The 1947-1949 Palestine War is actually divided into two different phases. First, was the part that is called the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine. Meaning the day the UN Partition Plan was announced till the day David Ben Gurion declares Israel’s Independence; the British Mandate ends.
While the second part of the War begins after Ben Gurion declared the state and The Arabs countries invade. So as we learned in prior posts the first phase of the war was a civil war in many aspects. Ultimately you and The Jewish Yishuv are on one side while the local Palestinian population is on the other. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war was already a conventional war between the Israel Defence Force and four invading armies; Syria, Yarden, Iraq, and Egypt.
The First Days Of The 1948 Arab-Israeli War
In the first two weeks of the Arab invasion, the Israeli forces were on the defense. But from the last week of May 1948, they took the initiative but most of these attacks failed. During the first month of the war, Israel was able to fend off the Arab forces. This was a great achievement for the young state. The Jewish settlements on the frontline played a major role. For example Degania Alef, Degania Bet, Mishmar HaYarden, Gesher, Negba, Kfar Darm, Yad Mordechai. Even though till mid-May not even one settlement fell; After the invasion, some communities were taken over by the Arab invading armies.
Most of the Arab invading armies were not advanced or what we would consider then a modernized army. But on the other hand, the IDF had to fight on multiple fronts and still deal with the Arab Liberation Army that was still aiding them from within the country. So all this was quite a challenge to IDF that was just formed. Not to mention that those armies had the assistance of the Egyptian and Syrian Air Force; accompanied by artillery and the armored corps. Not easy to say the least.
1947-1949 Palestine War: Few Against Many?
There are conflicting opinions about the number of soldiers each side had. Especially from April till June 1948. This goes beyond the academic debate but got to do with the “Few Against Many” narrative that is strongly embedded in Israeli society.
In general, you can actually see that the IDF drafted more soldiers than those of the Arab Armies. Even if you add in this figure the forces of the Arab Liberation Army and the one’s belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood; still the Jewish force was bigger. But while the Arab forces were all trained combat soldiers the ones listed in the IDF count were non-combat soldiers.
At the time of the invasion, the weapons the Arabs had were greater than those the Israelis had at their usage. That is to say on the 15th of May the Arab invading armies had 40 tanks, about 300 canons of artillery, and 47 fighter planes. In the first weeks till the First Truce, the Arabs had a huge advantage in that aspect.
On the other hand, since spring 1948 and till the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War many weapons were acquired by Israel; mainly leftovers after WW2 overriding the arms embargo that was declared during the first truce. One major arms transaction was with Czechoslovakia. It was the main source of supply for the young State of Israel. In fact, 10 plains, about 50,000 rifles, around 6,000 machine guns, and plus-minus 90,000 million bullets.
1947-1949 Palestine War: The First Truce In June 1948
On June 10th, 1948 a truce began between the two factions. It was offered by the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, and lasted 28 days. He spoke of “peace by Christmas” but saw that the Arab world had continued to reject the existence of a Jewish state, whatever its borders. Furthermore, an arms embargo was declared but neither side respected the truce. Both sides used this time to improve their positions, a direct violation of the terms of the ceasefire.
1947-1949 Palestine War: The Altalena Affair
During the first truce, there was an incident that made a mark in the chronicles of the young state. A ship, named Altalena, fully loaded with arms and medical supplies reached the shores of Israel. But this ship, which was brought by the Etzel, came sometime after the IDF was already formed and the Etzel had agreed to disarm and disperse. Menachem Begin that was the commander of the Etzel demanded that 20 percent of the arms will be given to the Etzel units that were still active under the IDF.
The newly formed government decided that the presence of the Etzel on the ship and their dictating terms to the official government of Israel and to the IDF is challenging the authority of the state. As a result, the government of Israel decided ultimately to sink the boat.
Also, another problem that the ship posed for the Jewish leadership was when the ship arrived. In other words, exactly during the ceasefire that strictly forbids the rearmament of the fighting forces. So the weapons on board were a clear infraction of the UN embargo and the temporary ceasefire agreement. While Israel was unloading the weapons from the boat it was discovered by the UN observers. After its discovery by the UN Israel understood that they can not infringe the agreement so bluntly and go against the decision of the Security Council; ultimately they will be a price to pay.
Eventually, the ship was drowned off the shores of Tel Aviv, and the weapons that were needed so badly sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. 16 Etzel fighters died and 3 IDF soldiers. The Etzel was officially dispersed.