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A Nation Reborn Through the Faithful Hand of God
The Middle East: A History of Searching for Peace
Part 4 of 5 Articles

From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in September/October, 1993

With the United Nations’ resolution of November, 1947, Israel became a “paper” nation. Legally, Palestine was partitioned. The nations of the world had given Israel back a piece of the land that God had promised to Abraham and his posterity when He said, “Walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Gen. 13:17). To be sure, what the United Nations gave was small – less than a fourth of the size which the British proposed in the mandate of 1917 – smaller than the state of New Jersey. But it was something – a land, a home, a place – to which the wandering Jew could return, be welcomed, and lay his head. But, could what was given in theory be sustained in practice? In 1948, there were only 640,000 Jews in all of Israel. The surrounding Arab nations had a combined population of over 80 million, and they threatened to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. There were only six months to prepare for the inevitable attack. The nearly 100,000 British troops, who had kept a shaky, uneven, largely pro-Arab peace, would then leave.

Many world leaders were agreed. If Israel declared herself a nation, the numerically superior and far-better-equipped Arabs would attack, and Israel would be stillborn. General George Marshall, America’s Secretary of State, counseled his friend, David Ben-Gurion, to bide his time until a more favorable political climate could develop for declaring Israel’s nationhood. Ben-Gurion, later reflecting on the general’s advice, said:

...Marshall could not know what we knew – what we felt in our very bones: that this was our historic hour; if we did not live up to it, through fear or weakness of spirit, it might be generations or even centuries before our people were given another historic opportunity – if indeed we would be alive as a national group.

On the 14th of May, 1948, Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first Prime Minister, stood up in a hastily prepared movie theatre in Tel Aviv (because they did not possess Jerusalem), and declared Israel a nation among the nations of the world. On the 15th of May, the last of the British forces withdrew. The same day, six Arab nations – Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq – invaded Israel. They approached like a fistful of fingers that would close together and squeeze the life out of the infant state.

The invading armies had a carefully devised plan and a precise timetable. The Egyptians were to sweep up the coast from the south and then fork out. One force would take Jaffa-Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean Sea. The second force would join the Jordanian Arab legion and converge on Jerusalem. From the east, Iraqi troops would race westward across Palestine toward the Mediterranean to slice Israel in half. In the north, the Syrians and Lebanese would join forces to secure the Galilee and Haifa.

For the first month, battles raged up and down the land. The Jewish forces – initially without a tank, a fighter plane, or a field gun – suffered heavy casualties. The situation looked very grim. Through the efforts of the United Nations, a truce went into effect on June 11. It would only last until July 9. But, it gave Israel a month’s reprieve. It would prove to be all she needed.

Knowing that war was coming, Israeli agents were sent out to locate caches of military equipment. At the same time, Golda Meir, an amazing and courageous woman who would later become Prime Minister, was dispatched to America. Her assignment: raise $5 million to purchase weapons. Born in Russia, brought to America as a child, she lived, was educated, and taught school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was totally Americanized. As a young woman and a Zionist, she immigrated to Israel. Now back in America, the first night at a rally in New York she raised $11 million – in a matter of weeks she would raise more than $50 million. Word went out to the Israeli agents to buy whatever equipment they could. Much of it was antiquated, but Israel was glad to get it.

During that brief month of peace, the equipment purchased through the funds “Golda” raised began to trickle into the country. When the fighting resumed, the Arabs discovered a drastic turn of events. There is hardly a settlement in Israel that does not have its tales of tanks stopped at the gate with Molotov cocktails, of rifles snatched up for use from the hands of the dead, of literally fighting at 10-to-l odds – unembellished feats of individual and group heroism that would compare with the exploits of Joshua, Gideon, and King David.

Egypt sent an armada of ships to shell the city of Tel Aviv located on the Mediterranean coast. Israel had no ships, no guns – she lay at the mercy of the attacking armada. Two young Israelis went aloft to meet the attacking ships, their plane a small two-seater, their bombs homemade. The pilot was David Sprinzak, whose father would become the first Speaker of the Israeli Parliament. The bombardier was Mati Sukenik, whose father helped secure and decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls. The little plane dove on the lead ship and hit it. The entire armada turned tail and fled. Tel Aviv was saved. But the plane crashed, and both young men died.

A major Egyptian force was moving north through the Negev. In its path stood a kibbutz (a communal farm) composed of nothing more than a row of cabins around a concrete water tower in the open desert.

The kibbutz had seventy-five settlers, to which were added seventy more fighters. Their total arsenal consisted of eighty rifles, two machine guns, and an antitank gun with five shells. Anticipating an attack, a complete underground fortress was built, staffed by a doctor and four nurses. Totally surrounded by the enemy, supplied only by a small plane, with every aboveground building destroyed, the Negba Kibbutz defenders continued to fight. On one day alone, June 2, an estimated six thousand shells fell on the surrounded garrison. Then came the major attack: seven Egyptian tanks, twelve armored cars, two thousand men – and overhead flying cover, were two Arab-flown Spitfires. The battle lasted five hours. When the dust had cleared, six tanks had been hit, one Spitfire shot down, and the Egyptians had pulled back. After six months, the defenders emerged from their bunkers victorious.

A little more than a month later, Egypt renewed its attack. This time they were met head-on in the Sinai by a rugged group of jeep-mounted machine-gun commandos dubbed with the biblical designation “Samson’s Foxes.” Within ten days, the dazed Egyptians would find their assault shattered, casualties high, and much of their equipment in Jewish hands. One of those commando units was commanded by an eye-patched officer who would later become Chief of Staff. His name was Moshe Dayan.

At the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, where the lake empties into the Jordan River, stands the oldest and largest kibbutz in Israel. Its name is Degania. Combined Arab forces came against Degania with tanks and machine guns. In bitter fighting, the Arab forces gained entrance to the colony through the barbed wire. Things looked desperate. As the tanks began to enter the compound, two young people, a boy and a girl about fifteen or sixteen years of age, were concealed in the bushes. They had crude, handmade weapons.

They were bottles of phosphorus that burst into flame when the bottles were broken. One of these young people threw one of the Molotov cocktails at a tank. The bottle burst – the tank caught fire. The attacking troops, seeing the destruction of one tank and damage to three others, fled in disarray. The kibbutz and city of Tiberias were saved and another attack blunted. For many years, tourists to Israel could see the tank at the entrance to the kibbutz, left as a memorial.

In another major battle, Iraqi, Syrian, and Transjordanian forces came together to capture northern Israel and the major city of Haifa. It was at a Jewish colony near Mount Megiddo that the decisive battle took place. Once again, the Jews found themselves out-gunned, out-manned, and surrounded. The besieged Jews had very few arms and had given up all hope of deliverance. Suddenly, there was a gap in the Arab lines. To this very day, no one has an explanation for it. Jewish defense forces at once entered the colony through the gap to reinforce the beleaguered defenders. Stunned at this reversal, the Arabs withdrew their forces. This was the turning point in the battle for the Jezreel Valley (site of the future battle of Armageddon) and northern Israel.

All hostilities were concluded by January 7, 1949. The War of Independence was over. Israel was a nation, not only on paper, but in substance. Not only had she held on to the United Nations-allocated land, but she captured additional territory in the north, south, and central areas. It had been a long time coming – almost nineteen hundred years. And the final eight months had not been without great cost. Four thousand soldiers and two thousand civilians had given their last ounce of devotion. The financial drain on the young nation was staggering – $500 million.

In the calculations of the nuclear century, Israel is an insignificant piece of real estate. Her bridge is fragile; her highway narrow. And, to that insignificant and fragile land, Jews in great numbers from all over the world began to return. Something inside would say, “It’s time to go home.”

In 1956, the modem state of Israel found herself engaged in a second war. General Nasser was, in 1948, a colonel in the Egyptian army. He was defeated in battle near the very spot where David had defeated Goliath almost three thousand years earlier. Later, Nasser seized power in Egypt. Like Hitler, he wrote of how he would expand his sphere of influence and unite the Arab world. And like Hitler, the glue to solidify his aim would be hatred of the Jew. It was easy to suggest to the languishing Arab refugees who chose to flee Israel during the War of Independence, “You have been driven from your homes by the Jews!” A group of terrorists and murderers were trained to slip undetected into Israel to ambush and kill. Supplied and encouraged by the Soviet Union, who desperately wanted a foothold in the Middle East, Nasser seized the British-owned Suez Canal. Ben-Gurion decided to strike at once and sent General Dayan into the Sinai. His troops destroyed terrorist bases and captured large stores of Soviet arms. Within ten days, the Egyptian resistance was broken and Dayan penetrated to the Suez Canal, capturing the Red Sea port of Sharm El Sheikh and opening the Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels. Under United Nations pressure, Israel withdrew, but the waterways were now open.

Israel knew that an attack was imminent. In June of 1967, Israel found herself in a squeeze play for the third time in nineteen years. A nation that wanted only peace, who preferred that her hardware be for farming, found this by-now-familiar cycle traumatic and disheartening. This time the major antagonists were Syria and Egypt. Israel knew she had to attack first. She launched a few planes at a time from different airfields throughout the country. As these staggered flights flew west, away from Arab lands, apparently posing no threat, they knew exactly how far they had to fly to go beyond Egyptian and Syrian radar screen capability to track them. Then the planes turned around and descended to an elevation just above the Mediterranean Sea, but beneath radar capability to detect them. Each plane had a predetermined target. Within hours the planes of six Arab nations were destroyed while still on the ground. The war itself would last a total of six days.

In this six-day period, Israel captured the strategic Golan Heights in the northeast from Syria; the entire Sinai in the south from the Egyptians; and, most significantly, the Old City of Jerusalem, biblical Judea-Samaria (the West Bank), and Gaza from Jordan. Few battles in the history of mankind were more awesome. An observer put it this way:
By a feat of arms unparalleled in modem times, the Israelis, surrounded by enemies superior in quantity and quality of equipment and overwhelmingly superior in numbers, had fought a war on three fronts and not only survived, but won a resounding victory.

In 1948, Israel won an amazing battle for national survival against six invading armies. In 1956, when terrorists were sniping at her and the closing of the Suez Canal threatened to strangle the life out of her, she launched a daring campaign into the Sinai and emerged victorious. In 1967, in imminent danger of being attacked by three nations – and rightfully convinced that Syria was diverting the life-sustaining waters of the Jordan River – she initiated a preemptive strike with such precision that the whole world was stunned. To the spiritually discerning mind, it was the God of Israel who was behind these amazing victories.

But, following the Six-Day War, Israel made a major mistake. She gloried not in what the God of her forefathers had done for her, but in what she thought she had done for herself. Israel was lifted up with pride, pride of invincibility and self-sufficiency. And so, on a quiet day in October, Israel found herself in another war. It was Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), October 6, 1973. Egypt and Syria launched a massive coordinated attack – Egypt across the Suez Canal and Syria over the Golan Heights.

The Israeli intelligence-gathering capability is among the best in the world. Literally hundreds of warnings were received from secret agents telling of the impending attack. American intelligence confirmed the attack forty-eight hours in advance. But, it was as though the Jewish leaders had a veil placed over their eyes; they refused to heed the repeated and urgent warnings. Jewish leadership was either convinced that the Arabs would not attack or confident that they could handily repel any infringement on her territory.

They chose not to launch a preemptive strike, as they had in 1967, fearful of worldwide condemnation as an aggressor; they chose not to mobilize, lest it be a false alarm and they needlessly disrupt the economy; they chose not to disrupt the religious holidays and offend the religious Jews. Amazingly, they did nothing.

With perhaps as many as eighteen hundred tanks at the ready, the Syrians started over the Golan Heights to attack a totally unprepared army. Simultaneously, the Egyptians, in a massive show of strength, crossed the Suez Canal to be met by less than five hundred Israeli soldiers defending the antitank Bar-Lev Line. Most of the soldiers were on leave because of the high holy religious holiday.

Within hours the Israeli government realized the magnitude of the attack. Israel was fighting for her very survival. Her planes took to the skies and tried gallantly to stem the tide. But, Russian-built SAM 7s (surface-to-air missiles) formed an umbrella-like protection over the advancing armies. In air-to-air combat, it was no contest – the Israelis were clearly superior. But, they had difficulty against the ground-to-air missiles which kept them at bay. Newly deployed Russian antitank weapons were also taking a heavy toll on Israel’s mechanized units. In the early days of the war, the situation looked desperate.

According to the article “How Israel Got the Bomb” in Time magazine, April 12, 1976, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Chief of Staff, requested permission of Prime Minister Golda Meir to arm their atomic bombs. They came out of storage silos and were moved to a number of airfields to be armed and readied, if needed. Russia, seeing what Israel was doing, began to ship tactical, nuclear weapons to Alexandria and loaded paratroopers onto planes headed toward Libya in North Africa. Former President Nixon, alerted to the Russian activity, called a red alert for American armed forces world-wide. Superpower confrontation and atomic war were distinct possibilities.

At that moment, a brilliant Israeli general and tank commander by the name of Ariel Sharon was able to break through the Egyptian advance in the Sinai and cross the Suez Canal. His troops fanned out and destroyed the SAM 7 missile sights. The Israeli planes now controlled the skies. In the following days, in what was one of history’s largest tank battles, the Egyptian mechanized units were destroyed on the sands of the Sinai Desert. Jewish troops continued to cross the Canal and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. The Egyptians were totally cut off.

At the same time, there was a dramatic change in the battle for the Golan Heights. Acts of heroism abounded and gave Israel a chance to mobilize her reserve forces.

Among the most conspicuous were the exploits of a young Israeli, Zvi Greengold. He was on leave when news of the outbreak of fighting reached him. Hitchhiking north, he arrived at headquarters and asked for a command. He was given four tanks and sent into the battle. Over the next thirty hours, Zvi Greengold would wreak havoc on the enemy. When other tanks in his command were destroyed, he fought alone, engaging one of the main thrusts of the Syrian advance. Through the night he darted in and out among the hills to destroy enemy tanks and then quickly melt into the dark. His tank was hit and set afire. Zvi flung himself to the ground, wounded and suffering burns on his arms and face. Still, the lieutenant commandeered a passing Israeli tank and continued his war. Zvi Greengold, son of survivors of the Holocaust, had, according to figures given by his officers, destroyed or damaged sixty Syrian tanks.

In time, both the Syrian and Egyptian invasions were repulsed; the entire atmosphere of the war changed. Israel’s atomic bombs went back into storage silos; the Russians recalled their tactical nuclear weapons, and unloaded their paratroopers; and the American armed forces were taken off red alert. Israel now had the capability of destroying both Cairo, Egypt, and Damascus, Syria. But, within forty-eight hours, the United Nations called for a cease-fire. America feared that the Soviet Union, with so much at stake, would be forced to directly intervene if Israel were not stopped and, therefore, put tremendous pressure on Israel to cease fire. While Israel was fighting for her life, few nations protested and the United Nations took little action; but when the tide of battle miraculously changed, the United Nations acted with great dispatch.

For Israel, for the moment at least, the day was saved. Israel was so shocked, however, that it would take her some months to realize that the Yom Kippur War was, in reality, a victory. The pride which had characterized Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War was no longer present.

The nation had almost been defeated. If the Egyptians had not halted their early advance to bring up reinforcements in order to consolidate her surprising early success; if a small contingency of Israeli soldiers had not been able to slow the Syrian advance until the reservists were mobilized – the nation would have been pushed into the Mediterranean Sea. Obviously, the God of Israel had other plans.

Long centuries ago, Moses saw a bush that burned and was not consumed. He said, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt” (Ex. 3:3). The burning bush which Moses beheld needed no hot flame to reduce it quickly into a heap of white ashes. In all probability the region was arid and dry, the bush scorched and withered, its leaves dead and limp, its branches dry and sapless. The lapping flames should have made speedy work of such a bush. But the thorn was not consumed; no branch or twig or leaf was even scorched or singed.

The visual object lesson was clear and concise. Though every normal indication argued for the annihilation of the thorn bush, it was miraculously and supernaturally preserved. At that same moment, the Hebrew race was enslaved down in Egypt; stunted because of depravations; thorny, with no apparent value; in the crucible of fiery affliction. Every normal indication argued for extinction – but like the thorn bush, that people would be miraculously and supernaturally preserved. And like the thorn bush, Jehovah will speak from the midst of her to the peoples of the world. That day is fast approaching.

The next article (5 of 5) is entitled “The Peace Before the Storm.”

A Nation Reborn Through the Faithful Hand of God
The Middle East: A History of Searching for Peace
Part 4 of 5 Articles

From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine in September/October, 1993