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These sections are reproduced from Israel and Zionism/Struggle & Defense

Tzahal - The Israel Defense Forces (abbr. IDF)

The IDF was established on May 26 1948, by the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. The IDF is an organic part of the people, essentially based on reserve service by the civilian population.

The IDF has proven itself one of the most important factors in effecting the integration of the varied cultural elements of Israel's population. In the early days of the state, the IDF probably had more influence in this respect than any other single element, and today it is on a par with the school system in bringing about national integration.

From its inception, Israel established a system of compulsory military service requiring both men and women of certain ages to report for varying periods of service. The IDF comprise three types of service: conscript service, reserve service and regular service. On conclusion of his or her conscript service, every soldier is assigned to a reserve unit. The IDF is composed of three elements: regular officers and N.C.O.; the standing army - regular officers, N.C.O.s and conscripts; and reserve forces, which can be mobilized at any given time.

Members of the minority communities may, under certain circumstances, volunteer for service in the IDF and the Border Police. The Druze community is liable for conscription into the IDF in the same manner as members of the Jewish population. It was at the specific request of the Druze community that the National Service Law imposing conscription was applied to its members.

a. The War of Independence (1947 - 1949)

The War of Independence, also known as the War of Liberation, lasted from the end of November 1947 until July 1949. The war was divided into two distinct phases.

The first phase began on November 30, the day after the UN General Assembly adopted its resolution on the partition of Palestine (see UN Resolution 29.11.1947), and ended on May 15, 1948, the last day of the British Mandate.

The second phase started on the very last day of the British Mandate and came to an end on July 20,1949, when the last of the Armistice Agreements (with Syria) was signed.

In the first phase which, as mentioned before, began on the morrow of the UN Partition Resolution, the yishuv and its defense forces - the Haganah - were under attack by Palestinian Arabs, aided by irregular volunteers from Arab countries. On May 14, 1948, the day preceding the end of British Mandate, The National Council convened at the Tel Aviv Museum and approved the proclamation of Independence, which declared the establishment of the State of Israel (see also David Ben Gurion).

During the night of May 14-15, Tel Aviv was bombarded by Egyptian airplanes. Thus began the second phase of the War of Independence, in which the regular armies of five neighboring Arab states invaded the new state of Israel. From the north, east and south came the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan and Egypt.(Saudi Arabia sent a formation to fight under Egyptian command; Yemen considered itself at war with Israel but sent no military forces.)

The War of Independence lasted for more than 13 months. Israel paid a heavy price: 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians killed. The financial cost was also heavy. The Jewish state, however, was now a definite fact. It held an area of almost 8,000 sq. miles compared with some 6,200 sq. miles granted within the boundaries as drawn up in the Partition Plan.

Palestinian Arab terrorist groups, called "Fedayeen" ("suicide fighters"), began systematic raids against the Israeli civilian population. The "Fedayeen" operated from bases located in and controlled by Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. In the period 1951- 1956, over 400 Israelis were killed and 900 injured as a result of the "Fedayeen" infiltrations and attacks. The "Fedayeen" acts of terror, supported by the Arab countries led, eventually, to the outbreak of Sinai Campaign.

Armistice agreements were concluded separately between Israel and the neighboring belligerent states in early-mid 1949.

b. Sinai Campaign - 1956

The Sinai Campaign, also known as Operation Kadesh, lasted eight days, from October 29, 1956 to November 5, 1956. The short war between Israel and Egypt partly coincided with the Anglo-French Suez Campaign. The Sinai Campaign was launched by Israel as a reaction to the increasing Fedayeen terror activities. IDF Chief of Staff at the time was Moshe Dayan. The Anglo-French attack on Egypt came as a result of Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal.

The objectives of Israel's operation were:

  • destruction of the Fedayeen bases in the Gaza Strip and on the Sinai border;
  • prevention of an Egyptian attack on Israel by destroying Egypt's logistic establishment and airfields in Sinai; and
  • opening the Gulf of Eilat to Israel shipping.

By November 5, 1956 the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip and Sharm el- Sheikh were captured by the Israeli army. IDF losses in the campaign were 171 dead, several hundred wounded, and 4 Israelis taken prisoner. Egyptian losses were losses were estimated at several thousand dead and wounded, while 6,000 prisoners were taken.

As a result of a prolonged political struggle, in which both the United States and the Soviet Union opposed Israel, the IDF was compelled to evacuate the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Troops of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) were posted in the Gaza Strip and Sharm el-Sheikh to guarantee free passage of Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran. Israel secured a considerable degree of quiet on its southwestern border and free access to Eilat. These gains were preserved until 1967.

c. The Six Day War (5.6.1967 - 10.6.1967)

  • On May 15, 1967 Egyptian military forces moved into the Sinai. On May 17, Egypt President, Nasser, demanded the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force.
  • On May 22, Nasser declared the Straits of Tiran closed to Israeli shipping and to shipping bound to and from Israel.
  • On the 25th, Iraq and Saudi Arabia moved their troops to Israel's border.
  • On May 26, Nasser declared that this time the intention was to destroy Israel.
  • On May 30, Jordan signed a pact with Egypt.
  • On June 4, Iraq signed a similar agreement.
  • On the morning of June 5, the Israeli air force undertook a preemptive attack designed to destroy the Arab air forces and their airfields. In less than three hours this objective was achieved. On the same morning, Israel southern command moved its forces in Sinai.
  • By the end of the fourth day, the war in Sinai was over.
    • Israel had captured the entire Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip.
    • The Straits of Tiran were open.
  • On the morning of June 5, Israel had notified King Hussein, that if his forces kept the peace, Jordan would be immune from attack. Nevertheless, almost immediately, Jordanian forces opened fire all along the armistice line and shelled western Jerusalem. Israel central command counter attacked.
    On June 7, the Old City of Jerusalem was taken by a Paratroop unit in hand-to-hand fighting to avoid any damage to the holy places. By the evening, the whole of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) were in Israel's hands.
  • In the north, the Syrians had been shelling Israel's towns and villages from their heavily fortified positions on the Golan Heights. With the fighting over in the south and the center, The Israeli Defense Forces attacked the Syrian army on June 9. By June 10, Israeli forces had captured the Golan heights and the danger of Syrian shelling had been removed from the Israel villages.
  • With the acceptance of the cease-fire by all parties, the Six Day War came to an end. Israeli casualties were 777 killed and 2,586 wounded; the Arabs had lost some 15000 men.

d. The Yom Kippur War (October 1973)

The Yom Kippur War that began on October 6, 1973, on the Jewish Day of Atonement, was the fiercest Arab-Israeli war since the War of Independence, in 1948. Egypt and Syria attacked Israel simultaneously, catching Israel off guard. Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal at five points and Syrian forces attacked at two points on the Golan Heights.

  • On the northern front :

    Israeli troops pushed the Syrians back to the cease-fire line by October 10, despite the arrival of Iraqi troops to support the Syrians. By October 12, the Israelis had pushed to within 40 km. of Damascus.

  • On the southern front :

    In the course of the first days of the war, Egyptian troops forced the Israelis to give up the "Bar Lev Defense Line" (see the War of Attrition*) on the East Bank of the Suez Canal. On October 16, Israel sent a task force across the Suez Canal to attack Egyptian tanks, missile sites and artillery on the West Bank. Within a few days, Israeli forces were at the outskirts of the city of Ismailiya and some 100 km. from Cairo.

In the later stages of the Yom Kippur War, after Israel repulsed the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights and established a bridgehead on the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal, international efforts to end the fighting were intensified. On October 20, the US Secretary of State flew to Moscow, and -- together with the Soviet government -- the US proposed a cease-fire resolution in the UN Security Council. On October 24, 1973, the cease-fire went into effect, thus ending the fighting.

In 18 days of fighting Israel casualties were more than 2,500 killed. Egypt lost 7,500 men and Syria 7,300.

e. The Peace for Galilee Operation (The Lebanon War), June 1982

After the Six Day War, most of the terrorist activities of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) were carried out from Jordanian territory. In September 1970, there were fierce clashes between the P.L.O. and the Jordanian army, as a result of which the organization was expelled from Jordan.

After expulsion from Jordan, the main center for P.L.O. terror became Southern Lebanon, the Lebanese government being unable to prevent terrorist activities. In 1978 Palestinians guerrillas launched an air raid on Israel from their bases in Lebanon. In retaliation, Israel sent troops into southern Lebanon to occupy a strip 6-10 km. deep and thus protect Israel's border (Litani Operation). Eventually, a UN peace-keeping force was set up there.

In spite of the presence of the UN peace-keeping force, attacks against Israel continued. On June 6, 1982, Israel launched a massive attack to destroy all military bases of the P.L.O. in Southern Lebanon and to free Israel northern towns and villages from constant fire. A ten-week siege of the Muslim sector of West Beirut, a P.L.O. stronghold, forced the Palestinians to accept a US- sponsored plan, whereby the P.L.O. terrorists would evacuate Beirut and remove to several Arab countries that had agreed to accept them. Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 1985, but continued to maintain a Lebanese buffer zone north of its border.


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