In May 1948, Israel became an independent state after Israel
was recognised by the United Nations as a
country in its own right within the Middle East. If relations in pre-war Palestine had been fraught with
difficulties, these difficulties paled into insignificance after Israel became a
state in its own right. Immediately on being granted its independence, Israel
was attacked by a number of Arab nations. If Israel had faltered at this first
hurdle, she would have ceased to exist as a state regardless of what the United Nations had decreed.
Before World War Two, Haganah had
been, from the British viewpoint, a terrorist organisation that used violence to
defend the Jewish Agency. Haganah attacked Palestinian Arabs and aspects of British
rule in Palestine. By the time Israel had gained its independence, Haganah was
effectively the army for Israel. Many members of Haganah had gained military
experience during World War Two – ironically fighting for the same British
military that they had been attacking before the war.
Israel was attacked on the same day it gained its
independence – May 14th. The armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq attacked
Israel. With such a combined force attacking Israel, few would have given the
new country any chance of survival.
In fact, Israel had internal problems regardless of what was
happening on its borders. The regular army had to be used to disband Irgun and
the Stern Gang. Both of these had been classed as terrorist organisations by the
British in pre-war Palestine. David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister and Defence Minister
wanted the Israeli army to remain non-political and using a combination of
diplomacy and force, he removed both groups as a threat. The leaders of both
groups were arrested but members of them did join the army. At the height of the
1948 War, Israel’s army numbered 100,000.
Though the attack on Israel was a surprise one, Israel was
surprisingly well equipped at a military level. The country had a navy and many
in her army were experienced in combat as a result of World War Two. Israel had
also bought three B-17 bombers in America on the black market. In July 1948,
these were used to bomb the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
The Arab nations that attacked Israel faced one major
problem. There was nothing to co-ordinate their attacks. Each essentially
attacked as a separate unit rather than as a combined force. However, the
Israeli Army was under one single command structure and this proved to be very
important. Israeli victories came on all the war fronts.
The Arab nations involved negotiated their own peace talks –
a further sign that they were only united by their desire to attack Israel.
Egypt signed a peace settlement in February 1949, and over the next few months
Lebanon, Jordan and Syria did the same culminating in peace in July 1949. Iraq
simply withdrew her forces but did not sign any peace settlement.
However, this could only be at the expense of the Arab population that lived in
In the summer of 1949 there was no obvious leader in the
Arab world who could head a campaign by the Arabs. Egypt seemed the most likely
leader if only because of her size. However, the Egyptian Royal Family was far
from popular and it was in this setting that Nasser rose to power. The scene was set for
almost perpetual conflict between the Arab nations and Israel that culminated in
the 1956, 1967 and
The 1948 war, which the Israelis referred to as the “War of
Independence”, claimed 6,000 Israeli lives – but this was only 1% of the
nation’s population. The boost the victory gave to the Israelis was huge and put
into perspective the 6,000 lives lost. Ironically, those nations that had
attacked Israel in May 1948, only lost slightly more men – 7,000. However, the
damage to their morale was considerable.