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Israel and Jordan: The Samu Incident

On 12 November, 1966 an Israeli border patrol hit a mine, killing three soldiers and injuring six others. The Israelis believed the mine had been planted by terrorists from Es Samu on the West Bank. Early on the morning 13 November, King Hussein, who had been having secret meetings with Abba Eban and Golda Meir for three years concerning peace and secure borders, received an unsolicited message from his Israeli contacts stating that Israel had no intention of attacking Jordan.[6] However, at 5:30 a.m. in what Hussein described as an action carried out "under the pretext of 'reprisals against the terrorist activities of the P.L.O.' Israeli forces attacked Es Samu, a village in Jordanian-occupied West Bank of 4,000 inhabitants, all of them Palestinian refugees whom the Israelis accused of harboring terrorists from Syria".[7]

In "Operation Shredder", Israel's largest military operation since 1956, a force of around 3,000-4,000 soldiers backed by tanks and aircraft divided into a reserve force, which remained on the Israeli side of the border, and two raiding parties, which crossed into the Jordanian-occupied West Bank. The larger force of eight Centurion tanks followed by 400 paratroopers mounted in 40 open-topped half-tracks and 60 engineers in 10 more half-tracks headed for Samu, while a smaller force of 3 tanks and 100 paratroopers and engineers in 10 half-tracks headed towards two smaller villages, Kirbet El-Markas and Kirbet Jimba, on a mission to blow up houses. In Samu, Israeli soldiers destroyed the village's only clinic, a girls' school, the post office, the library, a coffee shop and around 140 houses. Conflicting reports of this incident have been made. According to Terrence Prittie's Eshkol: The Man and the Nation 50 houses were blown up but the inhabitants had been evacuated hours before. The 48th Infantry Battalion of the Jordanian army, commanded by Major Asad Ghanma, ran into the Israeli forces north-west of Samu and two companies approaching from the north-east were intercepted by the Israelis, while a platoon of Jordanians armed with two 106 mm recoilless guns entered Samu. In the ensuing battles three Jordanian civilians and fifteen soldiers were killed; fifty-four other soldiers and ninety-six civilians were wounded. The commander of the Israeli paratroop battalion, Colonel Yoav Shaham, was killed and ten other Israeli soldiers were wounded.[8][9] According to the Israeli Government, fifty Jordanians were killed but the true number was never disclosed by the Jordanians in order to keep up morale and confidence in King Hussein's regime.[10]

Two days later in a memo to President Johnson his Special Assistant Walt Rostow wrote "retaliation is not the point in this case. This 3000-man raid with tanks and planes was out of all proportion to the provocation and was aimed at the wrong target" and went on to describe the damage done to U.S. and Israeli interests: "They've wrecked a good system of tacit cooperation between Hussein and the Israelis... They've undercut Hussein. We've spent $500 million to shore him up as a stabilizing factor on Israel's longest border and vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq. Israel's attack increases the pressure on him to counterattack not only from the more radical Arab governments and from the Palestinians in Jordan but also from the Army, which is his main source of support and may now press for a chance to recoup its Sunday losses... They've set back progress toward a long term accommodation with the Arabs... They may have persuaded the Syrians, who are the main troublemakers, that Israel didn't dare attack Soviet-protected Syria but could attack US-backed Jordan with impunity."[11]

Facing a storm of criticism from Jordanians, Palestinians and his Arab neighbours for failing to protect Samu, Hussein ordered a nation-wide mobilization on 20 November.[12]

On 25 November the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 228 unanimously deploring "the loss of life and heavy damage to property resulting from the action of the Government of Israel on 13 November 1966", censuring "Israel for this large-scale military action in violation of the United Nations Charter and of the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan" and emphasising "to Israel that actions of military reprisal cannot be tolerated and that, if they are repeated, the Security Council will have to consider further and more effective steps as envisaged in the Charter to ensure against the repetition of such acts."[13]

In a telegram to the State Department on 18 May, 1967 the U.S. ambassador in Amman, Findley Burns, reported that Hussein had expressed the opinion in a conversation the day before that

Jordan is just as likely a target in the short run and, in his opinion, an inevitable one in the long run... Israel has certain long range military and economic requirements and certain traditional religious and historic aspirations which in his opinion they have not yet satisfied or realized. The only way in which these goals can be achieved, he said, is by an alteration of the status of the Occupied West Bank (never internationally recognized as Jordanian). Thus in the King's view it is quite natural for the Israelis to take advantage of any opportunity and force any situation which would move them closer to this goal. His concern is that current area conditions provide them with just such opportunities-terrorism, infiltration and disunity among the Arabs being the most obvious

and recalling the Samu incident

Hussein said that if Israel launched another Samu-scale attack against Jordan he would have no alternative but to retaliate or face an internal revolt. If Jordan retaliates, asked Hussein, would not this give Israel a pretext to occupy and hold Jordanian or Occupied territory? Or, said Hussein, Israel might instead of a hit-and-run type attack simply occupy and hold territory in the first instance. He said he could not exclude these possibilities from his calculations and urged us not to do so even if we felt them considerably less than likely. [14]
Golan Heights

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The Battle of Golan Heights, June 9-10

During the evening of 5 June, Israeli air strikes destroyed two thirds of the Syrian Air Force, and forced the remaining third to retreat to distant bases, without playing any further role in the ensuing warfare. A minor Syrian force tried to capture the water plant at Tel Dan (the subject of a fierce escalation two years earlier). Several Syrian tanks are reported to have sunk in the Jordan river. In any case, the Syrian command abandoned hopes of a ground attack, and began a massive shelling of Israeli towns in the Hula Valley instead.

7 June and 8 passed in this way. At that time, a debate had been going on in the Israeli leadership whether the Golan Heights should be assailed as well. Military advice was that the attack would be extremely costly, as it would be an uphill battle against a strongly fortified enemy. The western side of the Golan Heights consists of a rock escarpment that rises 500 metres (1700 ft) from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River to a more gently sloping plateau. Moshe Dayan believed such an operation would yield losses of 30,000, and opposed it bitterly. Levi Eshkol, on the other hand, was more open to the possibility of an operation in the Golan Heights, as was the head of the Northern Command, David Elazar, whose unbridled enthusiasm for and confidence in the operation may have eroded Dayan's reluctance. Eventually, as the situation on the Southern and Central fronts cleared up, Moshe Dayan became more enthusiastic about the idea, and he authorized the operation.

The Syrian army consisted of about 75,000 men grouped in 9 brigades, supported by an adequate amount of artillery and armor. Israeli forces used in combat consisted of two brigades (one armored led by Albert Mandler and the Golani Brigade) in the northern part of the front, and another two (infantry and one of Peled's brigades summoned from Jenin) in the center. The Golan Heights' unique terrain (mountainous slopes crossed by parallel streams every several kilometres running east to west), and the general lack of roads in the area channeled both forces along east-west axes of movement and restricted the ability of units to support those on either flank. Thus the Syrians could move north-south on the plateau itself, and the Israelis could move north-south at the base of the Golan escarpment. An advantage Israel possessed was the excellent intelligence collected by Mossad operative Eli Cohen (who was captured and executed in Syria in 1965) regarding the Syrian battle positions.

The IAF, which had been attacking Syrian artillery for four days prior to the attack, was ordered to attack Syrian positions with all its force. While the well-protected artillery was mostly undamaged, the ground forces staying on the Golan plateau (6 of the 9 brigades) became unable to organize a defense. By the evening of 9 June, the four Israeli brigades had broken through to the plateau, where they could be reinforced and replaced.

On the next day, June 10, the central and northern groups joined in a pincer movement on the plateau, but that fell mainly on empty territory as the Syrian forces fled. Several units joined by Elad Peled climbed to the Golan from the south, only to find the positions mostly empty as well. During the day, the Israeli units stopped after obtaining manoeuvre room between their positions and a line of volcanic hills to the west. To the east the ground terrain is an open gently sloping plain. This position later became the cease-fire line known as the "Purple Line".
West Bank

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The Jordan salient. June 5-7

Jordan was reluctant to enter the war. Some claim that Nasser used the obscurity of the first hours of the conflict to convince Hussein that he was victorious; he claimed as evidence a radar sighting of a squadron of Israeli aircraft returning from bombing raids in Egypt which he claimed to be Egyptian aircraft en route to attacking Israel. One of the Jordanian brigades stationed in the West Bank was sent to the Hebron area in order to link with the Egyptians. Hussein decided to attack.

Prior to the war, Jordanian forces|Arab Legion included 11 brigades totaling some 55,000 troops, equipped by some 300 modern Western tanks. Of these, 9 brigades (45,000 troops, 270 tanks, 200 artillery pieces) were deployed in the West Bank, including elite armored 40th, and 2 in the Jordan Valley. The Arab Legion was a long-term-service, professional army relatively well-equipped and well-trained. Furthermore, Israeli post-war briefings claimed that the Jordanian staff acted professionally as well, but was always left "half a step" behind by the Israeli moves. The tiny Royal Jordanian Air Force consisted of only 24 U.K. Hawker Hunter fighters. According to the Israelis, U.K. Hawker Hunter was esentially on par with French Dassault Mirage III - IAF's best plane [76].

Against Jordan's forces on West Bank Israel deployed about 40,000 troops and 200 tanks (8 brigades)[77].Israeli Central Command forces consisted of five brigades. The first two were permanently stationed near Jerusalem and were called the Jerusalem Brigade and the mechanized Harel Brigade. Mordechai Gur's 35th paratrooper brigade was summoned from the Sinai front. An armored brigade was allocated from the General Staff reserve and brought to the Latrun area. The 10th armored brigade was stationed north of the West Bank Region. The Israeli Northern Command provided a division (3 brigades) led by Maj. Gen. Elad Peled, which was stationed to the north of the West Bank, in the Jezreel Valley.

The IDF's strategic plan was to remain on the defensive along the Jordanian front, to enable focus in the expected campaign against Egypt. However, on the morning of 5 June, Jordanian forces made thrusts in the area of Jerusalem, occupying Government House used as the headquarters for the UN observers and shelled the Israeli (western) part of the city. Units in Qalqiliya fired in the direction of Tel-Aviv. The Royal Jordanian Air Force attacked Israeli airfields. Both air and artillery attacks caused little damage. Israeli units were scrambled to attack Jordanian forces in the West Bank. In the afternoon of that same day, Israeli Air Force (IAF) strikes destroyed the Royal Jordanian Air Force. By the evening of that day, the Jerusalem infantry brigade moved south of Jerusalem, while the mechanized Harel and Gur's paratroopers encircled it from the north.

On June 6, the Israeli units attacked: The reserve paratroop brigade completed the Jerusalem encirclement in the bloody Battle of the Ammunition Hill. The infantry brigade attacked the fortress at Latrun capturing it at daybreak, and advanced through Beit Horon towards Ramallah. The Harel brigade continued its push to the mountainous area of north-west Jerusalem, linking the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University with the city of Jerusalem. By the evening, the brigade arrived in Ramallah. The IAF detected and destroyed the 60th Jordanian Brigade en-route from Jericho to reinforce Jerusalem.

In the north, one battalion from Peled's division was sent to check Jordanian defenses in the Jordan Valley. A brigade belonging to Peled's division captured the western part of the West Bank, another captured Jenin and the third (equipped with light French AMX-13s) engaged Jordanian M48 Patton main battle tanks to the east.

On 7 June heavy fighting ensued. Gur's paratroopers entered the Old City of Jerusalem via the Lion's Gate, and captured the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The Jerusalem brigade then reinforced them, and continued to the south, capturing Judea, Gush Etzion and Hebron. The Harel brigade proceeded eastward, descending to the Jordan River. In the West Bank, one of Peled's brigades seized Nablus; then it joined one of Central Command's armored brigades to fight the Jordanian forces which held the advantage of superior equipment and were equal in numbers to the Israelis.

Again, the air superiority of the IAF proved paramount as it immobilized the enemy, leading to its defeat. One of Peled's brigades joined with its Central Command counterparts coming from Ramallah, and the remaining two blocked the Jordan river crossings together with the Central Command's 10th (the latter crossed the Jordan river into the East Bank to provide cover for Israeli combat engineers while they blew the bridges, but was quickly pulled back because of American pressure).
Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula

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Conquest of Sinai. June 7-June 8, 1967

The Egyptian forces consisted of seven divisions: four armored, two infantry, and one mechanized infantry. Overall, Egypt had around 100,000 troops and 900-950 tanks in the Sinai, backed by 1,100 APCs and 1000 artillery pieces.[75] This arrangement was based on the Soviet doctrine, where mobile armor units at strategic depth provide a dynamic defense while infantry units engage in defensive battles.

Israeli forces concentrated on the border with Egypt included six armored brigades, one infantry brigade, one mechanized infantry brigade, three paratrooper brigades and 700 tanks giving a total of around 70,000 men, organized in three armored divisions. The Israeli plan was to surprise the Egyptian forces in both timing (the pre-emptive attack exactly coinciding with the IAF strike on Egyptian airfields), location (attacking via northern and central Sinai routes, as opposed to the Egyptian expectations of a repeat of the 1956 war, when the IDF attacked via the central and southern routes) and method (using a combined-force flanking approach, rather than direct tank assaults).

The northernmost Israeli division, consisting of three brigades and commanded by Major General Israel Tal, one of Israel's most prominent armor commanders, advanced slowly through the Gaza Strip and El-Arish, which were not heavily protected.

The central division (Maj. Gen. Avraham Yoffe) and the southern division (Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon), however, entered the heavily defended Abu-Ageila-Kusseima region. Egyptian forces there included one infantry division (the 2nd), a battalion of tank destroyers and a tank regiment.

Sharon initiated an attack, precisely planned, coordinated and carried out. He sent two of his brigades to the north of Um-Katef, the first one to break through the defenses at Abu-Ageila to the south, and the second to block the road to El-Arish and to encircle Abu-Ageila from the east. At the same time, a paratrooper force was heliborne to the rear of the defensive positions and destroyed the artillery, preventing it from engaging Israeli armor and infantry. Combined forces of armor, paratroopers, infantry, artillery and combat engineers then attacked the Egyptian position from the front, flanks and rear, cutting the enemy off. The breakthrough battles, which were in sandy areas and minefields, continued for three and a half days until Abu-Ageila fell.

Many of the Egyptian units remained intact and could have tried to prevent the Israelis from reaching the Suez Canal or engaged in combat in the attempt to reach the canal. However, when the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer heard about the fall of Abu-Ageila, he panicked and ordered all units in the Sinai to retreat. This order effectively meant the defeat of Egypt.

Due to the Egyptians' retreat, the Israeli High Command decided not to pursue the Egyptian units but rather to bypass and destroy them in the mountainous passes of West Sinai. Therefore, in the following two days (June 6 and 7), all three Israeli divisions (Sharon and Tal were reinforced by an armored brigade each) rushed westwards and reached the passes. Sharon's division first went southward then westward to Mitla Pass. It was joined there by parts of Yoffe's division, while its other units blocked the Gidi Pass. Tal's units stopped at various points to the length of the Suez Canal.

Israel's blocking action was only partially successful. Only the Gidi pass was captured before the Egyptians approached it, but at other places, Egyptian units managed to pass through and cross the canal to safety. Nevertheless, the Israeli victories were impressive. In four days of operations, Israel defeated the largest and most heavily equipped Arab army, leaving numerous points in the Sinai littered with hundreds of burning or abandoned Egyptian vehicles and military equipment.

On 8 June, Israel had completed the capture of the Sinai by sending infantry units to Ras-Sudar on the western coast of the peninsula. Sharm El-Sheikh, at its southern tip, had already been taken a day earlier by units of the Israeli Navy.

Several tactical elements made the swift Israeli advance possible: first, the complete air superiority of the Israeli Air Force over its Egyptian counterpart; second, the determined implementation of an innovative battle plan; and third, the lack of coordination among Egyptian troops. These would prove to be decisive elements on Israel's other fronts as well.
Accusations and controversial claims

The dramatic events of the Six Day War have given rise to a number of accusations of atrocities and controversial claims and theories.
Israel Defense Forces killings of Egyptian prisoners of war

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June 7, 1967: Israeli soldier guards Egyptian POW's at El Arish (Shabtai Tal)

In a 16 August 1995 interview for Israel Radio, Aryeh Yitzhaki of Bar-Ilan University, who had worked previously in the IDF history department, accused IDF units of killing up to 1,000 Egyptians who had abandoned their weapons and fled into the desert during the war. The allegations received widespread attention in Israel and throughout the world. However, it emerged subsequently that Yitzhaki was a member of Rafael Eitan's Tsomet Party and former employer Meir Pa'il speculated that Yitzhaki had an ulterior motive in seeking to divert public attention away from revelations by retired general Arye Biro concerning his involvement in the killing of 49 POWs in the 1956 war.

Although Yitzkhaki’s claim that up to 1,000 prisoners had been killed was not substantiated, in an ensuing highly-controversial national debate in Israel, more soldiers came forward to say that they had witnessed the execution of unarmed prisoners and a long-suppressed public reckoning began. Israeli military historian Uri Milstein was reported as saying that there were many such incidents in the war: "It was not an official policy, but there was an atmosphere that it was okay to do it. Some commanders decided to do it; others refused. But everyone knew about it".

A June 11, 1967 general-command IDF order specifically forbade killing prisoners, clarifying the official Israeli position. However, no official Israeli documents that would allow the scale of the killings to be accurately assessed have been released.

According to a New York Times report of 21 September 1995 the Egyptian government announced that it had discovered two shallow mass graves in the Sinai at El Arish containing the remains of 30-60 Egyptian prisoners shot by Israeli soldiers during the 1967 war. Israel reportedly offered compensation to the families of the victims.

According to Israeli official records, 4,338 Egyptian soldiers were captured by IDF. Only 11 Israeli soldiers were taken prisoners by Egyptian forces [89]. Exchanges of those prisoners were completed on 23 January 1968.
U.S. and British support

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USS Independence in service with the Sixth Fleet, 1967

Some Arabs believe that the United States and Britain provided active support for the Israeli Air Force. Claims of American and British combat support for Israel began on the second day of the war. Radio Cairo and the government newspaper Al-Ahram made a number of claims, among them: that U.S. and British carrier-based aircraft flew sorties against the Egyptians; that U.S. aircraft based in Libya attacked Egypt; and that U.S. spy satellites provided images to Israel. Both Syria and Jordan broadcast similar reports on Radio Damascus and Radio Amman. These claims were also repeated by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in his June 9 resignation speech (his resignation was not accepted).

Both London and Washington strongly denied these claims, and no evidence has ever corroborated them. In American and British government circles, these accusations quickly became known as 'the big lie.'

Nonetheless, these claims, that the Arabs were fighting the Americans and British rather than Israel alone, took hold in the Arab world. According to Israeli historian Elie Podeh: "All post-1967 [Egyptian] history textbooks repeated the claim that Israel launched the war with the support of Britain and the United States. The narrative also established a direct link between the 1967 war and former imperialist attempts to control the Arab world, thus portraying Israel as an imperialist stooge. The repetition of this fabricated story, with only minor variations, in all history school textbooks means that all Egyptian schoolchildren have been exposed to, and indoctrinated with, the collusion story." A British guidance telegram to Middle East posts concluded: "The Arabs' reluctance to disbelieve all versions of the big lie springs in part from a need to believe that the Israelis could not have defeated them so thoroughly without outside assistance."[90]

Historians such as Michael Oren have argued that by falsely accusing the United States and Britain of directly helping the Israelis the Arab leaders were attempting to secure active Soviet military assistance for themselves. The Soviets, however, knew that these claims of foreign assistance to Israel were groundless and notified Arab diplomats in Moscow of that fact. Yet even though the Soviet government disbelieved these accusations, Soviet media continued to quote them, thereby strengthening the credibility of the reports. In reaction to these claims, Arab oil-producing countries announced an oil embargo.

In a 1993 interview, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara revealed that the U.S. 6th Fleet Carrier battle group, on a training exercise near Gibraltar was re-positioned towards the eastern Mediterranean to defend Israel if necessary, causing a crisis between the US and USSR. McNamara did not explain how the crisis was resolved.

In his book Six Days, BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen claims that during the crisis, Israeli ships and planes carried British and American military arms reserves from British soil.
Soviet instigation

There are theories that the entire 1967 War was a botched attempt by the Soviet Union to create tensions between West Germany and Arab countries by highlighting West Germany's support for Israel.

In a 2003 article Isabella Ginor detailed Soviet GRU documents proposing such a plan and further detailing faulty intelligence fed to Egypt claiming troop buildups near the Golan Heights in Syria.[91]
Palestinians and others displaced

Israeli historian Benny Morris writes, in Righteous Victims, p328, "In three villages southwest of Jerusalem and at Qalqilya, houses were destroyed "not in battle, but as punishment ... and in order to chase away the inhabitants... - contrary to government ... policy," Dayan wrote in his memoirs [92]. In Qalqilya, about a third of the homes were razed and about twelve thousand inhabitants were evicted, though many then camped out in the environs. [93]

many thousands of other Palestinians now took to the roads. Perhaps as many as seventy thousand, mostly from the Jericho area, fled during the fighting; tens of thousands more left over the following months. Altogether, about one-quarter of the population of the West Bank, about 200-250,000 people, went into exile. [94]

Thousands of Arabs were taken by bus from East Jerusalem to the Allenby bridge, though there is no evidence of coercion. The free Israeli-organized transportation, which began on June 11, 1967, went on for about a month. At the bridge they had to sign a document stating that they were leaving of their own free will [95]. Perhaps as many as seventy thousand people emigrated from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. [96]

On July 2 the Israeli government announced that it would allow the return of those 1967 refugees who desired to do so, but no later than August 10, later extended to September 13. The Jordanian authorities probably pressured many of the refugees, who constituted an enormous burden, to sign up to return. In practice only 14,000 of the 120,000 who applied were actually allowed by Israel back into the West Bank by the beginning of September. After that, only a trickle of "special cases" were allowed back, perhaps 3,000 in all.[97]

In addition, some 80,000 Syrians were driven from the Golan Heights [3]

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