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Following the decision of the UN to partition Palestine, Palestinian irregular forces began to attack Jewish transportation on the roads. In the north, Fawzi El-Kaukji's Salvation Army tried to cross the Galilee from Syria, under the not-too watchful eyes of the British. A major goal was the isolation of Jerusalem. The British continued to rule Palestine in theory, but battles between Arabs and Jews raged practically under their eyes and they did nothing to stop them.
Jerusalem had been allotted to an international administration (click here to view a map of the area set aside for this independent UN administered area) , but the U.N. did nothing to implement this decision. The 100,000 Jews of Jerusalem were isolated from the main body of Jewish towns by an area allotted to Arabs and controlled by them. In theory, the British were supposed to guarantee the safety of the roads. In practice, they did not. Faza attacks organized from different villages, as well as irregular forces of the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin El Husseini, blocked the road to Jerusalem, shooting up convoys and preventing supplies from reaching the city and surrounding towns: Ataroth to the North, Gush Etzion to the South, Motza to the west of Jerusalem.
Though revisionist historians have claimed that the Jews had military superiority over the Arabs, it was not in evidence. The Haganah had primitive arms and few soldiers. Perhaps 20,000 combat troops could be found in April 1948, and these were lacking artillery, and in some cases were without rifles. The defeat of the Jewish Yishuv (settlement community in Palestine) seemed inevitable to many, and prompted US support for a trusteeship plan that would postpone implementation of independence for Israel and Palestine.
From the Jewish point of view, the situation became quite desperate, as attested by the intelligence report below, prepared in March 1948. To meet the problem, the Haganah had already prepared Plan D, which was to remove the Arab irregulars that had taken over villages in the Jerusalem corridor. However, that too offered only a temporary respite from the siege. When the Jordan Legion attacked Jerusalem in May, the road was blocked at Latrun. The Israelis failed to dislodge the British trained and equipped Jordan Legion from Latrun in three costly attacks. Jerusalem was saved from starvation by a strict rationing plan and by a by-pass road built around the Latrun fortifications. The Etzion block was lost following a massacre of 50 surrendered defenders, and Ataroth and Neve Ya'akov were abandoned. These territories were annexed to Jordan, and the annexation, acquisition of territory by force, was approved by the UN through silence. The "Jerusalem Corridor" originally allocated to Palestinians, became part of Israel, and tens of thousands of refugees fled and were expelled from Lod, Ramla and other towns. Jerusalem itself was divided between Israel and Jordan.
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Review of the Military Situation in the Jerusalem Theater
The Arab Force
1. The concentration of the Arab force in the area and its deployment along the length of the roads connecting the Jewish settlements gave them an advantage in force and victory in the attacks on the Ataroth convoys and the Kfar Etzion convoy.
In the battle of the Ataroth road the concentrations activated were from Beit Hanina, Beit Zurik and Ramallah, and in the Bethlehem road the concentrations [were from] Beit-Jalah, Bethlehem, Beit-Sahur, and the southern neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
These two actions together with the previous operation of attacking the Har-Tuv convoy cut off the roads for the Jewish force and prepare the way for the next phase, which is cutting off the road to Tel Aviv by attack in decisive force followed by a siege of the cut-off settlements.
2. The natural advantages that the Arabs had in the abovementioned battles exist also for the Tel-Aviv road. They can gather a force of thousands of fighters who will decide the battle by sheer quantity of firepower and by blocking the escape routes for people and vehicles. The forces at our command will not be sufficient to withstand an attack of this force, and if there is no change in the power balance the road may be cut off in the next few days.
3. There is no way to know with certainty whether the settlements surrounding Jerusalem will be the first to suffer siege and attack or the town itself. If a decisive victory were gained in the city, it would be enough in itself to bring about the surrender of the surrounding village settlements that depend on it. On the other hand, a battle in the city requires huge forces and the outcome is not certain at all, as opposed to storming en masse of an isolated settlement. However, it is clear that there is not much time left before the second phase, and we can expect concentrated actions as early as the beginning of April.
4. The fact that the Arabs fought the convoys with rifles, machine guns and light mortars only is not proof that they do not have heavier weapons.
It is a fact that the military activities in the Jerusalem theater are being carried out according to a plan laid out in advance and under the supervision of regular army officers.
My assumption is, based on our information, that the Arabs also have 2 and 4 inch heavy mortars, and a number of light cannon and a quantity of armored vehicles. The silence of the Arabs after our bombardment of (from?) Musrara of Shechem and Yaffo gates is not due to weakness or lack of appropriate arms, but to planning that opposes abortive actions and concentrates forces for action with decisive power.
5. Our use of air power to fend off attacks will hasten the creation of Arab air power, of which we already have signs of attempts to create it, and it is not impossible that in battles in the near future, we shall have to fight Arab air power.
6. With the blocking of northern and southern roads for the Jews and the possibility of traffic from Jericho to Transjordan, the economic and supply situation of the Arab settlement in Jerusalem has improved considerably. Even if there may be shortages owing to various temporary hardships, the transportation will continue, unless we can stop it by aerial bombardment.
7. The process of bringing reinforcements is continuing, and each week adds 150-200 fighters through Jericho or through Bir-Zeit. The advantage of the Arab force in the theater is not in its numbers and firepower, because our forces are not much inferior to it and can easily withstand it and even inflict heavy blows on it, but in the freedom of travel throughout the area that that force has, and their ability to concentrate en-masse at a given place and desired time.
Appraisal of our Forces
1. In the last two weeks there has been no significant change in the balance of forces, even though improvements in fortification of positions and area defenses continued. Moreover, we have suffered heavy losses in personnel, arms and vehicles, which have made our situation worse than it was in the previous period.
The length and number of transport routes in the theater of operations is in no way proportionate to our ability to defend them and to ensure the safe passage of convoys. The consequence is that our forces are divided and we meet the enemy under conditions in which he is bound to win, our forces are weakened and our lines are cut.
The total reckoning of our losses in Har-Tuv, Ataroth and kfar Etzion, including bringing reinforcements to them is 73 dead and about 70 wounded, and the amount of weapons that were lost is sufficient for equipping almost two companies (with auxiliary armament). The vehicles we lost were most of the vehicles we had at our disposal for that purpose.
2. Continuation of the abovementioned convoy method will bring about further worsening of the situation and will exacerbate greatly the situation of the isolated outposts. The required revision is in several areas:
a. shortening the transport lines by immediate evacuation [abandonment] of several outposts.
b. civilian and economic evacuation of outposts. Cessation of ground transport to them and organization of air transport instead. Actually, we are late in this action too, which should have been done at the beginning of the battle base on foresight. However [a line or more is missing here] .. and the arms will be brought intact to Jerusalem. For this purpose it will be necessary to gather an armored and infantry force of not less than a battalion that will carry out:
a. Total evacuation of Har Tuv
b. Civilian and economic evacuation of Ataroth, Newe Ya’akov, Newe Ilan
c. Civilian evacuation of lower Motza
3. The loss of the Hebrew outposts in the north, south and west of Jerusalem is also a great tactical loss, because they could serve as bases for attacks and for cutting off the transportation of the enemy along main arteries. Therefore they have to be held as long as possible, provided they can be provisioned from the air and provided that it will be possible at any given moment to break off engagement from the enemy and abandon the outposts.
Actually, the battle for these outposts has not been decided, for if we can in the near future reinforce them properly with personnel and equipment, we can hold them and also pin down a large enemy force to them.
However, if the chances of this are not certain, it is better to evacuate them as soon as possible and to save the personnel and weapons for the battle in Jerusalem. The battle has reached such a stage, that there is no longer any decisive value to prestige or policy considerations, but rather to military success and prevention of military disasters, since we are getting close to a large-scale military engagement.
4. The small numbers of our military forces is the main reason for the weakness we have shown in the Jerusalem theater. However the direct results of the weakness are at work above all in the civilian population, which is not really a "civilian rear" because the battle is carried out in the neighborhoods of the city and all inhabitants are full participants in it.
It seems clear to me, that if we carry out the concentration of forces from surrounding areas and organize the city and likewise take control of a number of points that cut off the Jewish neighborhoods that are between them, we can gain control of the city, or at least defend it successfully.
The risk factors are in the stamina of the civilian population, in the amount of food and water , in the electric supply to hospitals and for baking bread, and in the fuel supply for essential vehicles etc.
In actual fact, the Hagana has allowed the civilian ad-hoc committee to act as it wishes and at its own speed, and erred in this, because this is the critical point that will decide the fate of the city. The vital actions are:
a. Organizing municipal life in an emergency regime and under the direct responsibility of Hebrew military authority - organization and set up of distribution and storage throughout the area and in every corner.
b. Carrying out supply convoy(s) as long as possible.
c. Intensive preparations for purchase of aircraft and for building an airfield in the city for medium aircraft that will maintain an airlift.
Upon these, no less than upon our military strength, depend the chances of success in the battle for Jerusalem.
5. The character of the population of Jerusalem is quite special. The multiplicity of community and asocial modes of living in the poorest classes make a very week basis for the bloody warfare of the type which faces us.
Hunger riots, mass incitement, robbery and blackmail could evolve rapidly and bring about the downfall of the stability of the city defenses.
Against this background, the activities of the dissident organizations is a redoubled danger leading to perdition.
The need to form a uniform Hebrew front, is not a matter of political principle but a necessity of life and of war. The need to save every bit of Hebrew fighting force for use against the enemy and to strengthen the populace of the city orders us to reach at any price and as soon as possible (it is already very late and the cost is very great) an agreement on action in the rear front.
If it is impossible to reach such an agreement at the countrywide level, then we must reach an agreement in Jerusalem.
Especially, I want to emphasize that this unity is needed in the light of the crisis of credibility occurring in the population and penetrating into the ranks as well, which has occurred following our recent failures.
Intelligence evaluation prepared by Yitzhak Levi of the Jerusalem Haganah Intelligence service in March 1948, from the Galili archives.
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