Reprisal operations

Reprisal operations
Part of the Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency (during Arab–Israeli conflict)
Middle East
ResultIsraeli victory


Supported by:
Egypt Kingdom of Egypt
Syria Syrian Republic
Commanders and leaders
David Ben-Gurion
Moshe Sharett
Levi Eshkol
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Hafez al-Assad
Hussein bin Talal
Casualties and losses
400–967 civilians and soldiers killed during this period by fedayeen attacks (1951–55)[1][2]2,700–5,000 Arab soldiers and Palestinians* killed by retribution operations (1951–55)[3]
  • Both guerrillas and civilians

Reprisal operations (Hebrew: פעולות התגמול‬, Pe'ulot HaTagmul) were raids carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in the 1950s and 1960s in response to frequent fedayeen attacks during which armed Arab militants infiltrated Israel from Syria, Egypt and Jordan to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. Most of the reprisal operations followed raids that resulted in Israeli fatalities.[4] The goal of these operations was to create deterrence and prevent future attacks. Two other factors behind the raids were restoring public morale and training newly formed army units.[5]

Background: 1949–1956

Reprisal operations were carried out following raids by armed infiltrators into Israel during the entire period from 1948 Arab–Israeli War until October 1956. Most of Reprisal operations followed raids that resulted in Israeli fatalities.[4] From 1949 to 1954 the reprisal operations were directed against Jordan. In 1954 the Jordanian authorities decided to curb the infiltration due to fierce Israeli activity, and the cross-border infiltration from Jordan substantially declined, along with the number of victims. The IDF stopped the reprisals against Jordan from September of that year.[4]

From 1949 there were infiltrations from Gaza strip under Egyptian control, and the Egyptian authorities tried to curb them.[4] The Egyptian republican regime told Israel during secret talks that such acts as the blockade and armed infiltration were political necessities for Egypt and Israel had to accept it.[6] From February 1954, Egyptian soldiers opened fire against Israeli border patrols, and infiltrators from the Gaza Strip planted mines on the patrol routes, on top of the conventional infiltrations. However, Moshe Sharet, the Israeli prime minister, did not authorize reprisal attacks against Egypt.[4] In mid 1954 a senior Egyptian military intelligence in the Gaza Strip reported: "The main objective of the military presence along the armistice line is to prevent infiltration, but the Palestinian troops encourage the movement of infiltrators and carry out attacks along the line."[7]

In 1955 Ben Gurion returned to the government, and a reprisal operation against an Egyptian military camp near Gaza was authorized, after a murder of an Israeli civilian in the center of Israel was committed by Egyptian intelligence agents. In the operation the IDF lost eight soldiers, and the Egyptians 38 soldiers. Later Nasser claimed that this operation motivated the Czech arms deal, although Egypt had previously signed arms contracts with Czechoslovakia (which never materialized).[8] Nasser refused to order his army to stop firing at Israeli patrols. Moreover, this shooting was intensified after the Gaza raid.[9] According to Israeli casualty statistics, 7 or 8 Israelis were killed by infiltrators from Gaza annually from 1951 to 1954, with a dramatic rise to 48 in 1955.[10]

Ben Gurion continued to adhere to the status quo and followed the terms of the armistice regime,[11] but in September 1955 Egypt tightened its blockade of the Straits of Tiran, closed the air space over the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli aircraft, initiated fedayeen attacks against the Israeli population across the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, and announced the Czech arms deal.[12] However, with the revelation of the Czech arms deal, Ben Gurion believed that Nasser now possessed the tools with which to put his aggressive intentions into practice. Ben Gurion therefore attempted to provoke a preemptive war with Egypt.[11]

From December 1955 to February 1956 the Egyptians clamped down on "civilian" infiltration into Israel, yet their soldiers frequently fired across the line at Israeli patrols.[13]

Some infiltration activities were initiated by Palestinian Arab refugees who were ostensibly looking for relatives, returning to their homes, recovering possessions, tending to their fields, collecting their crops, as well as exacting revenge.[14][15] Half of Jordan's prison population at the time consisted of people arrested for attempting to return to, or illegally enter, Israeli territory, but the number of complaints filed by Israel over infiltrations from the West Bank show a considerable reduction, from 233 in the first nine months of 1952, to 172 for the same period in 1953, immediately before the Qibya attack. This marked reduction was in good part the result of increased Jordanian efficiency in patrolling.[15] According to some Israeli sources, between June 1949 and the end of 1952, a total of 57 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed by Palestinian infiltrators from the West Bank and Jordan. The Israeli death toll for the first nine months of 1953 was 32.[16] During roughly the same time period (November 1950 – November 1953), the Mixed Armistice Commission condemned Israeli raids 44 times.[15] Furthermore, during the same period, 1949–1953, Jordan maintained that it had suffered 629 killed and injured stemming from Israeli incursions and cross-border bombings.[15] UN sources for the period, based on the documentation at General Bennike's disposal (prepared by Commander E H Hutchison USNR),[17] lower both estimates.[18][clarification needed]

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