Irgun • Etzel
Irgun emblem. The map shows both Mandatory Palestine and the Emirate of Transjordan, which the Irgun claimed in its entirety for a future Jewish state. The acronym "Etzel" is written above the map, and "raq kach" ("only thus") is written below.
Disbanded11 June 1948
CountryYishuv, Mandatory Palestine
TypeParamilitary (pre-independence)
Unified armed forces (post-independence)
Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Avraham Tehomi, Menachem Begin

The Irgun (Hebrew: ארגון‬; full title: הארגון הצבאי הלאומי בארץ ישראלHā-ʾIrgun Ha-Tzvaʾī Ha-Leūmī b-Ērētz Yiśrāʾel, lit. "The National Military Organization in the Land of Israel") was a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the older and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (Hebrew: הגנה‬, Defence). When the group broke from the Haganah it became known as the Haganah Bet (Hebrew: literally "Defense 'B' " or "Second Defense", הגנה ב‬), or alternatively as haHaganah haLeumit (ההגנה הלאומית) or Hama'amad (המעמד‬).[1] Irgun members were absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. The Irgun is also referred to as Etzel (אצ"ל‬), an acronym of the Hebrew initials, or by the abbreviation IZL.

The Irgun policy was based on what was then called Revisionist Zionism founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. According to Howard Sachar, "The policy of the new organization was based squarely on Jabotinsky's teachings: every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state".[2]

Two of the operations for which the Irgun is best known are the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre, carried out together with Lehi on 9 April 1948.

The Irgun has been viewed as a terrorist organization or organization which carried out terrorist acts.[3][4][5][6] Specifically the organization "committed acts of terrorism and assassination against the British, whom it regarded as illegal occupiers, and it was also violently anti-Arab" according to the Encyclopædia Britannica.[7] In particular the Irgun was described as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, British, and United States governments; in media such as The New York Times newspaper;[8][9] as well as by the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry,[10][11] the 1946 Zionist Congress[12] and the Jewish Agency.[13] Irgun's tactics appealed to many Jews who believed that any action taken in the cause of the creation of a Jewish state was justified, including terrorism.[14]

The Irgun was a political predecessor to Israel's right-wing Herut (or "Freedom") party, which led to today's Likud party.[15] Likud has led or been part of most Israeli governments since 1977.

Nature of the movement

Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who formulated the movement's ideology and was Supreme Commander of the Etzel

Members of the Irgun came mostly from Betar and from the Revisionist Party both in Palestine and abroad. The Revisionist Movement made up a popular backing for the underground organization. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism, commanded the organization until he died in 1940. He formulated the general realm of operation, regarding Restraint and the end thereof, and was the inspiration for the organization overall. An additional major source of ideological inspiration was the poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg. The symbol of the organization, with the motto רק כך (only thus), underneath a hand holding a rifle in the foreground of a map showing both Mandatory Palestine and the Emirate of Transjordan (at the time, both were administered under the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine), implied that force was the only way to "liberate the homeland."[16]

The number of members of the Irgun varied from a few hundred to a few thousand. Most of its members were people who joined the organization's command,[clarification needed] under which they carried out various operations and filled positions, largely in opposition to British law. Most of them were "ordinary" people, who held regular jobs, and only a few dozen worked full-time in the Irgun.

The Irgun disagreed with the policy of the Yishuv and with the World Zionist Organization, both with regard to strategy and basic ideology and with regard to PR and military tactics, such as use of armed force to accomplish the Zionist ends, operations against the Arabs during the riots, and relations with the British mandatory government. Therefore, the Irgun tended to ignore the decisions made by the Zionist leadership and the Yishuv's institutions. This fact caused the elected bodies not to recognize the independent organization, and during most of the time of its existence the organization was seen[by whom?] as irresponsible, and its actions thus worthy of thwarting. Accordingly, the Irgun accompanied its armed operations with public-relations campaigns aiming to convince the public of the Irgun's way and the problems with the official political leadership of the Yishuv. The Irgun put out numerous advertisements, an underground newspaper and even ran the first independent Hebrew radio station – Kol Zion HaLochemet.

Structure, command, and organization

Irgun Commanders

As members of an underground armed organization, Irgun personnel did not normally call Irgun by its name, but rather used other names. In the first years of its existence it was known primarily as Ha-Haganah Leumit' (The National Defense), and also by names such as Haganah Bet ("Second Defense"), Irgun Bet ("Second Irgun"), the Parallel Organization and the Rightwing Organization. Later on[when?] it became most widely known as המעמד (the Stand). The anthem adopted by the Irgun was "Anonymous Soldiers",[21][22] written by Avraham (Yair) Stern who was at the time a commander in the Irgun. Later on Stern defected from the Irgun and founded Lehi, and the song became the anthem of the Lehi. The Irgun's new anthem then became the third verse of the "Betar Song", by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

The Irgun gradually evolved from its humble origins into a serious and well-organized paramilitary organization. The movement developed a hierarchy of ranks and a sophisticated command-structure, and came to demand serious military training and strict discipline from its members. It developed clandestine networks of hidden arms-caches and weapons-production workshops, safe-houses, and training camps.

The ranks of the Irgun were (in ascending order):

  • Khayal = (Private)
  • Segen Rosh Kvutza, Segen ("Deputy Group Leader", "Deputy") = Assistant Squad Leader (Lance Corporal)
  • Rosh Kvutza ("Group Leader") = Squad Leader (Corporal)
  • Samal ("Sergeant") = Section Leader (Sergeant)
  • Samal Rishon ("Sergeant First Class") = Brigade Leader (Platoon Sergeant)
  • Rav Samal ("Chief Sergeant") = Battalion Leader (Master Sergeant)
  • Gundar Sheni, Gundar ("Commander Second Class", "Commander") = District Commander (2nd Lieutenant)
  • Gundar Rishon ("Commander First Class") = Senior Branch Commander, Headquarters Staff (Lieutenant).

The Irgun was led by a High Command, which set policy and gave orders. Directly underneath it was a General Staff, which oversaw the activities of the Irgun. The General Staff was divided into a military and a support staff. The military staff was divided into operational units that oversaw operations and support units in charge of planning, instruction, weapons caches and manufacture, and first aid. The military and support staff never met jointly; they communicated through the High Command. Beneath the General Staff were six district commands: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa-Galilee, Southern, Sharon, and Shomron, each led by a district commander.[23] A local Irgun district unit was called a "Branch". A "brigade" in the Irgun was made up of three sections. A section was made up of two groups, at the head of each was a "Group Head", and a deputy. Eventually, various units were established, which answered to a "Center" or "Staff".

The head of the Irgun High Command was the overall commander of the organization, but the designation of his rank varied. During the revolt against the British, Irgun commander Menachem Begin and the entire High Command held the rank of Gundar Rishon. His predecessors, however, had held their own ranks. A rank of Military Commander (Seren) was awarded to the Irgun commander Yaakov Meridor and a rank of High Commander (Aluf) to David Raziel. Until his death in 1940, Jabotinsky was known as the "Military Commander of the Etzel" or the Ha-Matzbi Ha-Elyon ("Supreme Commander").

Under the command of Menachem Begin, the Irgun was divided into different corps:

  • Hayil Kravi (Combat Corps) – responsible for combat operations
  • Delek ("Gasoline") – the intelligence section; responsible for gathering and translating intelligence, and maintaining contact with local and foreign journalists
  • HAT (Planning Division) – responsible for planning activities
  • HATAM (Revolutionary Publicity Corps) – responsible for printing and disseminating propaganda

In theory, the Irgun was supposed[by whom?] to have a regular combat force, a reserve, and shock units, but in practice there were not enough personnel for a reserve or for a shock force.[23]

The Irgun emphasized that its fighters be highly disciplined. Strict drill exercises were carried out at ceremonies at different times, and strict attention was given to discipline, formal ceremonies and military relationships between the various ranks. The Irgun put out professional publications on combat doctrine, weaponry, leadership, drill exercises, etc. Among these publications were three books written by David Raziel, who had studied military history, techniques, and strategy:[24]

  • The Pistol (written in collaboration with Avraham Stern)
  • The Theory of Training
  • Parade Ground and Field Drill

A British analysis noted that the Irgun's discipline was "as strict as any army in the world."[25]

The Irgun operated a sophisticated recruitment and military-training regime. Those wishing to join had to find and make contact with a member, meaning only those who personally knew a member or were persistent could find their way in. Once contact had been established, a meeting was set up with the three-member selection committee at a safe-house, where the recruit was interviewed in a darkened room, with the committee either positioned behind a screen, or with a flashlight shone into the recruit's eyes. The interviewers asked basic biographical questions, and then asked a series of questions designed to weed out romantics and adventurers and those who had not seriously contemplated the potential sacrifices. Those selected attended a four-month series of indoctrination seminars in groups of five to ten, where they were taught the Irgun's ideology and the code of conduct it expected of its members. These seminars also had another purpose - to weed out the impatient and those of flawed purpose who had gotten past the selection interview. Then, members were introduced to other members, were taught the locations of safe-houses, and given military training. Irgun recruits trained with firearms, hand grenades, and were taught how to conduct combined attacks on targets. Arms handling and tactics courses were given in clandestine training camps, while practice shooting took place in the desert or by the sea. Eventually, separate training camps were established for heavy-weapons training. The most rigorous course was the explosives course for bomb-makers, which lasted a year.[23] The British authorities believed that some Irgun members enlisted in the Jewish section of the Palestine Police Force for a year as part of their training, during which they also passed intelligence.[25] In addition to the Irgun's sophisticated training program, many Irgun members were veterans of the Haganah (including the Palmach), the British Armed Forces, and Jewish partisan groups that had waged guerrilla warfare in Nazi-occupied Europe, thus bringing significant military training and combat experience into the organization.[25] The Irgun also operated a course for its intelligence operatives, in which recruits were taught espionage, cryptography, and analysis techniques.[25]

Of the Irgun's members, almost all were part-time members. They were expected to maintain their civilian lives and jobs, dividing their time between their civilian lives and underground activities. There were never more than 40 full-time members, who were given a small expense stipend on which to live on.[23] Upon joining, every member received an underground name. The Irgun's members were divided into cells, and worked with the members of their own cells. The identities of Irgun members in other cells were withheld. This ensured that an Irgun member taken prisoner could betray no more than a few comrades.

In addition to the Irgun's members in Palestine, underground Irgun cells composed of local Jews were established in Europe following World War II. An Irgun cell was also established in Shanghai, home to many European-Jewish refugees. The Irgun also set up a Swiss bank account. Eli Tavin, the former head of Irgun intelligence, was appointed commander of the Irgun abroad.[23]

In November 1947, the Jewish insurgency came to an end as the UN approved of the partition of Palestine, and the British had announced their intention to withdraw the previous month. As the British left and the 1947-48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine got underway, the Irgun came out of the underground and began to function more as a standing army rather an underground organization. It began openly recruiting, training, and raising funds, and established bases, including training facilities. It also introduced field communications and created a medical unit and supply service.[26][27]

Until World War II the group armed itself with weapons purchased in Europe, primarily Italy and Poland, and smuggled to Palestine. The Irgun also established workshops that manufactured spare parts and attachments for the weapons. Also manufactured were land mines and simple hand grenades. Another way in which the Irgun armed itself was theft of weapons from the British Police and military.

Other Languages
български: Иргун
català: Irgun
čeština: Irgun
dansk: Irgun
español: Irgún
Esperanto: Irgun
euskara: Irgun
français: Irgoun
galego: Irgun
한국어: 이르군
hrvatski: Irgun
Bahasa Indonesia: Irgun
kurdî: Irgûn
Nederlands: Etsel
日本語: エツェル
norsk: Irgun
norsk nynorsk: Irgun
português: Irgun
русский: Иргун
Simple English: Irgun
سنڌي: ارگون
slovenčina: Irgun
slovenščina: Irgun
српски / srpski: Иргун
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Irgun
suomi: Irgun
svenska: Irgun
Türkçe: Irgun
українська: Ірґун цваї леумі
ייִדיש: אצ"ל
中文: 伊尔贡