The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force

By Martin Van Creveld | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
AT WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE

DESPITE THE considerable roles that ETSEL and LECHI played in ejecting the British, both were strictly underground organizations with extremely limited capacities for overt military action. This was much less true of Hagana, which, thanks in part to the semilegal status it had enjoyed during various periods of its existence, was already preparing to wage a conventional war against the Arabs even as it was struggling against the British. In PALMACH it possessed a strike force of exceptional quality; in CHISH and CHIM it possessed at least a pool of trained or semitrained personnel, most of whom, however, were not yet formed into units let alone assembled and exercised. Accordingly the period between 1945 and 1948 was one of large-scale military construction and organization.

No sooner had V-E Day arrived ( May 8, 1945) than Ben Gurion went to the United States. 1 Within weeks he succeeded in getting together a committee of twenty Jewish millionaires who were willing to help -- "the best Zionist meeting ever" he noted in his diary. 2 Funds, now already measured in millions of dollars per year, were made available and put at the disposal of Hagana agents such as Teddy Kollek, who later was to become mayor of Jerusalem and was destined to make his early mark in this field. Since many countries had laws against the export of arms to the Middle East, ruses had to be used, including one occasion when light bombers (Beauforts) were purchased under the pretext of making a movie. Some of the arms were shipped to Erets Yisrael, as already related. However, most were stored abroad in anticipation of the day when the British mandate would end.

As those components of Hagana not engaged in the day-to-day task of defending against the Arabs or fighting the British expanded, it became necessary to set up an office that would coordinate its now very far-flung and multitudinous activities. With war clearly approaching, Ben Gurion wanted to have his hand firmly on the helm. Accordingly, late in 1946 he created a defense portfolio in the Jewish Agency with himself at its head. The chain of command now went from Ben Gurion as head of the Agency

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