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,
...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
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
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
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
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
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