Reprisal operations (Hebrew: פעולות התגמול, Pe'ulot HaTagmul) were raids carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in the 1950s and 1960s in response to frequent fedayeen attacks during which armed Arab militants infiltrated Israel from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. Most of the reprisal operations followed raids that resulted in Israeli fatalities. The goal of these operations was to create deterrence and prevent future attacks. Two other factors behind the raids were restoring public morale and training newly formed army units.
|Part of the Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency (during Arab–Israeli conflict)|
Israeli raid on Qalqilya police station in October 1956
Kingdom of Egypt (1950–1953)
Egypt (UAR) (1958–1970)
|Commanders and leaders|
Chaim Weizmann (1948–1952)
Yosef Sprinzak (1952)
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (1952–1963)
Kadish Luz (1963)
Zalman Shazar (1963–1970)
Israeli Prime Ministers
David Ben-Gurion (1948–1954, 1955–1963)
Moshe Sharett (1954–1955)
Levi Eshkol (1963–1969)
Gamal Abdel Nasser|
President of Egypt (1956–1970)
President of Syria (1971-2000)
Hussein bin Talal
King of Jordan (1952–1999)
|Casualties and losses|
|400–967 civilians and soldiers killed during this period by fedayeen attacks (1951–55)||2,700–5,000 civillians and soldiers killed by retribution operations (1951–55)|
Reprisal operations were carried out following raids by armed infiltrators into Israel during the entire period from 1948 Arab–Israeli War until October 1956. Most of Reprisal operations followed raids that resulted in Israeli fatalities. From 1949 to 1954 the reprisal operations were directed against Jordan. In 1954 the Jordanian authorities decided to curb the infiltration due to fierce Israeli activity, and the cross-border infiltration from Jordan substantially declined, along with the number of victims. The IDF stopped the reprisals against Jordan from September of that year.
From 1949 there were infiltrations from Gaza strip under Egyptian control, and the Egyptian authorities tried to curb them. The Egyptian republican regime told Israel during secret talks that such acts as the blockade and armed infiltration were political necessities for Egypt and Israel had to accept it. From February 1954, Egyptian soldiers opened fire against Israeli border patrols, and infiltrators from the Gaza Strip planted mines on the patrol routes, on top of the conventional infiltrations. However, Moshe Sharet, the Israeli prime minister, did not authorize reprisal attacks against Egypt. In mid 1954 a senior Egyptian military intelligence in the Gaza Strip reported: "The main objective of the military presence along the armistice line is to prevent infiltration, but the Palestinian troops encourage the movement of infiltrators and carry out attacks along the line."
In 1955 Ben Gurion returned to the government, and a reprisal operation against an Egyptian military camp near Gaza was authorized, after a murder of an Israeli civilian in the center of Israel was committed by Egyptian intelligence agents. In the operation the IDF lost eight soldiers, and the Egyptians 38 soldiers. Later Nasser claimed that this operation motivated the Czech arms deal, although Egypt had previously signed arms contracts with Czechoslovakia (which never materialized). Nasser refused to order his army to stop firing at Israeli patrols. Moreover, this shooting was intensified after the Gaza raid. According to Israeli casualty statistics, 7 or 8 Israelis were killed by infiltrators from Gaza annually from 1951 to 1954, with a dramatic rise to 48 in 1955.
Ben Gurion continued to adhere to the status quo and followed the terms of the armistice regime, but in September 1955 Egypt tightened its blockade of the Straits of Tiran, closed the air space over the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli aircraft, initiated fedayeen attacks against the Israeli population across the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, and announced the Czech arms deal. However, with the revelation of the Czech arms deal, Ben Gurion believed that Nasser now possessed the tools with which to put his aggressive intentions into practice. Ben Gurion therefore attempted to provoke a preemptive war with Egypt.
From December 1955 to February 1956 the Egyptians clamped down on "civilian" infiltration into Israel, yet their soldiers frequently fired across the line at Israeli patrols.
Some infiltration activities were initiated by Palestinian Arab refugees who were ostensibly looking for relatives, returning to their homes, recovering possessions, tending to their fields, collecting their crops, as well as exacting revenge. Half of Jordan's prison population at the time consisted of people arrested for attempting to return to, or illegally enter, Israeli territory, but the number of complaints filed by Israel over infiltrations from the West Bank show a considerable reduction, from 233 in the first nine months of 1952, to 172 for the same period in 1953, immediately before the Qibya attack. This marked reduction was in good part the result of increased Jordanian efficiency in patrolling. According to some Israeli sources, between June 1949 and the end of 1952, a total of 57 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed by Palestinian infiltrators from the West Bank and Jordan. The Israeli death toll for the first nine months of 1953 was 32. During roughly the same time period (November 1950 – November 1953), the Mixed Armistice Commission condemned Israeli raids 44 times. Furthermore, during the same period, 1949–1953, Jordan maintained that it had suffered 629 killed and injured stemming from Israeli incursions and cross-border bombings. UN sources for the period, based on the documentation at General Bennike's disposal (prepared by Commander E H Hutchison USNR), lower both estimates.[clarification needed]
Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli chief of staff Moshe Dayan ordered reprisal raids as a tough response to terror attacks. The message was that any attack on Israelis would be followed by a strong Israeli response. In the words of Ben-Gurion, from his lecture "retribution operations as a means to ensure the Peace":
We do not have power to ensure that the water pipe lines won't be exploded or that the trees won't be uprooted. We do not have the power to prevent the murders of orchard workers or families while they are asleep, but we have the power to set a high price for our blood, a price which would be too high for the Arab communities, the Arab armies and the Arab governments to bear.
This approach dominated in Israel during the 1950s and 1960s, although it was not the only one. Moshe Sharett, the Israeli prime minister during the retribution operations, objected to this policy and after the Ma'ale Akrabim massacre he wrote in his diary:
Committing a severe responsive act to this bloodbath would only obscure its horrors, and put us in an equal level with murderers of the other party. We should rather this instance to raise political pressure on the world powers, to have them exert unprecedented pressure on Jordan.
The head of the United Nations truce observers, Canadian Lieutenant-General E. L. M. Burns, was very critical of what he described as "constant provocation of the Israeli forces and armed kibbutzim." His conclusion was "The retaliation does not end the matter; it goes on and on ..."
April 1951 – October 1956
- Attack on al-Hamma (התקיפה באל-חמה) – Following the el-Ḥamma incident on 4 April 1951 in which seven Israeli soldiers were killed after attempting to enforce Israel's sovereignty in the demilitarized zone to include the el-Ḥamma enclave – Hamat Gader. The next day the first retribution operation since signing the cease-fire agreements was carried out. Unlike the following retribution operations, this operation was carried out by the Israeli Air Force. The operation failed when the attacking planes missed their target.
- Beit Jala raid – In reprisal for the rape and murder of a Jewish girl in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem, three houses in the Palestinian Arab village of Beit Jalla are blown up, and seven Arab civilians are killed. Israel formally denies involvement, but international investigators blame an IDF platoon for the raid.
- Operation Shoshana (מבצע שושנה) known as Qibya massacre – Carried out on 14 October 1953 following an attack in which an Israeli mother and her two children were killed. Commanded by Ariel Sharon, a force made up of paratroopers and members of Unit 101 made a night-time attack on the village of Qibya in the West Bank, which was controlled by Jordan at the time. Sixty-nine villagers were killed during the operation. In addition to that, forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were destroyed.
- Operation Black Arrow (מבצע חץ שחור) – Carried out in Egyptian-control Gaza between 28 February until 1 March 1955. The operation was aimed at the Egyptian army. Thirty eight Egyptian soldiers were killed during the operation with 30 injured; eight IDF soldiers were also killed and 13 were injured. According to President Gamal Abdel Nasser, this operation was the main motivation for the Egyptian-Czech arms deal later in 1955.
- Operation Elkayam (מבצע אלקיים) – Carried out on 31 August 1955 against the police forces of Khan Yunis from where attacks had been carried out against Israelis. 72 Egyptian soldiers were killed during the operation. The operation was followed by a massive buildup of Egyptian troops in the Gaza Strip.
- Operation Jonathan (מבצע יונתן) – An attack carried out on 11–12 September 1955 by two paratroop companies on Khirbet al Rahwa police fort, on the Hebron–Beersheba road, in which over twenty Jordanian soldiers and policemen were killed. Amongst the Israeli wounded was Captain Meir Har-Zion.
- Operation Egged (מבצע אגד) – Following an Egyptian border provocation in the Nitzana Demilitarized Zone, two-hundred paratroopers carried out a reprisal raid against an Egyptian military post at Kuntilla on 28–29 October 1955. Twelve Egyptian soldiers were killed and twenty-nine others were taken prisoner.
- Operation Volcano (מבצע הר געש) – Following the invasion of the Egyptian forces into an Israeli youth village and communal settlement Nitzana in the Demilitarized Zone, the IDF carried out an attack in that area on 2 November 1955. 81 Egyptian soldiers were killed during the operations and 55 were captured. Seven IDF soldiers were killed during the operation.
- Operation Olive Leaves (מבצע עלי זית) – Carried out on 11 December 1955 at Syrian posts located on the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee in response to constant Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen. 54 Syrian soldiers were killed and 30 were captured. Six IDF soldiers were killed during the operation.
- Operation Sa'ir (מבצע שעיר) – Carried out on 22 December 1955, the IDF forces raided Syrian outposts on the slopes of the Golan Heights.
- Targeted killings – On 11 July 1956, Mustafa Hafez, the Egyptian military intelligence commander in the Gaza Strip and an organizer of fedayeen raids, was assassinated by Israeli Military Intelligence in an operation planned by Major General Yehoshafat Harkabi. The following day, Israel assassinated Salah Mustafa, the Egyptian military attache in Amman who had dispatched infiltrators into Israel via the West Bank.
- Operation Gulliver (מבצע גוליבר) – Carried out on 13 September 1956 in Jordan.
- Operation Lulav (מבצע לולב) – Carried out on 25 September 1956 in the Arab village Husan, near Bethlehem. The operation was in response to the murder of participants in an archaeological conference held in Ramat Rachel and the murder of two farmers from Moshav Aminadav and Kibbutz Maoz Haim.
- Operation Samaria (מבצע שומרון) – Carried out on 10 October 1956 in which IDF forces attacked the Qalqilya police forces. 100 Jordanian soldiers and 17 IDF soldiers were killed during the operation. The operation was carried out in response to the constant infiltrations from the West Bank, and in response to the constant attacks from the Jordanian army aimed at Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Between 1949 and 1956 cross border attacks from Israel's neighbours killed around 200 Israelis, with perhaps another 200 Israeli soldiers being killed in border clashes or IDF raids. Over the same period between 2,700 and 5,000 Arabs were killed. This figure includes many unarmed civilians who had crossed the border for economic or social reasons. Most were killed during 1949–1951. After which the average was between 300 and 500 killed a year.
January 1960 – November 1966
The Sinai War of 1956 ended the first phase of the Israeli retribution operations. The retribution operations policy continued after the Sinai War, but were initiated mainly against Jordan and Syria, because at that time the majority of attacks originated over the Jordanian and Syrian borders. The main retribution operations held after the Sinai War include:
- Operation Cricket (מבצע חרגול) – Carried out on 31 January 1960, was the first Israeli retribution operation carried out after the Sinai war. The operation was carried out by Golani forces at the Syrian village of Tawfiq, in response to attacks on Israelis in Tel Katzir. Tawfiq was designated by the IDF as the center of many Syrian attacks and as a result it was decided that the destruction of the village was vital. During the operation the village was overrun and destroyed while Israeli forces were under attack by Syrian artillery. Six Syrian soldiers were killed during the operation. Three IDF soldiers were killed and seven were injured.
- Operation Swallow (מבצע סנונית) – Another operation which was carried out in retaliation for Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. During the operation (carried out on 16 March 1962), Israeli forces from the Golani Brigade raided Syrian posts in the village of Nuqayb. 30 Syrian soldiers were killed while seven IDF soldiers were killed and seven were injured during the operation.
- Samu Incident (פעולת סמוע) – Carried out on 13 November 1966, brigade strength IDF forces, accompanied by air support, attacked the village of as-Samu, south of the city of Hebron, in response to previous acts of sabotage aimed at Israeli targets. During the operation dozens of houses were bombed while 18 Jordanians were killed. One IDF soldier was also killed – the paratroop battalion commander, Lt. Col. Yoav Shaham. In addition to the ground operation, an air battle was conducted between eight Hawker Hunter aircraft of the Royal Jordanian Air Force and four Dassault Mirage III aircraft of the Israeli Air Force.
Israeli commemoration of the retribution operations
A commemoration site called "Black Arrow" (חץ שחור), which commemorates the various retribution operations and the heritage of the Israeli paratrooper units, is located in the northern Negev near Gaza.
- "Map of Fedayeen Raids 1951–1956". Jewish Agency for Israel. Archived from the original on 23 June 2009.
- Martin Gilbert (2005). The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 0415359015.
- Benvenisti, 412–416
- Tal, David (2001). The 1956 War: Collusion and Rivalry in the Middle East. Psychology Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-7146-4840-8.
- Morris, Benny (1993). Israel's Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 179.
- Michael B. Oren (11 October 2013). The Origins of the Second Arab-Israel War: Egypt, Israel and the Great Powers, 1952-56. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-135-18942-6.
the Israelis would have to accept a certain degree of friction in their relations with Egypt, and understand that such acts as the blockade and armed infiltration were political necessities for Egypt and not representative of any truly belligerent intention.
- Morris, Benny (25 May 2011). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 271. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4.
In July 1954 the head of Egyptian military intelligence in the Gaza Strip wrote: 'The main objective of the military presence along the armistice line is to prevent infiltration, but the Palestinian troops encourage the movement of infiltrators and carry out attacks along the line.'
- Laron, Guy (February 2007). "Cutting the Gordian Knot: The Post-WWII Egyptian Quest for Arms and the 1955 Czechoslovak Arms Deal". wilsoncenter.org. p. 16.
Egyptian representatives were able to sign a new commercial agreement with Czechoslovakia on 24 October 1951, which included a secret clause stating that "the government of Czechoslovakia will provide the Egyptian government with arms and ammunition - to be selected by Egyptian experts - worth about 600 million Egyptian pounds, to be paid in Egyptian cotton." The Egyptian experts requested 200 tanks, 200 armored vehicles, 60 to 100 MIG-15 planes, 2,000 trucks, 1,000 jeeps, and other items.... Czechoslovakia would not be able to supply weapons to Egypt in 1952. And each year, from then until 1955, Prague kept finding new reasons to delay the shipments.
- Tal, David (2001). The 1956 War: Collusion and Rivalry in the Middle East. Psychology Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-7146-4840-8.
(Nasser)refused to order his troops to cease firing at Israeli patrols — indeed, this practice was intensified after the Gaza raid
- Morris, Benny (25 May 2011). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4.
Israeli casualty statistics show that 7 or 8 Israelis were killed by infiltrators on the Gaza border annually from 1951 to 1954, with a dramatic rise to 48 in 1955.
- Morris (2011), p. 284: "The (Czech) arms were scheduled to arrive in the course of the following twelve months, and Israeli analysts believed that the Egyptian army could absorb them by autumn I956. Israel had to acquire a similar quantity of arms, or to attack and destroy the Egyptian army while it was relatively weak. In fact Israel did both, setting in motion arms acquisition drives and planning—and, in late October 1955, trying to provoke a preemptive war with Egypt";
Oren, 2013, p. 133: "[Ben Gurion] proposed that Nasser be given a final opportunity to demonstrate moderation. ...With the revelation of the Czech arms deal in September, Ben Gurion revived the notion of the pre-emptive strike... Convinced that Nasser would attack in six to eight months, the estimated time needed to absorb the Soviet weapons, Ben Gurion instructed Dayan to formulate detailed plans for the invasion of Sinai.";
Tal, 2001, p. 7, "Ben Gurion saw no reason to effect a revision in Israeli Egyptian relations and continued to adhere to the status quo and abide by the terms of the armistice regime. It was the arms deal that was the turning point for BenGurion: the balance was weighted so heavily in Egypt's favour, he believed, that Nasser now possessed the tool with which to put his intentions into practice"
- Morris, Benny (25 May 2011). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4.
On September 12 Egypt tightened its blockade of the Straits of Tiran and closed the air space over the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli aircraft, forcing Israel to halt civilian flights to South Africa. During the following weeks Egyptian directed fedayeen attacked Israeli settlements and traffic across the Lebanese and Jordanian borders.
- Morris, Benny (25 May 2011). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4.
During December 1955 February I956 the Egyptians appear to have clamped down on civilian infiltration, but their troops fired across the line at Israeli patrols almost every day
- Morris, Benny (1993). Israel's Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-827850-0.
- "No one would deny that the Israel authorities would be justified, and are justified, in using strong measures to check (infiltration), in so far as damage to property or loss of life results. But not everyone who crosses the armistice demarcation line does so with criminal intent. Acts of violence are indeed committed, but as the volume of illegal crossings of the demarcation line is so considerable, if one is to judge from the available statistics, it seems probable that many crossings are carried out by persons–sometimes, I understand, even by children—with no criminal object in view". —England's ambassador to the UN, ¶52 S/635/Rev.1 Archived 4 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine 9 November 1953
- "Which Came First- Terrorism or Occupation - Major Arab Terrorist Attacks against Israelis Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War". Archived from the original on 10 July 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- Commander E H Hutchison USNR. Violent Truce: A Military Observer Looks at the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1951–1955. Chapter XI "A Survey of the Whole Conflict". pp. 90–100
- The Lebanese ambassador on 16 November summed up the figures at the UN's disposal for Jordanian-Israeli incidents from 1949 in these words: "Israel, in Israel territory, has lost 24 people killed; and Jordan, in its own territory, has lost 77 people killed, of whom 55 lost their lives at Qibya. Of the 77 killed since June 1949 in the Palestinian West Bank by Israel, 55 were killed four weeks in the Qibya incident". S/636/Rev.1 Archived 24 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine 16 November 1953
- Allon, Yigal, (1970) Shield of David. The Story of Israel's Armed Forces. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. SBN 297 00133 7. Page 235. Allon attributes an identical quote to Moshe Dayan, Israel's Chief of Staff.
- Burns, Lieutenant-General E. L. M. (1962). Between Arab and Israeli. George G. Harrap. pp. 50, 38.
- Morris, Benny (1993). Israel's Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 258–259. ISBN 0-19-827850-0.
- Morris. Page 393. Teveth. Page 244.
- Dayan, Moshe (1965) Diary of the Sinai Campaign 1956. Sphere Books edition (1967) page 32. "He was gravely wounded, the bullet striking his windpipe, but his life was saved by the medical officer of the unit, who crawled to him under fire and performed a tracheotomy with his pocket knife."
- Ze'ev Derori, Israel's Reprisal Policy, 1953–1956: The Dynamics of Military Retaliation, Frank Cass (2005) p. 152
- "Mustafa Hafez (Biographical details)". Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- Morris, Benny (1993). Israel's Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 215, 216. ISBN 0-19-827850-0.