|Arab Liberation Army|
جيش الإنقاذ العربي
Jaysh al-Inqadh al-Arabi
|Participant in 1948 Palestine war|
Emblem of the Arab Liberation Army
|Ideology|| Pan-Arabism |
|Area of operations||Palestine|
|Opponent(s)||before 26 May 1948: |
|Battles and war(s)|| 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine |
The Arab Liberation Army (ALA; Arabic : جيش الإنقاذ العربيJaysh al-Inqadh al-Arabi), also translated as Arab Salvation Army, was an army of volunteers from Arab countries led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji. It fought on the Arab side in the 1948 Palestine war and was set up by the Arab League as a counter to the Arab High Committee's Holy War Army, though in fact the League and Arab governments prevented thousands from joining either force.
Fawzi al-Qawuqji was a leading Arab nationalist military figure in the interwar period, based in Germany, and allied to Nazi Germany during World War II, who served as the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) field commander during the 1948 Palestine War.
The Arab League, formally the League of Arab States, is a regional organization of Arab states in and around North Africa, the Horn of Africa and Arabia. It was formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945 with six members: Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Yemen joined as a member on 5 May 1945. Currently, the League has 22 members, but Syria's participation has been suspended since November 2011, as a consequence of government repression during the Syrian Civil War.
At the meeting in Damascus on 5 February 1948 to organize Palestinian Field Commands, Northern Palestine was allocated to Qawuqji's forces, although the West Bank was de facto already under the control of Transjordan.
Damascus is the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic; it is also the country's largest city, following the decline in population of Aleppo due to the battle for the city. It is colloquially known in Syria as aš-Šām (الشام) and titled the "City of Jasmine". In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural center of the Levant and the Arab world. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000 as of 2009.
Palestine is a geographic region in Western Asia usually considered to include Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and in some definitions, some parts of western Jordan.
The West Bank is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west and north. The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore. The West Bank was the name given to the territory that was captured by Jordan in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and subsequently annexed in 1950 until 1967 when it was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The target figure for recruitment was 10,000, but by mid-March 1948 the number of volunteers to have joined the Army reached around 6,000 and did not increase much beyond this figure. The actual number deployed might have been as low as 3,500, according to General Safwat. Its ranks included mainly Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and a few hundreds of Iraqis, Transjordanians, Bosniaks, Muslim Brothers from Egypt and Circassians. There were also a few German, Turkish and British deserters. [ citation needed ]
Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 10,452 km2, it is the smallest recognized sovereign state on the mainland Asian continent.
Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country's 37 million citizens are Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.
Jordan, officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is an Arab country in Western Asia, on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south and the east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and Israel and Palestine to the west. The Dead Sea is located along its western borders and the country has a small coastline to the Red Sea in its extreme south-west, but is otherwise landlocked. Jordan is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe. The capital, Amman, is Jordan's most populous city as well as the country's economic, political and cultural centre.
The Arab League Military Committee, with headquarters in Damascus, was responsible for the movements and servicing of the Army. The Committee consisted of General Ismail Safwat (Iraq, Commander-in-Cgayhief), General Taha al-Hashimi (Iraq), Colonel Shuqayri (Lebanon), Colonel Muhammed al-Hindi (Syria) and Colonel Abd al-Qadir al-Jundi (Transjordan). All of the countries represented related to King Abdullah's long-held plans to re-form Greater Syria. This Greater Syria Plan (Mashru Suriya al-Kubra) had been supported by the British Empire throughout the thirties and forties.
Taha al-Hashimi served briefly as prime minister of Iraq for two months, from February 1, 1941, to April 1, 1941. He was appointed prime minister by the regent, 'Abd al-Ilah, following the first ouster of the pro-Axis government of Rashid Ali al-Kaylani during World War II. When Abdul-Illah fled the country, fearing an assassination attempt, Hashimi resigned, and the government reverted to Kaylani. His younger brother, Yassin, had been Iraqi Prime Minister in 1924 & 1936.
Abdullah I bin Al-Hussein was the ruler of Jordan and its predecessor state, Transjordan, from 1921 until his assassination in 1951. He was Emir of Transjordan from 11 April 1921 to 25 May 1946 under a British mandate, and was king of an independent nation from 25 May 1946 until his assassination. According to Abdullah, he was a 38th-generation direct descendant of Muhammad as he belongs to the Hashemite family.
Greater Syria, also "Natural Syria" or "Northern Country" Arabic: بِلَاد الشَّام, romanized: Bilād ash-Shām, is a Levantine region which extends roughly over the medieval Arab Caliphate province of Bilad al-Sham. The Hellenistic name of the region, "Syria", was used by the Ottomans in the Syria Vilayet until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The wave of Arab nationalism in the region evolved towards the creation of a new "Great Syria" over French-governed Occupied Enemy Territory Administration, declared as Hashemite Kingdom on March 1920, claiming extent over the entire Levant. Following the Franco-Syrian War, in July 1920, French armies defeated the newly proclaimed Arab Kingdom of Syria and captured Damascus, aborting the Arab state. The area was consequently partitioned under French and British Mandates into Greater Lebanon, various Syrian states, Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan. Syrian states were gradually unified as the State of Syria and became the independent Republic of Syria in 1946.
Syria’s reasons for building the Army of Liberation were several. Syria's President Shukri al-Quwatli knew that the Syrian Army was undependable and useless as an instrument of war; therefore, it was much safer for Syria to influence the situation in Palestine by building up a force that was to be paid for and armed by all the Arab League countries. Egypt was to pay for 42% of the costs, Syria and Lebanon 23%, Saudi Arabia 20%, and Iraq the remaining 15%. Just as important as the financial reasons for building an Arab League force was the need to protect the Syrian army itself. By sending the volunteer army into battle, Quwatli hope to spare Syria from exposing its own troops to defeat, which could leave the country exposed to attack from Abdullah and possibly Jewish forces. If the volunteer army were defeated, the loss and embarrassment would be borne by the Arab League in general and the Palestinians in particular, not by Syria alone.
Shukri al-Quwatli was the first president of post-independence Syria. He began his career as a dissident working towards the independence and unity of the Ottoman Empire's Arab territories and was consequently imprisoned and tortured for his activism. When the Kingdom of Syria was established, Quwatli became a government official, though he was disillusioned with monarchism and co-founded the republican Independence Party. Quwatli was immediately sentenced to death by the French who took control over Syria in 1920. Afterward, he based himself in Cairo where he served as the chief ambassador of the Syrian-Palestinian Congress, cultivating particularly strong ties with Saudi Arabia. He used these connections to help finance the Great Syrian Revolt (1925–1927). In 1930, the French authorities pardoned Quwatli and thereafter, he returned to Syria, where he gradually became a principal leader of the National Bloc. He was elected president of Syria in 1943 and oversaw the country's independence three years later.
Another advantage to an irregular army was that it could be sent into Palestine well before the British officially withdrew from their mandate on 15 May 1948. None of the Arab states were willing to declare war openly on the British. Thus, Syria would not officially be opening hostilities against the British troops, who still bore responsibility for security in Palestine. Furthermore, if the Arab countries failed to commit their armies to fight in Palestine — a possibility which seemed likely as Egypt agreed to participate only four days before the war began on 15 May 1948 — the Syrian government would still be active. It would retain leverage in Palestine and be able to tell the Syrian public that it had done more than the other Arab countries to help the Palestinians. Most importantly, however, the ALA was to be used as an instrument to nip Abdullah's Greater Syria plan in the bud and to keep him from expanding his state over half of Palestine.
The evolution of President Quwatli's military objectives in Palestine is recorded in the diaries of Taha al-Hashimi. Hashimi was an Iraqi pan-Arab nationalist and long-time intimate of Quwatli, whom the Syrian president wanted to head the Liberation Army rather than General Safwat, Egypt’s candidate. Hashimi was ultimately appointed Inspector General of the ALA and placed in charge of recruitment and training of the troops at the Qatana headquarters. His office was in the Syrian Ministry of Defense and he met daily with Syria’s political and military leaders. Hashimi records that in October 1947, shortly after the UN Special Committee on Palestine recommended partition as a solution and after Syria had failed to win either Saudi Arabia or Egypt over to the idea of an anti-Hashemite military alliance, Quwatli explained:
The Greater Syria plan will start from the Arab part of Palestine. Because of this I have ordered the Syrian army to move to the Syrian–Palestinian border. The force which has taken up position there is 2,500 men. Also Lebanon will send 1000 men to its border. As soon as the forces of Iraq and Jordan enter Palestine, we will enter and take al-Nasira and the North.[fn]
Quwatli’s strategy in Palestine was designed from the outset to prevent Abdullah's possible advance north to Damascus. In the best case, Quwatli hoped to acquire some of northern Palestine for Syria. A second reason for Quwatli's hesitation to commit Syrian military troops was that he had failed in his early efforts to reform the army and questioned the loyalty and effectiveness of its leadership. Although the head of the military, General Abdullah Atfeh, swore to the Minister of Defense in May 1947, that the Syrian army was "the best of all the Arab armies, the best army in the Middle East," the brigade commanders scoffed at this ridiculous assessment and cabled the President to warn, that "the army is not worth a red cent."[fn] Quwatli was fully aware of the problems in his military. "The real problem is to reform the Syrian army and to solve the problem of its leadership," he confided to Taha al-Hashimi in September 1947.[fn]
Abdullah Atfeh (1897–1976) was a Syrian career military officer who served as the first chief of staff of the Syrian Army after the country's independence.
Until the army could be strengthened, he hoped to keep it out of the fighting. In its stead he built the Arab Liberation Army. "It is imperative that we restrict our efforts to the popular movement in Palestine," Quwatli concluded. "We must strengthen it and organize its affairs as quickly as possible."[fn] Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey gave a lengthier explanation for why the Syrian army could not be sent into Palestine in November 1947, and why a volunteer army was needed.
Because [the Arab governments are undependable], I have decided... on the necessity of strengthening Palestine with arms and men and organizing their affairs and appointing a leader to take charge of their matters. The popular movement in Palestine is responsible for saving the situation, with the help of the Arab governments. This is because I doubt in the unity of the Arab armies and their ability to fight together....
If the Arab armies, not least of all the Syrian army, are hit with an overwhelming surprise attack by the Jewish Haganah, it would lead to such a loss of reputation that the Arab governments would never be able to recover.
The best thing is to leave the work to the Palestinians and to supply them with the help of the Arab governments. Ensuring an effective leadership in Palestine is of paramount importance and needs to be done with the greatest of haste. If the movement is destined to failure, God forbid, then it will be the people of Palestine who fail and not the Arab governments and their armies. So long as the position of the Kings and Amirs is one of caution and plots, this is the only sound policy.[fn]
As Mardam makes clear, he knew the Syrian army could not withstand an attack by the Haganah; he knew his Arab allies were undependable; and he did not want to risk the “loss of reputation” that would inevitably ensue. That is why he and Quwatli were determined to limit their own involvement in Palestine to the ALA.
When Hashimi spoke to the President a few days later about Mardam's plan, President Quwatli reiterated Mardam's concern that the government could not withstand the Syrian army's defeat in Palestine. As he had explained to Hashimi before, "the real problem is with reforming the Syrian army and solving the problem of its leadership." Because of these concerns, he said, "it is imperative that we restrict our efforts to the popular movement in Palestine. We must strengthen it and organize its affairs as quickly as possible. The trouble is that the Mufti [Hajj Amin al-Husayni] will not permit Fawzi al-Qawuqji to take the leadership in Palestine."[fn]
The next several weeks of intense negotiations between Quwatli, the Mufti, Qawuqji and other Arab leaders over the question of who would direct the popular resistance in Palestine were a complete failure; agreement was impossible. The Mufti refused to hand control over to Qawuqji. He claimed that Qawuqji would "sell" himself to the English, and added that, "if Qawuqji accepted partition, [I] will kill him with [my] own hands."[fn] The Mufti insisted that Palestine did not need the volunteer army and that all money should be given directly to him.[fn] King Abdullah, in an effort to dismiss the Mufti, claimed he could save Palestine on his own. "Why don't the Arab countries send their armies directly to [me]?" he inquired. Meanwhile, Abdullah was arming his own supporters in Palestine who rejected both the Mufti and Qawuqji.[fn] As for King Faruq of Egypt, he wanted nothing to do with any of them. He said, "The Arabs ought to get rid of all three of them: the Mufti, Abdullah, and Qawuqji."[fn] The question of who would take command of the Arab and Palestinian military campaign and what their objectives would be was never resolved.
On January 8, 1948, the borders of British-held Palestine were breached by a battalion of the ALA - "the Second Yarmuk Battalion" which was 330-soldiers strong and was commanded by Adib Shishakli. Entering from Syria, the battalion set its headquarters near Tarshiha in the Galilee. On January 20, 1948, this battalion attacked Kibbutz Yehiam and failed. The British High Commissioner Alan Cunningham asked his government to pressurize Syria to stop the invasion of the mandate territory by the ALA by threatening that the British Army would take action. On January 20, 1948, a second ALA Battalion, a 630-soldier-strong First Yarmuk battalion, led by the Syrian officer Mohammed Safa, entered Palestine. It crossed the Damia Bridge over the Jordan River in a long convoy. An attempt by the British police to prevent their entry failed because of the intervention of the Arab Legion, and so the invasion was not stopped by the British in spite of protests from the Jewish Agency. Fawzi al-Qawuqji joined this regiment, which was parked near Tubas. On February 15, 1948 the battalion attacked Kibbutz Tirat Zvi but failed to overtake it. The Hittin Battalion, led by the Iraqi Madlul Abbas, crossed the Jordan River on the Damia bridge on 29 January 1948 and dispersed in the mountains of Samaria. The two battalions that had come from Transjordan split into smaller units and deployed throughout Samaria. Their task was to maintain order in the area and allow Abdullah I of Jordan to annex the area to his kingdom. Attempts by the Arab Higher Committee to sow discord between the units of the ALA were unsuccessful. Paradoxically, Samaria remained one of the quieter areas in Palestine during this period thanks to the ALA. The move was made in coordination with Ernest Bevin who approved of Abdullah’s plan to deploy the ALA through Samaria without the knowledge of the High Commissioner, provided it does not provoke intervention by the UN Security Council or accrue criticism from other Arab countries against the United Kingdom. According to Levenberg, this disposition of forces, away from the main warfare areas and close to the Syrian border, where it could create a buffer between Syria and Transjordanian forces, indicates their real objectives and missions
Qawuqji returned to Syria to organize further forces and in March 1948 re-entered Palestine from Syria with the "Al Hussein," and “Al Qadsia” battalions, numbering 360 soldiers each. A final "Jabal al-Arab" battalion manned by 500 Druze soldiers and commanded by Shakib Wahab settled in Shfar'am.
The Druze forces took part in the battle of Ramat Yohanan. Following the fierce battle that inflicted many casualties on both sides, the battalion commanders reached an agreement with the Haganah to withdraw. Some members of the battalion, led by Ismail Qabalan, later fled from Syria and volunteered to the IDF to form the basis of its Druze forces.
On 5 March 1948 Qawuqji returned to Palestine and set his headquarters in the Jaba village between Nablus and Jenin. He also set up a radio station broadcasting propaganda in Hebrew, Arabic and English. On April 4, 1948 the ALA forces attacked Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek in order to take it and join forces with the Arabs of Haifa. The campaign lasted for ten days and ended in defeat for the ALA. In Parallel, the battalion led be Sishakli was defeated in the battle for Safed during Operation Yiftach. In addition to these battles, ALA units fought in other areas, such as the battle of Jerusalem and the road leading to it, the Sharon, and urban fighting in mixed-population cities such as Jaffa. In some places these forces showed firm opposition to Jewish militias, such as at the battle of Nabi Samuel and Tel Arish. Regardless, on May 27, 1948 Qawuqji led his northern forces back to Syria to regroup.
In June 1948 the ALA returned to the Galilee and took part in retaking Malkiya, on June 5. During the “ten days battles” ALA forces based in Tarshiha attacked Jewish forces in Sejera but had to retreat when Nazareth was occupied by the IDF. During the second truce the ALA remained active taking, for example, several outposts near Moshav Manof. In October 1948 the ALA succeeded in taking the post of Sheikh Abed near Manara and a counterattack by the Carmeli Brigade failed. In response, the IDF initiated Operation Hiram to rout the ALA from its strongholds in the Galilee. The operation began as the ALA’s headquarters at Tarshiha's was attacked and captured by IDF forces, including the newly established Israeli Air Force. Kaukji, though, managed to escape with most of his army. Although the ALA suffered hundreds of casualties it left Palestine to Lebanon largely intact. The ALA never returned to Palestine and was dismantled in the following months.
|Disposition of Arab Liberation Army Forces, March 1948|
|Galilee||1,000, in groups of 50–100 under a central command|
|Jerusalem city||a few hundreds|
|Jerusalem district||perhaps 500|
|Jaffa town||200 or more|
|Gaza Subdistrict||perhaps 100 Egyptians|
|Source: Levenberg (1993), p. 200|
In the early summer of 1948 some Druze fighters,[ quantify ] mainly from Syria, along with Palestinian Druze from the villages of Daliyat al-Karmil and Isfiya on Mount Carmel, defected from the Arab Liberation Army to the Israel Defense Forces. These formed the core of the IDF's only Arabic-speaking unit, the Unit of the Minorities.
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, or the First Arab–Israeli War, was fought between the newly declared State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states over the control of former British Palestine, forming the second and final stage of the 1947–49 Palestine war.
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