Operation Yiftach

Operation Yiftach

Military Operation
Operation Yiftach
Start Date
15 April 1948
End Date
25 May 1948
Zionist Unit(s)
Yiftach Brigade
Arab Unit(s)
Lebanese Forces
Syrian Forces

Operation Yiftach fell within the guidelines of Plan Dalet and was masterminded by Palmach commander Yigal Allon. The Palmach launched Yiftach between mid-April and late May 1948 to gain control of eastern Galilee before the end of the British Mandate on 15 May. It succeeded in occupying the whole area (including the panhandle) and "cleansing" it of its inhabitants. The Palmach's First Battalion spearheaded the operation. Palestinians in eastern Galilee who had not fled despite attacks or intimidation were expelled as soon as their villages or towns were occupied. All Palestinian villages in eastern Galilee were depopulated and many of them were destroyed. Safad, the major town in the district, was also depopulated.

Zionist forces inaugurated Operation Yiftach with an attack on the village of al-Nabi Yusha', which lay about midway between the city and Abil al-Qamh. When the British evacuated the area around al-Nabi Yusha' on 15 April, the police station in this village was commandeered by units of the Arab Liberation Army and other militiamen. On 17 April, Zionist troops attacked and seized the village and its police station, which became the headquarters for the operation. The Jewish settlement of Dafna also became an important military center; it was one of the launching pads for forays into Syria undertaken by Zionist forces during this period.

The leader of the operation, Yigal Allon, did not hide his desire to drive the residents out of the area. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, he wrote later: "We regarded it as imperative to cleanse the interior of the Galilee and create Jewish territorial continuity in the whole of Upper Galilee." According to Morris, he justified this on security grounds: "clearing the area [eastern Galilee] completely of all Arab forces and inhabitants was the simplest and best way of securing the frontier." In his report to the Haganah General Staff on 22 April, Allon recommended "an attempt to clear out the beduins encamped between the Jordan [River], and Jubb Yusuf and the Sea of Galilee." By this time Operation Yiftach had already begun.

Allon achieved his aims partly by direct attack and partly by using a campaign of psychological warfare. He devised a "whispering campaign" to intimidate villagers in eastern Galilee into fleeing: "I gathered the Jewish mukhtars, who had ties with different [local] Arab villages," Allon wrote, "and I asked them to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that giant Jewish reinforcements had reached the Galilee and were about to clean out the villages of the Hula [and] to advise them, as friends, to flee while they could." The "whispering campaign" was implemented between 10 and 15 May, during Operation Yiftach, and precipitated the flight of 18 percent of the population of the Galilee panhandle.

One of the main objectives of Operation Yiftach was to seize control of the city of Safad, the major population center in northeastern Palestine. In the spring of 1948, Zionist forces prepared for assaults on Safad and on another city, Tiberias, by launching devastating attacks on adjacent villages; these attacks demoralized the cities to be occupied. The village of Akbara was chosen, in early May 1948, to serve as an example to the people of Safad. On 9 May, units of the Palmach's First Battalion attacked Akbara in order to "create among the Arabs of Safad a feeling that they were about to be surrounded and would be unable to flee," according to the operational orders. The final assault on Safad took place on 10-11 May 1948, and with the fall of the city, the residents of several villages in the district reportedly left out of fright.

After the occupation of Safad on 11 May 1948, the units participating in Operation Yiftach were ordered to move northwards and block all routes for the entry of Lebanese and Syrian forces into the country before 15 May. On the night of 14-15 May, the Palmach's First Battalion advanced on Qadas and the neighboring al-Malikiyya, according to the History of the Haganah. Qadas fell into their hands by the morning, but Lebanese units crossed the border later that day and mounted a large counteroffensive, forcing the Palmach to withdraw from the village. However, the Lebanese forces were stopped in their tracks at Qadas and advanced no further, because of their heavy losses during the operation and the simultaneous Israeli raids on targets within Lebanese territory. By 25 May Operation Yiftach came to an end.


Selected bibliography

The New York Times. 12 May 1948, 8 June 1948.

Dinur, Ben-Zion, Yehuda Slutski, Sha'ul Avigur, Yitzchaq Ben-Tzvi, and Yisra'el Galili. Sefer Toldot ha-Haganah [The History of the Haganah]. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1972, pp. 1580-81, 1596.

Israeli Ministry of Defense. Toldot Milchemet ha-Qomemiyyut [The History of the War of Independence]. Tel Aviv: Marakhot, 1959, pp. 173-76, 184, 325-26.

Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. 75, xiv-xv, 103-4, 120-24, n. 203, 326.

al-Qawuqji, Fawzi. "Memoirs, 1948. Part One.Journal of Palestine Studies I (4): 27-58. "Memoirs, 1948. Part Two.Journal of Palestine Studies II (1): 3-33, 1972, p. 34.