(Picture depicts the attack that the Irgun 'terrorist' group undertook in 1946 against British assets in Jerusalem)
This is an excellent article written by Correlli Barnett, a military historian at Churchill College. This man witnessed what he calls the first terrorism in the Middle East.
ISRAEL WAS FORGED THROUGH ASSASSINATION AND KIDNAPPINGS
DAILY MAIL (London)
July 21, 2006
By Correlli Barnett
Several of my good friends are American, but this does not inhibit me from criticising George W. Bush's catastrophically misguided invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, I have good friends who are Jewish, but this will not inhibit me from criticising the current 'total war' being waged on Lebanon by the Israeli state. The fact that some of my Jewish friends will read this article only makes me the more sad that I have to say, as a military historian, that this war is grotesquely out of proportion to the level of casualties and damage previously inflicted on Israel by Hezbollah. It is likewise grotesquely out of proportion to the taking hostage of two Israeli soldiers -- as are the ferocious Israeli attacks inside the Gaza strip in response to the taking hostage of just one soldier.
Certainly, Israel has the right to defend herself today as she has done successfully in the past. But surely her response to Hamas and Hezbollah should have been limited and precisely targeted rather than a version of the 'shock and awe' bombing which opened the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Israeli government should have learned that 'shock and awe' may only be a prelude to a protracted guerilla war. During the long and bitter struggle against the IRA in Northern Ireland, it never occurred to any British government that the IRA bases and arms dumps within the Irish Republic should be bombed by the Royal Air Force, let alone that whole districts of Irish cities like Drogheda known to harbour IRA terrorists should be destroyed. Equally, it has never occurred to a Spanish government that it would be right and proper to respond to the lethal, indiscriminate attacks by ETA (the Basque terrorist organisation) by savagely bombing and rocketing San Sebastian and other Basque cities.
Why should Israel regard herself as a p r i v i l e g e d exception? Why should 'the West' in general -- and Bush and Blair in particular -- also regard her as a privileged exception, rightfully entitled to conduct a savage total war in response to Hezbollah attacks no worse than those of the IRA and ETA? These questions are the more pertinent because Israel herself was born out of a terrorist struggle in 1945-48 against Britain, which then ruled Palestine under a United Nations mandate.
The so-called Stern Gang (after its founder, Abraham Stern) specialised in assassination, its most famous victim being Lord Moyne, the Colonial Secretary, shot in Cairo in 1944. But by far the most dangerous Jewish terrorist group was the Irgun Zvei Leumi (National Military Organisation) led by Menachem Begin, who after the creation of the state of Israel founded the Likud political party, and even finished up as prime minister. The group's propaganda stated its political aims with brutal clarity. First, what it called 'the Nazo-British occupation forces' must be driven out of Palestine. Then a Jewish state would be established embracing the whole of Palestine and Transjordan (as Jordan was then known). Too bad about the native population of Arabs, of course.
The group's logo, displayed on the fly-posters which I myself saw as a soldier in Palestine in 1946-47, showed a crude map of Palestine and Transjordan with an arm holding a rifle splayed across it. The Irgun's successful attacks included the demolition in 1946 of the wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem housing the secretariat of the British mandatory government and also the HQ of British troops in Palestine -- at a cost of 91 lives, Jewish, Arab and British, most of them civilians (for more info on this attack, click here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_David_Hotel_bombing) . Another 'success' was the blowing-up of the Officers' Club in Jerusalem in March 1947. I saw the corpses lying on slabs in the morgue, spittle still bubbling out of their mouths. In combat with a terrorist group perhaps some 3,000 strong, a maximum of 100,000 British troops was deployed in a country about the size of Wales. There was a lesson here for George W. Bush and Tony Blair before their invasion of Iraq -- but of course a lesson unheeded by men with no interest in history.
In July 1947, the Irgun Zvei Leumi kidnapped two British Intelligence Corps sergeants as hostages to trade against the lives of three Irgun terrorists under sentence of death for an attack on Acre jail. Here is an exact parallel to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. But unlike the savage reaction of Ehud Olmert's government today, the British government in 1947 did not seek to apply pressure to the kidnappers by ordering the RAF to destroy large parts of Tel Aviv, and the Royal Artillery to bombard selected Jewish settlements suspected of being bases for the Irgun. In the event, the three Jewish terrorists were hanged -- and the Irgun in turn strung up the two British sergeants from a tree in an orange grove and booby-trapped their bodies.
Yet even then it did not occur to the British authorities to impose the kind of savage collective punishment that Olmert's government is now visiting on the Arabs of Gaza and southern Lebanon. A notice posted by the Irgun proclaimed that the two sergeants had been hanged because they were 'members of the British criminal-terrorist organisation known as the British Army of Occupation in Palestine', responsible for the murder of men, women, children and prisoners of war. The so- called 'murdered prisoners of war' were in fact terrorists hanged after due trial.This Irgun proclamation signed off with the warning: 'We shall revenge the blood of the prisoners of war who have been murdered, by actions of war against the enemy, by blows which we shall inflict on his head.' So blood- thirstily selfrighteous is the language of this long proclamation that it could just as easily have been written today by Hezbollah or Hamas or Al-Qaeda. The sacred cause may be different, but the language and the type of mind behind it remain the same.In the event, Jewish terrorism against the British finally succeeded. All attempts to negotiate a future for Palestine which balanced Jewish interests against those of the majority Arab population came to nothing. A project for a single state with Jewish and Arab cantons was rejected by the Arabs. An Arab proposal for a single state based on the existing Arab majority and a limit on future Jewish immigration was rejected by Jewish leaders. A two- state solution, proposed by a UN commission and favoured by Washington, was in turn rejected by the Labour Government, who rightly feared that it would be British troops who would have to impose the settlement on one side or the other -- or perhaps on both.
This, the chiefs of staff warned, would require two extra divisions on top of the two already in Palestine. With the Irgun campaign of bombing still going on, and the tally of British casualties mounting, Clement Attlee's Cabinet had quite simply had enough. They refused to impose the UN plan, and instead opted for unconditional withdrawal, even at the cost of (in the words of Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary) 'a period of bloodshed and chaos'. Another lesson here for Tony Blair in regard to Iraq? So Britain handed the mandate back to the UN and announced that British rule in Palestine would end in spring 1948. As it duly did. In the last months of the mandate, the security situation dissolved into three-cornered violence -- Jew versus British and Arab; Arab versus Jew and British; British versus both.
By the time the last British force had left, this violence had degenerated into anarchic civil war between Jew and Arab. It was just the prelude to the full-scale war between the new state of Israel and neighbouring Arab regimes wanting to extinguish it. The war ended in the successful conquest by Israel of the larger part of Palestine, and a tidal wave of Arab refugees into Lebanon and Jordan. Here is the origin of today's bitter Arab resentment of Israeli hegemony -- a resentment which powers Hamas and Hezbollah as they follow the path of terrorism first mapped out by the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvei Leumi in the 1940s.
CORRELLI BARNETT is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.