"The Jews have four or five thousand Palmach troops and a paper army of fifty thousand in the Haganah, but they have only ten thousand rifles... The Jews are outnumbered in soldiers forty to one, in population a hundred to one, and in area five thousand to one." Leon Uris in Exodus
I have written several posts this month about Israeli historian Benny Morris. In my last (Benny Diagnosed, 14/5/08), I referred to his forthcoming book 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, and suggested that "it would no doubt be lauded in the Murdoch press here." 1948 was duly reviewed in The Australian on 24/5/08 with the expected hyperbole ("a significant work that is likely to become the standard account of the first Israeli-Arab war") by Abraham Rabinovich whose reports on Israeli affairs routinely rub shoulders in The Australian with those of its Middle East correspondent, Martin Chulov.
Although I haven't read the book, Rabinovich's review suggests that Morris' transition from historian to propagandist, alluded to in my earlier posts, is now all but complete.
Take these two sentences, for example, from the opening paragraph: "...Benny Morris spells out the Arab dysfunction and Jewish cohesiveness that permitted 650,000 Jews to forge a state 60 years ago in the face of a hostile Arab world that outnumbered it 40 to one. In doing so, they belied the confident predictions of the CIA and the British military command that the Jewish state would be stillborn."
Confident predictions of an Arab victory? Pull the other, Benny/Abraham.
What follows is taken from Stephen Green's invaluable 1984 book, Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel 1948/1967. Green's data is based "almost entirely on documents available [via FOIA requests] in the Modern Military, General, and Diplomatic branches of the National Archives in Washington":
"The idea that the victory of the Jews in the battle for Palestine was a miracle victory against overwhelming odds is arrant nonsense. More precisely, that idea is unsupported by the documentation. US military and intelligence professionals followed quite closely the preparations for war in the Middle East, as the British Mandate drew to a close... Fortunately, the vast majority of persons engaged in strategic planning for the US at the time were thorough professionals who had little use for legends or myths. They were more concerned with numbers of soldiers, arms and equipment, training, sources of resupply, financial resources, and the like. And in these hard terms, the prospects for the new Jewish state looked bright indeed, before, during, and after the declaration of Israeli independence in May of 1948..."
"The Chiefs of the British Middle East and Palestine commands estimated the Haganah had 'a reasonably well-trained and equipped force of about 65,000 persons with a reserve of perhaps up to 40,000'... The Haganah had 'transport and all the machine guns, rifles, mortars together with ammunition that it needs'..."
"Already in 1945, the composition of the Jewish immigrants into Palestine - legal and illegal - was changing: people of military age, many of whom had already had military training and/or experience in Europe, predominated... And alongside the Haganah, the Jewish settlements had the extremist Irgun ('3000-5000') and Stern group ('several hundred'), which were also very well armed. The British Chiefs thought that the Jews would win a war with the Arabs in the short run, but in the longer run, economic and supply factors would favour the Arabs unless the Jews were resupplied from outside the Middle East..."
"A year and a half later, in November, 1947, the US Army Intelligence Division was asked by the CIA to do the military section for an estimate that the agency was preparing on the 'Consequences of the Partition of Palestine'. The total strength of the Arab forces in Palestine, the Army said, was 33,000, most of whom were members of poorly equipped 'quasi-military organizations'. The largest number of Arabs that would ever be mobilized against the Zionists was between 100,000 and 200,000, including soldiers from all the surrounding Arab states. In an all-out war, however, Army Intelligence estimated that the Jews could mobilize and arm with modern weapons some 200,000 men and women 'who have had some combat and supply experience at one time or another'..."
Although Palestinians outnumbered Jews by over 2 to 1, "Another Army ID document... showed Arab males only outnumber Jewish males in the 20-39 'military' age group by 149,000 to 121,000..."
"On May 13, the day before the end of the mandate, Secretary of State Marshall predicted in his 'Daily Report Palestine' that the combined Arab armies would be no match for the Haganah... the US Consul General reported:'Considerable doubt exists that Arab armies other than [Jordan's] Arab Legion will do more than cross Palestine frontiers and await developments'. And later: 'Jewish Agency would regard invasion of Palestine by Arab armies as releasing Agency from obligations of 29 November [Partition] resolution, replied that Ben Gurion had always said that main aim of Jews was to get all of Palestine'." [So much for Rabinovich's concluding paragraph: "In retrospect, the worst thing that could have happened to the Jewish state would have been Arab acceptance. Partition as envisioned by the UN would have left Israel with only a 50,000-person Jewish majority within its boundaries, a disparity that would have been reversed within a few years by the high Arab birthrate."]
"On May 18, four days after the [Arab] invasion, the Army Intelligence Division... summarized [the fighting thus]: 'Upon the termination of the British Mandate, the proclamation of the Jewish State was countered by the entry into Palestine of the regular armed forces of the Arab League States of Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. These forces... total some 20,000 men. The organized Arab guerillas already operating within Palestine number some 13,000. Opposing these forces are over 40,000 full-time Jewish troops, supported by some 50,000 militia.' The Jews had outnumbered the Arab forces, regular and irregular, by nearly 3 to 1."
Green concluded: "In books, movies, and TV shows in the 50s and 60s, the Jewish state was depicted as having defeated the Arabs against overwhelming odds, contrary to virtually every professional strength estimate of the opposing forces that was made at the time of the war itself."(pp 66-73)
If Rabinovich is correct, Morris' 1948 looks more like a throwback to Leon Uris' propaganda novel Exodus than the touted "significant work that is likely to become the standard account of the first Arab-Israeli war."