JERUSALEM WEAPON STRENGTH1 |
I know of no operational orders to our sector, handed down by the general staff. I for my part received no instructions of this type from the district command, and hence no all-out operational plan was drawn up in Jerusalem in anticipation of the renewal of the fighting.The Irgun's plans were very different. The organization wanted to prevent the partition of Jerusalem, and aspired to capture the Old City, and thus to reunify the city. Before the end of the truce, Irgun leaders consulted with Shaltiel in order to draw up a joint plan for the conquest of the Old City. At their meeting he explained that the Old City was of no strategic importance, and was not a major priority. More immediately pressing operations needed to be carried out in the south of the city and only afterwards would he find the time for the Old City.
The Irgun and the Lehi were assigned to the southern sector (Malha and Bet Mazmil)... they still constituted a fighting force and I was obliged to honor the agreement with the 'dissidents'. If I had sufficient forces, I would have put them in a concentration camp; but I was ordered by the general staff to make them part of the operation. The Irgun had not carried out an independent action since Deir Yassin. It seemed preferable to use them in the framework of our own plans than to allow them to carry out independent operations at their own discretion. (Italics mine, Y.L.)When fighting resumed, my company was assigned the task of defending Mount Zion, and I was obliged to dispatch two platoons to the Mount. Contact with Mount Zion was maintained under cover of darkness, since the Legion controlled the approach to the Mount during the day from their positions on the walls of the Old City. At nightfall I ascended the Mount with my men, and we toured the area. After visiting the positions, I climbed up to the minaret of the mosque, with its panorama over the whole of the Old City, and gazed sadly at the Jewish Quarter, which had been totally destroyed by the Arab Legion.
The Security Council has decided that tomorrow morning at quarter to six shooting will cease in Jerusalem, and, on Monday morning at the same time, throughout the country. The Consular Committee in Jerusalem has been made responsible for supervising the ceasefire. On receipt of this cable, contact them at once and inform them that by order of the Israel Government you are ceasing fire in accordance with the resolution, on condition that the Committee reports by midnight - or later at your discretion - that the Arabs have accepted the truce and have held their fire since quarter to six Israel time.In another cable to Shaltiel, Yadin wrote. 5
Following on the cable from the Minister of Defense concerning the truce, you should consider what can be done tonight. The likely possibilities: Sheikh Jarrah or a bridgehead in the Old City. In the event that only one of the possibilities is feasible before the truce, implement the Sheikh Jarrah planIn an intelligence report on the mood in the Old City, we read that:6
Fear has gripped the Arabs and many are leaving since they fear Jewish shells...The resentment is great. There is no prospect of livelihood... There is no shortage of water, but no way of paying for bread... The Arabs are in despair fear a Jewish invasion. The military situation is not good. Scattered guards around the Old City and nothing else. According to this neutral observer, the Arabs cannot hold fast if there is a serious attack.The next day, Friday morning, I was summoned to battalion headquarters, where I was told of the decision to attack the Old City. The Bet Horon battalion of the IDF, commanded by Meir Zorea, would attack from Mount Zion and the Irgun battalion would attack New Gate. A Lehi force would try to breach the wall between New Gate and Jaffa Gate.
Another question arises when we examine our failure to recapture the Old City. From a memo I wrote then it appears that we had the legal right to continue the onslaught, which was proceeding to our advantage, even after 5:45 on Saturday morning. At six in the evening Colonel Shaltiel and I met with the chairman of the Truce Committee and informed him that Shaltiel had received orders from our government to cease fire at 5:45 next morning, on condition that by midnight we received word from the Truce Committee that the Arabs also agreed to a ceasefire... In practice, the Truce Committee received no official answer from the Arabs... It is clear that if we had continued fighting that morning, the Security Council could not have justifiably blamed us... When I asked Shaltiel why our forces had held their fire at 5:45, he replied that these were the orders he had received.The planning of Operation Kedem was clearly aimed at preventing the occupation of the Old City. Firstly, the operation was postponed to the last night of the fighting. Then the zero hour was postponed from 22:00 to midnight, and from midnight indefinitely; finally the order to go into battle was given at 2:30 in the morning. Then there were the delays in transferring the cone bomb to Mount Zion, so that it was used only at 5:00 am. Then the two cones (one at Mount Zion operated by the Bet Horon battalion sappers and the other by the Lehi) malfunctioned, and merely scorched the wall instead of breaching it. And finally, when it transpired that the Irgun had succeeded in breaching New Gate, and Shaltiel had the impression that a bridgehead had been established in the Old City, he ordered a general retreat and even threatened to leave the spearhead unit in the Old City (thereby sealing their fate) if the Irgun dared to continue fighting.
[...] That day [July 15, 1948] the possibility of capturing the Old City was first suggested to Ben-Gurion, and his attitude was cool. He himself did not initiate a discussion.After Ben-Gurion received the report on the failure of the operation, he wrote in his diary:9 'Why did he flout our order to leave the Old City and capture Sheikh Jarrah?'. Did Shaltiel in fact flout Ben-Gurion's order? It seems strange that not only did Ben-Gurion not admonish Shaltiel, but even sent him a letter of praise for his actions as commander of the Jerusalem district.
Only when it was already clear that the truce would come into force within less than forty-eight hours did preparations begin in Jerusalem for an operation for the liberation of the Old City. Only a few hours were allocated for the operation, on the night between July 16 and 17, when the truce was due to come into effect in Jerusalem at 05:45 on July 17. Instead of the indirect approach, which characterized the original planning (a three or four day operation) a frontal attack was undertaken, because of pressure of time.
Even this improvised action, whose prospects of success were minimal because of time constraints, was not undertaken, as far as we know, on the initiative of the supreme political or military leadership. Even when it was clear that only forty-eight hours were left till the truce, the Chief of Staff preferred immediate execution of another plan (Sheikh Jarrah).
Ben-Gurion's personal involvement was limited this time to warnings, to imposing restrictions on the action and to expressing doubts as to its outcome, rather than urging implementation or guaranteeing the political and strategic conditions for success, as he had done in other cases.
Ben-Gurion: Our catastrophe is that we cannot permit ourself a defeat, since then it would be all over for us: they (the Arabs) can afford a defeat, once or twice. If we defeat Egypt ten times - that's nothing: if they defeat us once - it is over. We cannot equal them in weapon strength; there is no possibility of that. We must enhance the skills of each and every soldier. I don't know to what extent our skills are improving. Why are you looking at me like that, Moshe?Over the years it has become clear that the policy known today as 'territorial compromise' with the 'Jordanian option' is not realistic and that even the partition of Jerusalem was not enough for the Jordanian ruler. In 1967, the IDF set out to vindicate the Arab Legion attack on Jewish Jerusalem, and what we had not been permitted to do in the War of Independence, we finally did nineteen years later. During the Six Day War, Menahem Begin was a minister in the National Unity Government under Levi Eshkol. It was he who initiated the cabinet discussion on the liberation of Jerusalem, and the decision to order the IDF to attack the Old City was finally taken in the cabinet by a majority of one. (Begin later told me, half jokingly, that it was his vote that tipped the balance at that meeting). Menahem Begin, and the entire Jewish people, had to wait nineteen years until the Israeli government was convinced by his policy on the liberation of the City of David.
Chief of Staff: Do you think that's the problem?
BG: That's the problem.
Chief of Staff: All the places we did not occupy during the War of Liberation - could have been taken. Latrun, Gaza, Faluja and Jerusalem could have been taken.
BG: Why didn't they?
Chief of Staff: We were not resolute enough. In better armies than ours - a battalion goes in and if it has fifty percent casualties - they send another in its place! We didn't do that.
BG: As for Faluja, I insisted that the artillery force be concentrated there come what may, and they were afraid to do it. I'm not talking about Jerusalem - I know why we didn't take Jerusalem, not because we didn't have the strength... (Italics mine. Y.L.)