltrators in self-defence only. Yitzhak Reis of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai mentioned that in the early 1950s Arabs encountered along the northern Gaza border, including wounded ones, were routinely killed.[15]

Captured infiltrators were on occasion treated brutally. In May 1950, more than one hundred Arabs were driven to the Wadi Arava, a depression below sea level in the south of Israel where temperatures soar to unbearably high degrees. At the point where they were to cross into Jordan, an army captain arranged for two buckets of water to be put at their disposal. As he turned his back, refractory soldiers emptied the buckets into the sand. Without having quenched their thirst, the Arabs prompted by shots fired around and above them, ran off in the direction of Jordan. Wondering aimlessly for between two to four days, about thirty died of dehydration and exhaustion.[16] Dayan attributed that tragedy to the lack of moral fibre among newly recruited Mizrahi migrants.[17] The callousness associated with the Wadi Arava affair was not unique. Between 1949 and 1953 there were three known pack rapes of Arab women, with two culminating in murder.[18] Once, three Arab children with ages ranging between eight and twelve were shot and on two other occasions, the victims' bodies were mutilated.[19] However, having carefully sifted through Israeli government and IDF archives, Morris found nothing to suggest "higher-echelon inspiration or instruction for the atrocities."[20] After 1953 when dissolute elements within the IDF were reined in, no more came to light.

Reprisal operations in response to the killing of Israelis were slow in getting off the mark and only from 1953 onwards did Israel routinely resort to harsh punitive measures. Initially retaliations were undertaken by standard IDF infantry units. But their lacklustre performance left much to be desired. In truth, the combat readiness of the Israeli army had deteriorated markedly since the termination of the War of Independence.[21] With most of the IDF's battle hardened veterans having returned to civilian life, few remained to impart the benefit of their expertise. Edward Luttwak and Dan Horowitz revealed that the IDF was in such disarray "that combat units and command staffs became little more than empty boxes on organizational charts."[22] Due to general economic constraints, the army's budget was cut to the bone. Serviceable weapons were in short supply, soldiers were scantily clothed and fed and their state of morale was abysmal.[23] Lack of discipline and absenteeism without leave was rife and what is more, drug addicts and criminals were present among the new recruits.[24] The state of the Golani Brigade which "guarded" the north of Israel typified the chaotic state of the IDF in those days. Most of its commanders had never been under fire, only ten percent of its soldiers were native born Israelis or immigrants from Western countries, seventeen percent knew no Hebrew, fifty percent knew it partially and thirty percent had no formal education. In Uri Milstein's opinion, the "Golani was not a combat brigade but rather a kind of immigrant absorption centre."[25]

Insufficiently trained and poorly motivated conscripts sent on missions either failed to reach their targets, or disengaged on meeting token resistance.[26] On January 23, 1953, in an action within the Jordanian village of Falama involving 120 IDF troops, the Israelis beat a hasty retreat the moment they were locked in battle with no more than a dozen enemy soldiers.[27] Israeli losses amounted to one dead and five wounded. Incensed by such a half hearted endeavour, Moshe Dayan threatened to demote any officer under his command who withdrew from combat before at least half of his soldiers were disabled.[28]

By the summer of 1953, Glubb observed that Israel's border security had deteriorated. He identified what he described as a 'new feature'-"infiltrators who went only to kill...two or three Arabs would appear in Israel and shoot one or two people at night, or throw a hand grenade into a window."[29] To meet that challenge, fighters with better than average education were assigned to border areas and on July 30, 1953, a special retaliatory unit, under Ariel Sharon's command, known as unit 101 was formed. Unit 101 had its genesis in an early July reprisal raid that the army subcontracted to Sharon, then a student of History and Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University. As commander of the Jerusalem Brigade, Mishael Shaham put it to Sharon that with the help of trusted friends, he ought to locate and kill Mustafa Samwili and his underlings, thought to be answerable for a series of murderous incursions. (Shaham's felt need to elicit the help of ex-servicemen reflected his lack of confidence in existing IDF units,[30] two of which, the Givati Brigade and the Paratroopers had already turned him down.[31]) Responding positively to Shaham's request, Sharon selected seven trusted comrades. One of whom, Shlomo Baum, was ploughing in his moshav, Kfar Yehezkel when a jeep drew up alongside him with a letter from Sharon. On reading it, Baum, without any further thought, put aside his plough packed a bag and with his personal Tommy-gun, answered Sharon's call.

Sharon and his friends succeeded in entering Samwili's village where they partially demolished one house and threw hand grenades into another. Although there were no injuries on either side, the boldness of Sharon's group persuaded both Ben Gurion and Mordechai Makleff, the Chief of General Staff, to establish a special body, (unit 101) under Sharon's leadership. When Shaham informed Sharon of their decision, Sharon expressed misgivings relating to his forthcoming university examinations. Shaham replied "Listen son, you have two options, to learn about the deeds of others or have others learn about your deeds. Choose."[32] Sharon reluctantly chose to jettison his studies.

The contingent of the original unit 101, numbering forty-five by October, included both war veterans and young enthusiasts from kibbutzim and moshavim in the Jezreel valley. Prominent among them were Meir Har-Zion, (described by Dayan as "the best soldier that ever arose in the IDF,"[33]) Mordechai Gur, Rafael Eitan and Moshe Levi. All of the latter three ultimately rose to the rank of chief of staff.

The unit underwent an intensive commander training program that included the conveying of skills in hand to hand combat, weapons use, sabotage and field craft. By temperament and appearance, the men in the unit formed a motley group. Some were rough and ready while others bore an air of quiet introspection.[34] They became renowned for their bravery and daring and set an exacting standard to be emulated by the rest of the IDF. In his diary, Har-Zion contrasted the difference between serving in unit 101 and in the regular army. As a conscripted recruit he was becoming increasingly irritated with the overbearing mannerism of his company commander, a real martinet, who constantly threw his weight around and impressed upon his subordinates that he was a cut above them. At a moment's notice, Har-Zion was transferred to Sharon's unit. Knowing nothing about it, he fronted up to Sharon who was seated with Baum on the flat roof of a house in Abu Gosh. As he approached, Har-Zion stood to attention, saluted and formally reported for duty. Sharon's responded by suggesting that he sit down and join them to some corned beef.[35]

Unlike previous elitist Jewish units, such as Hashomer and the Palmah, unit 101 did not possess any ideological baggage associated with a political party or movement. Instead, it adhered to the conviction that, as a professionally trained military body, its exclusive mission was to serve the general security interests of the state. In the course of various tours of duty, almost all 101 fighters were at one time or another wounded, some on more than one occasion. A large number were killed.[36]

The first serious unit 101 reprisal action took place in late August 1953 following an attack on a family in Ashkelon that resulted in the murder of the father and the serious wounding of his daughter. Three small squads totalling fifteen men and led respectively by Sharon, Baum and Shmuel Merhav crossed into the Gaza Strip on the night of August 28. They headed towards the Bureiji refugee camp with the intention of destroying a house thought to have been used as a terrorist base. Before reaching their objective, Sharon's squad was spotted and set upon by a mob of refugees, some of whom were armed. That in turn necessitated Baum's men shooting their way through the frenzied throng in order to link up with and extricate their comrades. In the process, a number of refugees were killed with estimates ranging from thirteen[37] to twenty.[38] Enraged camp residents, who demanded to be armed, vandalised a nearby police station. To help restore order, the Egyptian authorities temporarily increased border patrols to hinder Palestinians from infiltrating into Israel.[39]

The next significant unit 101 operation took place on October 14 1953, when, in a raid combined with the 890th Paratroop Battalion, the Jordanian village of Qibya was assailed. Commanded by Sharon and with the two main forces headed by Baum and Aharon Davidi, one hundred and thirty IDF soldiers took part. The raid resulted from the murder, the previous dawn, of a young Jewish mother and two of her toddlers. Entering the village of Yehud, Arab marauders threw a grenade into the victims' bedroom. By the light of an internal oil lamp, they were clearly able to discern that, besides the mother, the room contained four children all soundly asleep. That murderous act represented the culmination of the slaughter of twenty-nine civilians and two soldiers since the previous April.[40] In that period, grenades were tossed into Jewish homes in Beit Nabala, Deir Tarif, Beit Arif and Tirat Yehuda, while in Mishmar Ayalon, a house was demolished.[41]

Qibya, with a population of around 1,500 and with 250 houses, was chosen as the target because it was near the border and it was not far from the area where the Arab perpetrators had entered Israel. Although the village was known to have previously served as a sanctuary and staging off base for Arab bandits, there was no reason to believe that the killers of the Yehud mother and children had indeed set out from there.

The IDF's Operations Branch foreshadowed that the raid on Qibya was to culminate in the destruction of tens of houses. It forwarded its operational plans to the Regional Command supervising the mission, which in turn modified them before passing them on to Sharon. The modifications explicitly made allowance for civilian casualties.[42]

The raid commenced at 9.30 p.m. (October 14). One hundred Israeli troops bearing 600 kilograms of explosives approached Qibya from various directions. At the same time, small diversionary attacks were initiated in surrounding villages and a roadblock was installed to forestall the arrival of Jordanian reinforcements. As the Israelis neared Qibya, Arab Legion guards detected them and opened fire indiscriminately. To their surprise, the Israelis, who were hidden in darkness, did not reply. This unnerved the defenders causing many to flee. The Israelis then burst though an external fence and with a concerted volley they rapidly took possession of the village. Terrified inhabitants sought refuge in nearby villages. Acting with extreme haste, a large number of houses were dynamited. The Israelis then withdrew to report that somewhere between ten to twelve Jordanians were killed.[43]

A contrary appraisal was arrived at by the Armistice Committee. It claimed that the incursion entailed the destruction of forty-one houses and the killing of forty-two civilians, including women, children and the elderly.[44] Allowing for fatalities among National Guardsmen and Jordanian troops, the total death toll amounted to sixty-nine.[45] According to Sharon, his men were unaware that any civilians had remained in the demolished buildings. The streets were deserted and they assumed that the inhabitants had accompanied the retreating Jordanian soldiers.[46] But as Morris insists; "the (Israeli) troops had moved from house to house, firing through windows and doorways, and Jordanian pathologists reported that most of the dead had been killed by bullets and shrapnel rather than by falling masonry or explosions."[47]

Arabs in Jordan and other countries, as well as the world at large, were appalled. Within Israel, feelings also ran high. Many were disgusted by the IDF's behaviour. In trying to deflect criticism, Ben Gurion announced on radio that the raid was the unauthorised work of vigilante Jewish farmers, angered by the attack on Yehud. To crown it all, Ben Gurion concluded that a precise audit had been conducted within the army and that, on the night in question, not a single unit, no matter how small, was absent from its base.[48] Affecting extreme displeasure, Sharett (in his diary) referred to that explanation as "a senseless one," for it was "perfectly clear to one and all that the IDF had a hand in the matter."[49] Sharett's moral indignation would have carried more weight had he not finessed the text of Ben Gurion's broadcast.

In a personal debriefing with Sharon, Ben Gurion expressed misgivings that unit 101 might well evolve into a coterie of professional killers. Sharon tried to allay his fears by assuring him that most of his comrades were regular moshav or kibbutz members sensitive to the human rights of others.[50] Many years later, in the course of a private conversation, Ben Gurion confessed that he was ashamed of the Qibya raid.[51]

In accordance with accepted IDF practice, Jordanian civilians had deliberately been targeted. The severity of Israeli retaliations had not been calibrated on the basis of the principle that the punishment ought to fit the crime but rather according to their potential impact on the behaviour of Israel's adversaries.[52] It was hoped that afflicted Arab villagers would pressurise their government to clamp down on further breaches of the peace. Although Dayan appreciated that such a strategy was immoral, he defended it on the basis of its supposed effectiveness. Dayan was not alone in that regard, for Sharett, who usually wished to minimize Israeli reprisals, also subscribed to what he called the military logic of hitting a particular village so that others would be deterred.[53] However, when faced with widespread international censure in the wake of the Qibya raid, Dayan grudgingly conceded that the gains from such a strategy fell short of the losses and that henceforth the army would engage only conventional military objectives.[54]

Not every Israeli reprisal was expected to yield a measure of tranquillity. Some served to raise the fragile morale of the home population, while others were meant to hone the army's fighting spirit and combat ability. In terms of morale, Ben Gurion maintained that reprisals were a means for demonstrating to new immigrants that in Israel they could depend on their government to protect them from the depredation of their enemies. It was considered important that the immigrants be reassured that in contrast with their previous experience, Jewish blood would no longer be shed with impunity.[55]

The military establishment held that had Israel not resorted to the use of any counterforce, the Arabs would have interpreted that as a sign of weakness and as a spur for escalating the conflict. Israel believed that peace, or at least the postponement of another war, was predicated on the Arabs realizing that they were militarily incapable of overrunning their country. Hence, as Dayan asserted, effective IDF retaliations provided "a demonstration of the Israel-Arab balance of power as viewed by the Arab governments."[56]

The effectiveness of reprisals is contentious. Where they were followed by more Arab aggression, there is no way of knowing whether the ensuing violence would have occurred regardless and whether it would have involved more or less force.[57] Critics of Israeli reprisals have argued that it was beyond the power of the Jordanian or Egyptian authorities to prevent individuals entering Israel for at the ground level, local officials and police were known to have sympathised with them. However, the inability of Arab authorities to put a lid on infiltration was not as inconsequential as Israel's detractors would have us believe. After the Qibya raid, additional units of the Arab Legion were stationed in border areas. This resulted in a sharp decline in infiltration in the vicinity of Qibya and a marked, if only temporary, reduction along the entire Jordian-Israeli frontier.[58] This led to a significant drop in Israeli fatalities arising from Arabs coming from Jordan. Whereas there were 57 in 1953, a year later they receded to 34 and by 1955 they fell to 11.[59] Sharett suspected that neighbouring Arab governments did indeed possess the means to check infiltration. They were well placed to source information relating to potential incursions and lacking all moral scruples, they could readily have employed all the necessary force to root out the practice.[60] That IDF missions may, on occasion, have been efficacious, is suggested by an article appearing in mid 1954 in the Jordanian Daily. The writer, Yussuf Hana, called for stringent measures to curb infiltration precisely to avoid violent responses.[61] After the Sinai Campaign, which could in fact be regarded as a super retaliatory action, border friction between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan decreased substantially, in fact to virtually nothing.

A disturbing side effect of Israel's policy of retaliation is that it engendered or exacerbated international hostility toward the Jewish State. Successive episodes of the murdering of either small groups of Israelis or individuals failed to make world media headlines. After all, since they appeared to be the product of private non-government initiatives UN observers concluded that Arab regimes were not involved. But when Israel's patience snapped and it struck back, the casualties it inflicted were widely reported with barely any explanation of the context in which they occurred. Israel was frequently accused of overreacting to a single individual and relatively minor outrage, as if there were none preceding it. The UN, in Israel's opinion, routinely failed to distinguish between Arab acts of aggression and Israeli acts of defence. As one Israeli scholar summed up the situation; "while world public opinion was not really shocked by the sight of wholesale acts of murder perpetrated since the armistice against hundreds of unarmed Israelis, it generally seethed with anger whenever Israel retaliated."[62] Alternatively, Abba Eban believed that the Arabs felt free to murder Israeli citizens and generally flout the terms of armistice agreements "in the certainty that the Security Council would not adopt even the mildest resolution of criticism."[63]

Ben Gurion understood that it was extremely difficult for many of Israel's well wishers "to understand our (that is Israel's) unique situation and the methods imposed upon us to defend ourselves... What is clear is that no Soviet, British or American regime would tolerate a continuous state of the deliberate slaughtering of its citizens by organized gangs encouraged by a neighbouring government."[64] Inevitably a chain of events would arise whereby reprisals would follow provocations in a seemingly endless cycle of violence obscuring the true origin of the problem, namely armed Arab infiltration. This phenomenon was to repeat itself at the beginning of the 21st century. Throughout the early 1950s, Israel constantly expressed its readiness to abide in full by all armistice provisions. What it was not prepared to tolerate was a state of affairs in which the Arabs could readily violate the peace and then mobilize world opinion against Israel for defending itself. Ben Gurion held that "an agreement which is infringed by the other party can no longer be honoured by us."[65] For the restoration of calm borders, the armistice agreements had to be mutually enforced.

By January 1954, unit 101 was integrated into the parachutist brigade (by merging with the 890th Battalion), to form a new body known as unit 202, again under Sharon's leadership. The paratroopers ever so loyal to their former commander, Yehuda Harari, did not take kindly to Sharon's appointment. As Sharon later wrote: "at the formal ceremony on the parade ground to mark the transfer of command I was greeted by hoots and whistles of derision."[66] After transferring most disgruntled officers to other units, Sharon was left with a reliable core including Aharon Davidi who was to become his deputy. With careful nurturing the two components of unit 202 became so well fused that it was difficult to distinguish between those that originated from the 890th Battalion and those from unit 101.[67] Until December 1955, unit 202 undertook all of the IDF's retributive actions against Egyptian sponsored acts of murder and sabotage. Whenever unit 202 was about to embark on a mission, it would recall men on leave over the radio with coded messages such as "all citizens in Ramat Gan who were bitten by dogs on Tuesday are urged to report to their local infirmaries."[68]

Throughout 1954, despite the decline in the number of infiltrators arising from Jordan, there was nevertheless no let up in Arab violence. The worst case occurred in March when an Israeli bus was waylaid while ascending Maale Akravim (Scorpions' Pass) a desolate Negev elevation on the road to Eilat. With the driver meeting death instantly, the bus veered backwards until striking an embankment. The attackers then boarded the bus and fired at all passengers including women and children. Eleven were killed, while three who were wounded were thought to be dead. Since there was no accompanying robbery, it was obvious that the attack was purely a terrorist one.[69] Under Sharett's insistence, instead of launching a reprisal raid, Israel lodged a complaint with the Israeli-Jordanian Mixed Armistice Commission, which refused to condemn Jordan for want of concrete evidence. In protest, Israel withdrew from the Commission. (It later transpired that the gang hailed from Egyptian held territory.)[70]

By the end of 1954, that is, on December 8, five Israeli soldiers on an intelligence gathering mission were captured inside Syrian territory. One of them, Uri Ilan, after having been subject to a gruelling interrogation, committed suicide. His captors hastily returned his body. A note scratched out with a pin was found in his clothes declaring that he died as a loyal patriot. The IDF then forced a civilian airliner to land in Israel on the false pretext that it had entered Israeli airspace. The plane's passengers and crew were to be used as bargaining pawns to secure the return of the remaining detainees. Forty-eight hours later, faced with a resounding international condemnation of Israel's gross infringement of international law, Israel released the plane along with its passengers and crew. Sharett in denouncing those responsible argued that Israel had to choose between being "a state of law and a state of piracy."[71]

The year 1955 heralded a significant increase in border tension and bloodshed. On February 28 1955, in an operation named Black Arrow, the IDF killed thirty-six Egyptian troops (plus two civilians) and wounded thirty others during a raid on an Egyptian military barracks in Gaza in direct response to the murder of an Israeli cyclist, not far from Rehovot. Identity papers accidentally dropped by the Arab intruders indicated that they were in the service of Egyptian intelligence.[72]

The Gaza raid, undertaken by 149 paratroopers under Ariel Sharon's overall command, involved not only the Egyptian barracks but also an attack on a nearby railway station and the ambushing of a reinforcements column. As with the raid on Qibya, the Israelis, surprised by the reprisal's unexpected deadly outcome, presented a misleading report of the dynamics of that engagement. They claimed that an IDF unit under fire in Israeli territory gave chase to the enemy and that in the course of the pursuit a battle raged in Gaza. But most of the Egyptian dead had been travelling in a relief truck that was brought to a halt by an improvised roadblock where the Israelis attacked them with machine guns and hand grenades. In that clash alone, twenty-two Egyptians were killed.

Once again, Prime Minister Sharett was disturbed by the country's bungled public relations effort. Who could believe he wrote "that such a complicated operation could 'develop' from a casual and sudden attack on an Israeli army unit?"[73] Sharett tried to dissociate himself from the raid by informing an American journalist that had Ben Gurion not returned to the defence ministry, it would never have occurred. Such an assertion is at odds with Sharett's diary entries that indicate that, regardless of whether or not Ben Gurion was a cabinet member, the operation would have been given the green light. Following the recent hangings in Cairo of two Israeli agents, Sharett noted (again in his diary) that to square accounts Israel was obliged to respond disproportionately to the next Egyptian armistice violation and that the killing of the Israeli cyclist fitted the bill.[74]

The United Nations reproached Israel claiming that the raid on Gaza was entirely unjustified. This troubled Sharett but Ben Gurion remained unruffled. He noted that when in May 1951 his country lost thirty-eight soldiers on its own soil in a five-day battle with Syria at Tel-Mutilla, the UN did not intervene. Israel, in Ben Gurion's view, ought not to trouble itself with an international moral code that manifested double standards. The stigmatization of Israel was not the consequence of any of its actions for "it occurred beforehand at a time when we were as innocent as doves."[75]

Regardless of the criticism to which Israel was subject, there is no gainsaying the fact that it was the murder of a Jewish cyclist near Rehovot, by Egyptian intelligence agents illicitly reconnoitring in Israeli territory, that finally sparked the Gaza confrontation. As the historian David Tal remarked, "it is probably safe to say that without the murderous attack that preceded it, the Gaza raid would not have eventuated."[76] The killing of the cyclist was not an isolated occurrence. Since May 1954, the Egyptian army had been sending its men into Israel with malicious intent. Just over a month before the Gaza raid, that is on January 21, an IDF soldier was killed by a twelve-man Egyptian army unit and a few days later two Israeli tractor drivers were fired upon, leading to the death of one of them and the wounding of the other.[77] Benny Morris, a scholar well known for exposing negative aspects of the IDF, viewed the Egyptian raids as demonstrating "a growing belligerency and adventurousness among Egyptian officials."[78] Morris' version is in keeping with Glubb's summation that from 1954 onwards, "incidents in the Gaza strip became far more numerous than those on the Jordan front." This was because "the Egyptian revolutionary government were desirous of incidents, for they were posing as the great military power which was about to defeat Israel."[79]

Kennet Love, a confidant of Nasser insisted that the Gaza raid "transformed a stable level of minor incidents between the two countries (Israel and Egypt) into a dialogue of mounting fear and violence."[80] What he did not explain was why Israel ought to have tolerated the continuation of "a stable level of minor incidents," when the Egyptian-Israeli Armistice Agreement committed both sides to a total cessation of hostilities. In any case, it would seem that the Egyptians had every intention of ultimately escalating the border conflict into a full-scale war. Confirmation for this was forthcoming from Major Saleah Saleh a member of the Egyptian Government. On January 9, 1955, nearly two months before the Gaza raid, he declared that "Egypt will strive to erase the shame of the Palestine War even if Israel should fulfil all UN resolutions. It will not sign a peace with her. Even if Israel should consist only of Tel Aviv, we should never put up with that."[81]

As a means of deterring Egypt from pursuing further acts of aggression, the Gaza raid failed. A month later, infiltrators from the Gaza Strip struck at Patish a new immigrant village in the northern Negev some seventeen kilometres from the border. Having by-passed a number of other Jewish settlements, the terrorists were drawn to Patish by the sound of singing and gaiety. A wedding was being celebrated with the entire new migrant village participating. Creeping up in deadly silence, the intruders neared the reception area to discharge their sub-machine guns and hurl hand grenades at the innocent victims. A young woman, Varda Friedman, a volunteer instructor, was killed and twenty-two people, including a number of children, were injured. Had it not been for one of the settlement watchmen who readily returned the attackers' fire, the casualty rate would have been considerably higher.[82] With much indignation Ben Gurion advocated that Israel forcibly dislodge Egypt from the entire Gaza Strip. But after a stormy debate, the cabinet, siding with Sharett, rejected his proposal by a vote of nine to five.[83]

By April 1955, the Egyptians had formed their own official detachment of armed infiltrators, known as Fedayeen (literally "those who sacrifice themselves). The move was formally proclaimed in a government communiqué that made it clear that "there will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death."[84] Elaborating, Hassan el Bakuri, an Egyptian minister, declared that "there is no reason why the Fedayeen filled with hatred of their enemies should not penetrate deeply into Israel and turn the lives of its people into hell."[85] By establishing a paramilitary organization to create havoc in Israel, Egypt deliberately flouted a key clause of the Israeli-Egyptian armistice agreement. The clause in question read:

"No element of the land, sea or air, military or paramilitary forces of either Party, including non-regular forces, shall commit any warlike or hostile act against the military or paramilitary forces of the other Party, or against civilians in territory under the control of that Party."[86]

The Fedayeen, who numbered over seven hundred, were drawn from the ranks of the Palestinian-manned Gaza-based national guard, as well as from inmates released from gaol in return for pledges to participate in raids against Israel.[87] Supervised by Egyptian army officers, they received special training and were issued with a basic living allowance. Bonuses were awarded for the successful completion of missions. So esteemed were the Fedayeen's dastardly acts that their officer in charge, Mustafa Hafez, saw fit to highlight the performance of one recruit as a means of helping him evade prosecution for murder. Writing on his behalf to the Governor of Gaza, Hafez cited the fact that on August 29 1955 his protégé killed four Israeli civilians (three in an orange grove and one at a power plant) and that on the following day he ambushed a private vehicle killing its three occupants. Hafez's appeal ended as follows: "taking into account his wonderful deeds, we request that merciful consideration and appreciation be given to his past record of sacrificial actions...and that you close the file against him."[88]

By July 1956 Mustafa Hafez was assassinated. The Israelis had provided an identified Egyptian double agent with a package with instructions to hand it over to a supposed Israeli operative in Gaza. As expected, the double agent informed Mustafa, who unhesitatingly opened the parcel and by so doing detonated a deadly explosion. Six months later, his counterpart in Jordan, Salah ad-Din Mustafa met with a similar fate.[89]

An ominous aspect of the training of Arab terrorists and the general dissemination of anti-Israel sentiment within the Arab world and within Egypt in particular, was the widespread recruitment of ex-Nazi war criminals and collaborators. Although the Arabs were infatuated with Hitler and were more than willing to draw on support from his surviving henchman, they did not for a moment flinch at depicting both Israel and Zionism as being Nazi inspired. In the early 1950s many ex-Nazis settled in Egypt where they adopted Arab non de plumes. The director of the Cairo based Institute for the Study of Zionism, Alfred Zingler, styled himself Mahmoud Saleh.[90] His assistant, Dr Johannes von Leers, who had served on the staff of Goebbel's ministry, became known as Omar Amin. In 1957, according to the German newspaper, Frankfurter Ilustrierte, Egypt had welcomed over two thousand ex-Nazis. Two in particular, Arich Altern (Ali Bella) who was a high ranking member of the Gestapo and Baumann (Ali Ben Khader) who had participated in the extermination of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, became military instructors in Palestinian refugee camps. The significant ex-Nazi presence in Egypt did not in the slightest degree detract from its popularly perceived image as a "progressive anti-imperialist state." Syria likewise became a beneficiary of German military advice.[91]

It has widely been asserted that Operation Black Arrow (the Gaza Raid) was instrumental in persuading Egypt to conclude, on September 27, 1955, an arms agreement with Czechoslovakia (or to be more exact with Russia) that tilted the strategic Israel-Egypt balance decisively in Egypt's favour. According to such an argument, a needless and precipitate action by Israel pushed Egypt's back to the wall. Furthermore, the large loss of life experienced by the Egyptian army which exposed its general weakness was said to have tarnished Nasser's prestige and standing, both within his own country and within the Arab world as a whole. To redress that situation, Nasser supposedly felt the need to match Israel's strength.

Conventional wisdom suggests that after unsuccessfully appealing to the West for military assistance, Nasser turned to the Soviet bloc, which responded favourably. Such an outcome was allegedly facilitated by Chou En-Lai, the Chinese premier, who in April 1955, at the Bandung Congress in Indonesia, promised Nasser that he would use his good offices to help Egypt secure Soviet arms. A few weeks later, Chou notified Nasser that Russia was highly receptive to an application for military assistance and was now awaiting a direct approach to Daniel Solod, its ambassador in Cairo. However, in departing from that narrative, Motti Golani maintained that "the Soviets had offered to sell arms to Egypt as early as 1953, and (that) the Czech deal had been in the making since at least late 1954."[92] Whatever the case, once Nasser broached the subject with Solod, he was informed that Russia "would be delighted to oblige with the supply of any quantity of arms."[93]

The Russians proved to be completely accommodating. Perhaps their only reservation was that officially, the transaction was to appear as an Egyptian-Czech one, to serve as a cover, though not a convincing one, for their own direct involvement. In light of the fact that during Israel's War of Independence, Czechoslovakia was Israel's main arms supplier, the irony of that stipulation was not lost on the Egyptians. The Soviets provided Egypt with a prodigious amount of modern weapons, of a type and calibre that had hitherto not been available to any Middle Eastern combatant, including tanks, artillery, planes and submarines. Payment, to be deferred, was to be made in Egyptian cotton.

As an ardent pan Arab nationalist with global leadership ambitions, Nasser had perforce sooner or later to adopt an extreme anti-Israel position. A year before the Czech-Egypt arms deal was announced, (and well before operation Black Arrow) Nasser emphasised to his biographer, Anthony Nutting, the importance of equipping his army with modern weapons as an indispensable precondition for consolidating his political power.[94] In the absence of the Gaza raid, the appetite of the Egyptian armed forces for increased armaments would still have had to be satiated.[95]

In Moshe Sharett's opinion, which seems to have been shared by the Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, it was not so much the Gaza raid but the formation of the Baghdad Pact that led to the Czech-Egyptian arms deal.[96] Nasser in deliberating with Richard Crossman, a UK Labour member of parliament, identified the Baghdad Pact along with operation Black Arrow as both being responsible for the worsening of the security situation in the region.[97] Mohamed Heikal, Nasser's confidante, also claimed that his leader felt seriously threatened by the Baghdad Pact.[98] What perturbed Nasser was that Iraq, Egypt's rival for Pan-Arab hegemony, had adopted a key role in the alliance. On top of that, Nasser loathed the idea of Arab nations entering into formal defence agreements with the West. It stood at odds with his commitment to the Third World. Glubb who closely monitored trends in the Arab World wrote that when the Baghdad Pact was concluded "the Egyptian government was immediately roused to resentment," and that on acquiring Soviet arms "Nasser had succeed in trumping the Baghdad Pact."[99] One might have expected of Glubb, a staunch Israeli foe, to include Israel's Gaza raid as a factor in Nasser's calculations but significantly, he failed to do so.

Subsequently, Egypt claimed that it needed to acquire more arms to redress an Israeli advantage resulting from Israel's arms negotiations with France that began in 1954 and continued until March 1955. In reality, all that Israel had then managed to achieve was a commitment by France for the supply of twelve outdated jets (that had then not been delivered) plus some artillery, bazookas and light tanks. Such a consignment would only have partially offset the weapons that Iraq and Egypt had recently obtained from the West.[100] Hardly grounds for causing Nasser any concern.

A widespread belief shared by gullible European and American commentators that Nasser was forced to embark on a path leading to war is belied by the facts. When in early 1956 Eisenhower dispatched Robert Anderson to the Middle East as his personal envoy, Nasser constantly and consistently rebuffed every suggestion that could have paved the way for a peaceful resolution of Egypt's conflict with Israel. He rejected any notion of meeting with Israelis face to face or of conducting indirect negotiations with them. Rather he demanded conditions that no Israeli government could ever concede, such as the complete repatriation of the Palestinian refugees and a "return" to the 1947 proposed UN partition borders.[101] Why, as the historian Mordechai Bar-Zohar asked, did Nasser permit Anderson to visit him in Cairo in the first place? Providing his own answer, Bar-Zohar concluded that among other things, Nasser hoped to forestall potential American arm shipments to Israel by issuing vacuous statements purporting to depict himself as a man of peace.[102] Whatever soothing words Nasser may have used in impressing naive westerners, Glubb held that he was none other than an inveterate liar who exuded charm and sincerity.[103]

As for the Fedayeen, by the end of August 1955, they attacked targets deep within Israel's territory, reaching as far as eighteen kilometres from Tel Aviv. The raids were combined with the shelling of Israeli border positions and continued for a full week. More than a dozen Israelis were killed.[104] From the Egyptians' point of view, their actions constituted reprisals for Israel's occupation of demilitarized zones and the slaying, in a gun battle, of an Egyptian officer and two volunteers.[105] Then on August 31, the IDF attacked an army base at Khan Yunis in which thirty-seven Egyptians were killed and forty-five wounded.[106] So miffed was Nasser that on September 12, he threw down the gauntlet by prohibiting Israeli civilian aircraft from overflying the Gulf of Aqaba.

With Egypt beginning to take possession of arms from Czechoslovakia, Dayan took the view that retaliatory raids against it ought to become more devastating so as to precipitate a full-scale war in which Israel would overrun the Gaza strip. He feared that on integrating and mastering its newly acquired weapons, Egypt would challenge Israel in a "second round" at a time of its own choosing. That being the case, Israel had to act while it still had the facility to do so. (A further indication of Arab intentions appeared on October 19 when Egypt and Syria concluded a mutual defence pact providing for a joint military command under Egyptian leadership.) Dayan's prognosis was shared by Ben Gurion, who on October 23, instructed him to prepare contingency plans for the capture of the Straits of Tiran, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.[107] In practice this meant that a year later when the Sinai Campaign was launched, "the Israeli army was ready for war, its units equipped and trained, its plans laid down to every minute detail and its borders fortified."[108]

In the meanwhile, the IDF began to perform more vigorously. On October 27-28, Sharon and Meir Har-Zion commanded a section of unit 202 against an Egyptian stronghold in the Sinai town of Kuntilla. At nightfall, paratroopers set out in the cold desert darkness for an exhausting three-hour trek. Arriving at Kuntilla just as a change of guard was taking place, the Israelis so startled the Egyptians that they offered little resistance. All told, ten Egyptians were killed and twenty-nine were captured, as opposed to the loss of two Israelis.

The Kuntilla raid caused Egypt to station troops in Israeli territory where they dug in near Nitzana, a kilometre from the border. The IDF was called upon to eject them and on November 2, the first army to army battle on Israeli soil took place since the War of Independence. At a cost of five Israeli lives, the Egyptians suffered grievously. They lost eighty-one men, another fifty-five to captivity plus a fair amount of equipment.[109] Perhaps realizing that they were at fault, the Egyptians appealed neither to the Armistice Commission nor to the UN Security Council.

On December 11/12 December 1955, following Syrian shelling of Israeli fishing boats on Lake Kinneret, (which occasioned no bloodshed) the IDF retaliated. Conducting a three-pronged attack with land forces coming from the north and south and water borne fighters from the west, the IDF destroyed a number of Syrian positions adjacent to the lake. Forty-nine Syrians were killed and thirty taken as prisoners while Israel lost six men and twelve wounded. Ben Gurion taken aback by the scale of the operation and the losses inflicted, remarked that the "operation was much too good."[110] Nevertheless, he strongly defended the action. Although Lake Kinneret in its entirety plus a ten metre wide strip along its eastern coastline were part of Israel's sovereign territory, Syria positioned its army right along the lake's edge. Despite appeals by General Banica, the head of the UN team of observers, that the Syrians refrain from undertaking hostile activities in the area, in 1955 alone, Syria violated the Armistice Agreement on 108 separate occasions. After Israel's retaliatory raid, General Burns, who served on the Syrian-Israeli Armistice Commission, submitted a report to the UN. In it he wrote that a staff member had interviewed a captured Syrian officer who had informed him that he was under orders (in contravention of the Armistice Agreement) to fire upon Israeli vessels that approached to less than 200 metres from the edge of the Lake.[111] Be that as it may, in a communication to Ben Gurion, Dayan frankly admitted that the problems of Israeli fishermen in Lake Kinneret were the least of his worries. What really motivated him was the possibility that Egypt, in the face of an attack on its new found ally, would feel duty bound to rally to its support, thus provoking an all out war.[112] In this respect, he was disappointed. The Kinneret raid was denounced by the UN Security Council as well as by some members of the government coalition.

As the year 1955 drew to a close, the Egyptian army commander in Gaza called upon the Fedayeen to widen their "actions within enemy territory, including bombings and acts of sabotage, the severance of transport and the creation of panic in Israel."[113] Then in February 1956, the Commander of the Egyptian 3rd Infantry Division ordered his officers to ready themselves "for the inevitable campaign against Israel, with the intention of fulfilling our exalted aim, namely the destruction and annihilation of Israel in the shortest possible time and in the most brutal and cruel battles."[114] Preparations to implement the Commander's instructions included a mock-up of an Israeli settlement constructed near Abu Ageila and Egyptian manoeuvres involving exercises in overrunning the Nitzana area and the seizing of Beersheba.[115] Perhaps the strongest indication of Nasser's hostile intentions was the dramatic change in the overall deployment of Egyptian forces in Sinai. Up until 1953, the Egyptian army, by maintaining only one brigade in the entire Peninsula was clearly not poised for an attack on Israel. But soon after Nasser and his fellow officers attained power, they shifted their army's centre of gravity toward Sinai, where by the beginning of 1956, the major bulk of the army was concentrated. Ten out of Egypt's sixteen brigades were positioned in the north east corner of the Peninsula, all of which were better equipped than those of Israel.[116] New roads and airstrips were laid specifically for military purposes and a large supporting infrastructure of fortifications, workshops, ordnance depots and general storage facilities were constructed, most of which were situated in close proximity to Israel's borders.[117]i In short, the Egyptian military build-up in Sinai far exceeded reasonable defence needs.

By April 1956, a spate of clashes, initiated by the regular Egyptian army, erupted along the Israel-Egyptian border. On April 5, after the Egyptians rained 120-mm mortars on the kibbutzim of Kfar Aza, Nahal Oz, Kissufim and Ein Hashlosha, the IDF shelled Gaza city with mortar of like calibre killing four soldiers and fifty-eight civilians.[118] This was followed during April 7-11 by a bout of Fedayeen activity that led to the death of fourteen Jews, including a teacher and five children who were at prayer in a synagogue at Kfar Habad, just ten kilometres east of Tel Aviv.[119] Press photographs of the synagogue's torah scroll smothered in blood, horrified the nation.[120] From Cairo Ahmed Sa'id, a prominent radio broadcaster exultantly challenged Israel to "Cry for your future, night and day! Wait for your death at any moment because the Fedayeen are everywhere."[121]

Roi Rutenberg, a founder of kibbutz Nahal Oz, was among those Israelis who died during the April engagements. He was shot while on horse patrol in his settlement's fields. The attack occurred a week after both Egypt and Israel re-affirmed their willingness to abide by the 1949 armistice agreement. Rutenberg whose face was clubbed beyond recognition had his eyes gouged out. At his funeral he was eulogised by Dayan who exhorted the mourners as follows:

"Do not be deterred from seeing the enmity that consumes the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs that surround us and who long to destroy us. Let us not avert our gaze lest our hand be weakened. This is the fate of our generation. We need to be vigilant and armed, strong and resolute, for otherwise the sword will fall from our hands and we will be annihilated."[122]

Inspired by Fedayeen attacks staged from the Gaza Strip, the Jordanian army, having in March 1956 divested itself of Glubb Pasha and most other senior British officers, began to throw its weight more overtly behind locally based Fedayeen. Writing in April 1956 in the Arab journal, Al Mitahak, Shafik Atsheidat, a one time Jordanian minister, outlined his country's change of policy. He acknowledged that it had previously been one of restraint but with the departure of Glubb, it was incumbent upon Jordan to prepare an army from among Palestinian refugees that would be sent "into every area of the region called Israel to burn, murder and destroy."[123] Taking their cue, the infiltrators killed whoever they encountered. They shot at automobiles, blew up houses and water installations, mined roads and derailed trains. The wanton mayhem continued for months on end. In early September, in the vicinity of the Hebron hills, Jordanian soldiers fired on a group of thirty IDF reservists engaged on a map-reading exercise within Israeli territory. The Jordanians dragged six Israelis across the border where they finished them off and mutilated their corpses by removing their genitalia.[124] A couple of days later, that is on the night of September 11/12, two IDF paratrooper companies headed by Sharon blew up a Jordanian police station in the same vicinity and ambushed a column of Jordanian reinforcements. Some twenty to twenty-nine Jordanians were killed. Israel casualties numbered one dead and three wounded, among whom was Meir Har-Zion, whose life was saved by a doctor performing, under fire, a tracheotomy with a pen-knife.[125] On September 22 a Jordanian soldier machine gunned to death four and wounded sixteen participants of an archaeologist conference at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. The next day just out of Moshav Aminadav, a few kilometres south west of Jerusalem, a mother and her ten-year old daughter were attacked while harvesting olives. The daughter was killed and her hand was severed to be taken away as a souvenir.[126] Elsewhere, a young tractor driver was murdered near Kibbutz Ma'oz Haim in the Beit Shean Valley.[127] During the night of September 25, Israel in turn struck at the Husan police fort and adjacent Arab Legion positions causing the deaths of thirty-seven soldiers and National Guardsmen, as well as two civilians. The reprisal was from Israeli's point of view a costly one for in the heat of battle as well as in an ensuing traffic accident, it had lost ten men.[128]

The Israeli assault on the Husan police fort did not put an end to trans-border violence. On October 9, two Jewish workers near Even-Yehuda, fourteen kilometres within Israel, were murdered and disfigured. (Their ears were cut off.) Outraged, by such ongoing atrocities, which included the recent slaughter of five workers near Sodom, and convinced that the Jordanian authorities orchestrated the latest violation, the Israeli cabinet authorized a significant reprisal. The Israeli government was particularly affronted by King Hussein, who on being notified of the identity of infiltrators responsible for the killing of eight Israeli citizens, promptly released them from custody.[129]

At nine p.m. on October 10, under the command of Mordechai Gur, a paratrooper brigade with armour and artillery support attacked a Jordanian fortress adjacent to Kalkilya. With illuminated floodlights trained on the fortress, the Israelis bombarded it with twenty five-pound shells. Two hours later, it was stormed and overpowered. Then after ensuring that it was devoid of soldiers and horses, it was demolished.

Meanwhile an Israeli blocking force, to the east of Kalkilia on the road to Azun, which was meant to ambush Arab Legion reinforcements, was itself surreptitiously encircled and out-gunned. Some of its officers were shot dead, while one was in a state of shock. A twenty-one year-old lieutenant assumed command. He and the remaining able bodied men scurried up a steep hill that contained disused trenches. There, after securing their wounded and mobilizing those among the injured still capable of handling a weapon, they awaited the final Jordanian onslaught. Approaching Legionnaires screaming out minatory war cries were undaunted by Israeli sub-machine gunfire and the launching of anti-tank grenades. In utter desperation, an IDF signalman radioed for the hill to be bombarded. By a stroke of luck, he had previously been in the artillery and was able to direct Israel's 155 millimetre canon stationed 13.5 kilometres away. The response was almost immediate. Artillery shells saturated the hillside and scattered the Jordanians, while the Israelis sheltering in trenches, escaped unharmed.[130] Even so, they were running low on ammunition. This induced Dayan to improvise a rescue operation and as an added measure, the air force was alerted to bomb enemy positions. Dayan intended to dispatch an infantry battalion to the imperilled paratroopers but Sharon realizing that it would not arrive in time, sent an armoured column instead.[131] Travelling furiously with its lights on high beam, the column reached its destination at 2.30 a.m. The wounded were placed inside the troop carriers while others perched themselves along the vehicles' outer perimeters. That arrangement was less than satisfactory. Fire from Legionnaires, who had meanwhile regrouped on Zuffin Hill, exacted an additional toll of five deaths and twenty wounded.[132] During the planning stages of the operation, Sharon had suggested that Zuffin Hill be seized "to insure against any emergencies."[133] But his suggestion was rejected. Both Ben Gurion and Dayan were mindful of the possibility of the raid becoming too ramified, causing Jordan to call upon Britain for military support in terms of a Jordanian-British defence treaty. In a post operation debriefing, Sharon bitterly inveighed against the decision not to adopt his Zuffin Hill proposal. For his troubles, he incurred Dayan's wrath.[134]

When the overall dust of the Kalkilia operation had finally settled, the IDF had suffered eighteen fatalities and sixty-eight wounded.[135] Enemy losses amounted to approximately one hundred. Total Israeli casualties would have been higher still had the paratroopers not fought with complete abandon. Their heroism is exemplified by Yirmeyahu Burdanov, a demobilized lieutenant. Like many other veteran parachutists, Burdanov spontaneously turned up "to give the youngsters a hand." He joined the units besetting the fortress at Kalkilya and then boarded the leading half-track heading to the rescue of those near the roadblock. On returning to base, it was discovered that a damaged vehicle was missing. Burdanov peremptorily ordered the driver of the half-track, nominally commanded by Major Moshe Breuer, to turn back. Dressed in civilian clothes, Burdanov attached a tow-cable to the incapacitated vehicle. Unfortunately, his white shirt attracted Jordanian fire and he was killed, as was Breuer, just a minute earlier.[136]

So embarrassed was the high command by the extent of Israeli losses, that it initially withheld full information from the general public. Considering all aspects of that dismal outcome, Dayan concluded that Israeli retaliations had run their course.[137] The Arabs began to anticipate IDF responses and allowed for appropriate counter moves. Now more than ever, Dayan was convinced that Israel's sole remaining option was the launching of a pre-emptive war.

As a prelude to Israel pursuing decisive action against Egypt, Ben Gurion, in June 1965, demanded Sharett's resignation. From the moment in February 1955 when Ben Gurion returned from Sde Boker, he was more than ever conscious of his differences with Sharett. Sharing his thoughts with Zeev Shraff, the cabinet secretary, he felt that Sharett was nurturing a generation of cowards and that he was determined to thwart him.[138] In the interest of creating a more harmonious relationship between the defence and foreign ministers and of ensuring the support of the foreign minister in the event of war, Sharett was replaced by Golda Meir. For Ben Gurion it was a heart wrenching decision. He described his mixed feelings to the Knesset thus; "as a long standing comrade and friend I am personally very distressed that things had come to this but bearing in mind the needs of the country, I see much to recommend it."[139]


1 Peres 1970 page 12.

2 As quoted by Cohen 1964 page 460.

3 As quoted by Cohen 1964 page 461 from Achbar al-Yum 14.5.49.

4 As quoted by Gabbay 1959 page 425.

5 As quoted by Gabbay 1950 pages 424-5.

7 Shalom 1995 page 17.

8 Ben Burion 1969 page 483, Morris 1993 pages 97-98.

9 Teveth 1972 page 203.

10 See Shalom 1995 pages 154-5.

11 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 110.

12 See Morris 2001 page 275.

13 Morris 1993 page 39.

14 Shapira 2004 pages 448-449, Tal 2004 page 75.

15 Morris 1993 pages 132-133. Reis later half-heartedly regretted such actions.

16 Morris 1993 pages 157-161.

17 Morris 1993 page 163.

18 Morris 1993 pages 167-168.

19 Morris 1993 pages 168-172.

20 Morris 1993 page 417.

21 Slater 1991 page 134.

22 Luttwak and Horowitz 1975 page 71.

23 Luttwak and Horowitz, 1975 page 101.

24 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 111.

25 Milstein 1985 page 108.

26 Tal 2004 page 77.

27 Shlaim 2000 page 83.

28 Teveth 1972 page 204.

29 Glubb 1957 page 305.

30 Morris 1993 page 238.

31 Benziman 1985 page 42.

32 As quoted by Milstein 1985 page 210.

Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 114.

34 Creveld 1998 page 132.

35 Har-Zion 1969 page 134

36 Luttwak and Horowitz, 1975 page 116.

37 Ya'ari 1975 page 12.

38 Morris 1993 page 242.

39 Ya'ari 1975 page 12.

40 Tal 2004 page 76.

41 Morris 1993 page 244.

42 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 976.

43 Sharon 1989 page 89.

44 Tal 2004 page 76.

45 Slater 1991 page 150 and Luttwak and Horowitz 1975 page 110.

46 Teveth 1972 page 212.

47 Morris 2001 page 278.

48 Sharett 1978 page 44.

49 Sharett 1978 page 44.

50 Milstein 1985 page 232.

51 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 981.

52 Aharonson, 1971 page 79.

53 Sheffer 1996 pages 565-657.

54 Dayan's assurance that the IDF would cease harming enemy civilians was not always carried out to the letter. In March 1955, four young Israeli men crossed into Jordan to undertake an act of vengeance for the murder of a young woman and her male companion who had been illegally hiking in Jordan's Judean desert. The ringleader, Meir Har-Zion of unit 101 fame who was the late woman's brother, knifed to death four of six young Bedouin falling into the group's hands. A fifth Bedouin was shot to death, while the sixth was released to relate the incident to his tribesmen from whose ranks the murderers of the two Israelis were thought to have arisen. It transpired that Har-Zion's group had received assistance from the army, which with Ariel Sharon's blessing, provided them with transport to the border, food and ammunition and which also covered their retreat. On their return to Israel they were detained and questioned but in a matter of weeks they were released with impunity. Sharett felt that the outcome of the affair indicated that Israel was losing its moral compass. However, apart from the Har-Zion incident, in which the army was not officially involved, the IDF generally took care to ensure that civilian casualties were either avoided or at worst minimized. Nonetheless, as outlined further below, it again failed to do so in April 1956 during an exchange of mortar fire with Egyptian forces.

55 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1139.

56 As quoted by Teveth 1972 page 241.

57 See for example Shalom 1995 page 161.

58 Morris 2001 page 279.

59 Morris 1993 page 83.

60 See Shalom 1995 page 158.

61 Morris 1993 page 83.

62 Cohen 1964 page 494.

63 As quoted by Cohen 1964 page 236.

64 Ben Gurion 1969 page 484.

65 As quoted by Bar-Zohar, 1975 page 1152.

66 Sharon 1989 page 93.

67 Sharon 1989 page 95.

68 Sharon 1989 page 97.

69 Glubb 1957 page 319.

70 Morris 2001 page 281.

71 Shlaim 200 page 115-116.

72 Kurzman 1983 page 378.

73 Sharett 1978 page 804-05.

74 See Bar-Zohar 1975 pages 1127-28.

75 As quoted by Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1129.

76 Tal 2004 page 80.

77 Morris 1993 page 322.

78 Morris 1993 page 86.

Glubb 1957 pages 380-381.

80 As quoted by Shlaim 2000 page 126.

81 As quoted by Eban 1977 page 183.

82 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1138.

83 See Sheffer 1996 pages 790-792.

84 As quoted by Gabbay 1959 page 504.

85 As quoted by Ben Gurion 1969 page 521.

86 As quoted by Lorch 1961 page 461.

87 Creveld 1998 page 136.

88 As quoted by Dayan 1966 page 6.

89 Cohen 1964 page 491.

90 All the information in this paragraph is derived from Ye'or 2005 page 42.

91 Black and Morris 1991 page 101.

92 Golani 1998 page 12.

93 Nutting 1972 page 101. Italics added.

94 Nutting 1972 page 74.

95 See Sheffer 1996 page 822.

96 Sheffer 1996 page 832 and 834.

97 Sheffer 1996 page 851.

98 See Glassman 1975 page 9.

99 Glubb 1957 pages 377-378.

100 See Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1149.

101 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1167.

102 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1167.

103 Glubb 1957 page 377.

104 Morris 2001 page 284.

105 Ya'ari 1975 page 19.

106 Sheffer 1996 page 824.

107 Brecher 1974 pages 258-259.

108 Bar-On 1994 page 48.

109 Morris 1993 page360. Slightly different casualty rates were provided by Bar-On 1994 page 50. That is, seven Israeli deaths and 70 Egyptian ones.

110 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 170.

111 Ben Gurion 1969 page 477.

112 Morris 1993 page 281.

113 As quoted by Ya'ari 1975 page 23.

114 As quoted by Dayan 1966 page 150.

115 Bar-On 1994 page 70.

116 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 194.

117 See Teveth 1957 pages 29-30.

118 Morris 1993 page 372.

119 Cohen 1964 page 492.

120 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1169.

121 As quoted by Bar-On 1994 page 119.

122 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 191.

123 As quoted by Morris 1993 page 388.

124 Morris 1993 page 392.

125 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 225.

126 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 200.

127 Cohen 1964 page 493.

128 Morris 1993 page 396.

129 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 246.

130 Ba'Mahaneh, October 15, 1956

131 Sharon 1989 page 139.

132 Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 248.

133 Sharon 1989 page 137.

134 Sharon 1989 page 140.

135 Dayan 1966 page 43.

136 Dayan 1966 pages 51-52. Sharon 1989 pages 139-140.

137 Slater 1991 page 186.

138 Bar-Zohar 1975 page 1126.

139 As quoted by Dayan 1976 (Hebrew Edition) page 208.


Leslie Stein is Associate Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Contact him by email at

This is Chapter 5 of "The Making of Modern Israel: 1948-1967". Details about the book are available here.


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