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75 years ago: the IDF in the gaza strip

It seems that the world has gotten used to the conflict between Israel and gaza, and the ammount of invasions of gaza seem uncountabe. But when was the first time that Israel operated in the strip? The answer may suprise you: exactly 75 years ago, at the final stages of The wsr of independence.

During 1948, the Jewish community managed to defeat the Local Arabs, declare independence, and stop the invasion of the Arab neighboring armies to the new State of Israel. The fronts remained quiet until November, and from the north and east, Israel reached convenient borders that allowed for negotiations. But on the southern front, the situation was different: With an Egyptian brigade trapped in Fallujah (Kiryat Gat) and other brigades threatening the Negev, Israel could not remove the pressure, nor could it free its economy from the burden of reserves. At the beginning of December, Ben-Gurion formulated a decision to carry out further attacks before the end of the year, in order to bring about a final break in the Egyptian army and the end of the war; Ben-Gurion knew that the United States and the Soviet Union would prevent attempts by the UN to impose economic sanctions on Israel, but he feared only British involvement, (the UK had military presence in Egypt). In mid-December, half of the IDF was brought to the Egyptian front.

The Israeli offensive on the southern front, Operation Horev, began on December 22 with the participation of five Israeli brigades (Golani, Harel, Alexandroni, the Negev and Hazaken), led by Yigal Alon. It was the largest operation of the war, and the IDF gave an exemplary display of force, combining air forces, artillery and armor. The purpose of the operation was not necessarily territorial, but was focused on causing a severe blow to the Egyptian army, which would lead to its final break. The Egyptian army consisted of four brigades (one of which was trapped in Fallujah), and fought like a wild beast trapped in the corner; in the first days there were fierce battles over hill 86 near Khan Yunis, which was initially occupied by the Golani forces, but was recaptured by the Egyptians in a massive counter-attack. The Egyptians prevented the IDF’s attempt to reach the Mediterranean Sea and cut off the forces in the Gaza Strip from Egypt. However, it soon became clear that the Golani attack was only a diversion, as in the meantime the Negev Brigade advanced south from Be’er Sheva to the Asluj area (Mashabei-Sadeh), and west to Ojha (Nitzana) on the Egyptian border. The full scope of the Israeli plan had been revealed: The IDF was about to cut off the Egyptian army in the Gaza Strip by a wide maneuver, deep in the desert, up to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in northern Sinai.

The Negev Brigade was exhausted, and on December 28 it was the Harel Brigade that began advancing into Sinai. The progress was the result of Alon’s initiative, and was carried out without sufficient consultation with Yigal Yadin (practicing CIC) and Ben-Gurion. On the 29th, the Harel forces reached the Abu ‘AGila junction, and began advancing northward; by evening the IDF was in Bir-Lakhafan, only 20 km from Al-‘Arish on the Sinai coast, and at the same time IDF forces conducted deep raids to the Bir-Hama area (100 km from the Israeli border). The Egyptian forces were very surprised by the IDF’s progress and did not present any real resistance, and most of the soldiers fled, or were captured. But the party ended on December 30, when Yadin learned of Alon’s progress and ordered him not to conquer Al-Arish. The invasion of Egypt caused great international pressure, and an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire. Britain was outraged (fearing that the encirclement of the Egyptian army would lead to the collapse of the Egyptian government) and pressured the United States, and the British ambassador to Egypt even called on his government to provide aid to Egypt while carrying out military operations to stop the Israelis. The United States demanded that Israel withdraw completely from Sinai, and so Ben-Gurion ordered Alon, who withdrew back to Ojha until January 2.

However, Alon did not stop, and immediately began preparations for a smaller invasion that would not lead to diplomatic consequences. On January 4, Harel forces began advancing toward Rafah from the south, along the border with Egypt, while Golani began an attack on Rafah from the east. Rafah was heavily fortified, but the Egyptians struggled to cope with the strength of the Israeli fire and air superiority; the battle was decided when the Harel forces occupied the Rafah-Sinai axis on the 6th, and the next day blew up the railway that led from Gaza to Egypt. The Egyptian army was cut off from its country, and the Egyptian government informed the UN that it would agree to start armistice talks with Israel if the operation was stopped. The United Nations announced this to Israel, and Ben-Gurion decided to accept the proposal even though the army had not been destroyed – believing that Egypt’s agreement would inevitably drag the rest of the Arab countries along. Alon was ordered to withdraw again, and did so until January 10, when all IDF forces returned to the Negev. Operation Horev was concluded with unequivocal Israeli success, and serves to this day as an example of the IDF’s capabilities.

In total, nearly 100 IDF soldiers were killed, compared to 500 Egyptians killed and 500 prisoners. This was the last battle of the war.

After two months of negotiations, the Egyptians agreed to relinquish their claims to the Negev, while Israel recognized Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip (although Egypt never formally annexed it), agreeing to cede large areas to Egypt around Khan Yunis and Rafah, And withdrawal from Beit Hanoun – which created the modern borders of the Gaza Strip. The border between the two countries will be a fairly straight line between Umm Rash-Rash and Rafah (established by the British and the Ottomans at the beginning of the 20th century), and the Nitzana area was agreed to be demilitarized on both sides of the border, and the UN headquarters were placed there to oversee the terms of the ceasefire.

Photo Source: Wikipedia
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