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Operation Hiram

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Operation Hiram: (Mivza Hiram) - IDF operation in Israel War of Independence to break the siege on Israeli communities by troops of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) led by Fawzi el Kaukji, and in particular to bring succor to Manara. The operation began October 28 1948 and was spearheaded by General Carmeli

Kaukji's forces had entered Palestine illegally during the mandate. By this time they had been reduced to about 3,100 troops, by one estimate ref , or perhaps about 1,500 - 2,000 in rather poor condition (Gelber 2006, page 221) and divided into 3 reduced brigades. Yarmuk brigade included Lebanese and other volunteers and operated in the hills south of the Acco-Safed road. Yarmuk 2 was deployed against Safed between Miron and Sasa, and Yarmuk 3 held the western side of the pocket, based in Tarshicha. Additionally, there were about 900 Palestinian irregular troops. Kaukji did not feel bound by the UN imposed cease fires and continued to carry out local attacks during the months of the cease fire.

On October 22, Kaukji began a surprise attack with his reorganized forces on Kibbutz Manara, located on the western hills overlooking the "finger" of the Galilee. They took the strongpoint of Sheikh Abed between Manara and Misgav Am and repelled attacks of local IDF units and ambushed reinforcements rushed to the aid of Manara. Notably, the Carmeli brigade lost 33 dead and 40 wounded (Gelber, 2006, p 223). Manara and Misgav Am were cut off, and there was a fear that the situation would deteriorate further. Israel's protests in the UN were futile and did not change the situation.

On the night of October 28, IDF launched operation Hiram, named after the king of Tyre who had been an ally of king David and king Solomon. The mission was defined as "Destroy the enemy in the central Galilee pocket, gain control of the entire Galilee and put in place a defense line at the northern border of the country.

The operation had been meticulously planned in August of 1948 by the staff of the northern front under the command of Moshe Carmel. 

 Instead of attacking the point of attack chosen by Kaukji, operation Hiram was carried out as a pincer movement, with the pincers meeting at Sasa close to the Lebanese border, and enclosing the Arab pocket in the Galilee. The operation was carried out by four brigades (these were not full strength brigades but probably included about three battalions at this time): Seventh brigade commanded by the Canadian MACHAL volunteer Ben Dunkleman, including an armored brigade, Oded brigade, Golani and Carmeli. In addition a unit of Haifa militia or "guard" were included. Oded brigade included a platoon of Druze and Seventh brigade  included a platoon of Circassians. These two brigades carried the brunt of the attack, with secondary tasks for the others, who were deployed against the possibility of a Syrian or Iraqi attack.

Map of Operation Hiram

The main thrust was carried out by Seventh brigade, which operated out of Safed and conquered Mt. Meiron and Meiron junction. The advance of the armored battalion of Seventh brigade  into the depths of the mountainous Galilee following up on the first successful attack, was decisive for the success of the operation. On October 29 the brigade conquered Safsaf, (today the Safsufa Moshav) and Jish (considered to be the site of Gush Halav described by Josephus Flavius) and on the following day the village of Sasa was conquered by Seventh brigade and Oded brigade. The battle that took place nearby was the most important in the operation, and it the course of the battle the battalion sent as reinforcements by the Syrian army was destroyed. The village of Sasa itself surrendered without resistance, though later rumors spread of Israeli atrocities in Sasa, Eilaboun and some other villages.

Golani brigade forces initially moved out of Ilaniya (Sejera) northwest to Eilabun as a diversionary move, but were stopped before reaching the village, which they captured only on October 30 at dawn. Kaukji ordered delaying tactics, which became a general retreat after the conquest of Miron junction by the IDF. The ALA escaped north to Lebanon by a route that was evidently unknown to the IDF and got its entire force to Lebanese territory in the course of two days.

Operation Hiram - preparing for attack on Safsufa
Preparing for attack on Safsufa Commander Moshe Carmel

Golani moved north from Eilabun to capture Maghar and later Ar-Rama, and from there continued west to Majd el Krum, where they met the Haifa guard forces who had arrive from the west. Additional Golani forces captured Peki'in in the same day. Oded brigade that had been originally stalled in the Tarshicha area, captured the village without a fight on the 30th of October, and then moved east following the ALA. The next day, they took control of the entire northern road between Kibbutz Eilon and Sasa, and reached Ras an Naqoura without a fight. On October 31, Seventh brigade captured Malkiyeh and continued north of the Lebanese border.

Carmeli brigade's mission was initially holding back the Syrian army in the Mishmar Hayarden region and defense of Manara. However, with the withdrawal of Kaukji, central command decided to exploit the success, and Carmeli attacked from the region of Manara and Misgav Am beyond the Lebanese border, with the help of the Seventh Brigade. During this coordinated attack, both brigades reached the Litani river, conquering 14 Lebanese villages that were evacuated as part of the Israeli Lebanese armistice in March of 1949.

Operation Hiram - Arabs surrendering

Operation Hiram: Attack on Sasa

Arabs surrendering

Attack on Sasa

After October 31 the entire Galilee was under the control of the IDF, save for the Mishmar Hayarden pocket held by Syria. The entire operation was complete in 60 hours. The Arab dead in operation Hiram are estimated at about 400, half of whom belonged to the Syrian battalion that was ambushed. About 550 prisoners were captured as well as a lot of equipment. Israeli casualties were apparently negligible and are not given. The ALA finally began to disintegrate and its troops deserted and returned home. Operation Hiram was the last and largest of the IDF initiatives in the northern front during the First Arab-Israel war.

In the framework of Operation Hiram, IDF forces conquered the villages of Ikrit and Birim among others, and after taking over, the security authorities required the villagers to leave their homes "for security reasons" with the promise that they could return when quiet returned to the north. However, the promise was not fulfilled, and the fight of these villagers to return to their lands continues to this day. They were offered, but refused, alternative compensation.

Controversy over Ethnic Cleansing in Operation Hiram

A large number of Arabs left or were expelled during operation Hiram. Arabs have claimed that there were massacres and rapes in several villages and Benny Morris (1999, 2004) has claimed that there were two somewhat contradictory telegrams from Operational Commander Carmeli calling for ethnic cleansing. The telegrams however, were both sent on October 31, after all the alleged massacres and the flight of the Arabs had taken place. Morris admits that in fact there was no systematic ethnic cleansing and many of the villages remained intact. ref  Villages like Jish, Maghar, Tarshihah and Majdl Krum among others, remained more or less intact. Had there been a general order to expel Arabs, that would have been impossible. Moreover, Israel was making allies among the non-Jewish population, including the Druze and Circassians. A policy of random violence would not have been conducive to making allies.

Numerous massacres are alleged by Morris, some "documented" by testimony of Arab witnesses. He told journalist Ari Shavit:

About half of the acts of massacre were part of Operation Hiram [in the north, in October 1948]: at Safsaf, Saliha, Jish, Eilaboun, Arab al Muwasi, Deir al Asad, Majdal Krum, Sasa. In Operation Hiram there was a unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion.

"That can't be chance. It's a pattern. Apparently, various officers who took part in the operation understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads. The fact is that no one was punished for these acts of murder. Ben-Gurion silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres."

What you are telling me here, as though by the way, is that in Operation Hiram there was a comprehensive and explicit expulsion order. Is that right?

"Yes. One of the revelations in the book is that on October 31, 1948, the commander of the Northern Front, Moshe Carmel, issued an order in writing to his units to expedite the removal of the Arab population. Carmel took this action immediately after a visit by Ben-Gurion to the Northern Command in Nazareth. There is no doubt in my mind that this order originated with Ben-Gurion. ref 

Morris does not explain how an order issued on October 31 could have been responsible for massacres that allegedly took place on October 29.

Ralph Lowenstein, an American volunteer in '48, and now a professor of Journalism at the University of Florida tells a different story. Prof. Lowenstein was a young half-track driver in the 79th Battalion of the 7th Brigade, the formation that spearheaded Operation Hiram:

“I never saw anything like this, either while it was allegedly going on or after it had transpired. After the mixed Christian/Muslim town of Jish, the first place we attacked, I did see virtually every Arab village on a line between Safad and Kadesh on the Lebanese border during Operation Hiram, and the pattern was: villages occupied by Christian Arabs unharmed; Muslim villages deserted, long before any Israeli troops got there.

There were rumors at the time that a massacre had occurred in one village, and a week after we had returned from combat a directive in English and Hebrew was distributed to each army post mentioning such rumors and warning of the dire consequences to any enlisted person or officer who could be convicted of engaging in such incidents. There were no rumors of rape or ethnic cleansing, only of one isolated massacre committed in the heat of battle.” ref 

This is not proof positive that there were no massacres, but it is indicative of the attitude of at least some of the Israeli forces. Indeed, a force of four brigades would have had no trouble expelling all civilians in an orderly manner had they been ordered to do so, so there was no rationale for allowing massacres. The Seventh brigade was commanded by Ben Dunkleman. Dunkleman had also commanded the Seventh brigade in Operation Dekel, in July when orders were given, apparently by Carmel, to expel the population of Nazareth. Dunkleman allegedly refused and was eventually backed by David Ben-Gurion. Most of the alleged massacres occurred in the area conquered by Seventh brigade. It is hardly credible that having refused expulsion orders in Nazareth, Dunkleman would have permitted massacres in Operation Hiram.

But we must accept that there at least some massacres nonetheless. Historian Yoav Gelber wrote:

Amidst arbitrary handling of the civilian population's affairs, several massacres occurred during the HIRAM campain in Galilee and in south Lebanon, accompanied by raping and looting. Returning from his visit to the region, [Ya'akov] Shimoni ascribed them to the absence of policy and clear directives.32 Unlike previous ocacasions, soldiers in various units protested against their comrades' behaviour and, sometimes, against conduct of their superiors. The officers on the spot took immediate steps to stop the outrages and prevent their recurrence, threatening perpetrators with court martial if similar cases would occur in the future.33

Word of HIRAM's atrocities spread rapidly among the troops and reached the General Staff and the Provisional Government. Initially, the stories ascribed the outrages to the Druze unit and a certain company composed of former IZL members. These allegations...were false. Several sub-units of two brigades were involved in these killings, and none of them had any unique social or political characteristics.34

Following consultations with the Minister of Justice and the General Prosecutor, Ben-Gurion ordered an investiagtion into the massacres at four villages: Salakhiya, Safsaf and Jih in Galilee and Hula in Lebanon... The investigation did not yield unequivocal findings. The investigating officer, Emmanuel Vilensky (Yalan), visited the sites and questioned commanders and staff officers. They claimed that the events took place in the midst of combat, while expecting enemy's counter-attacks, or due to the troops' difficulties in discerning between ALA soldiers and civilians. Senior commanders fully backed their subordinates and denied that undisciplined behaviour on the troop's part had been the cause for these outrages. Nonetheless, at least in one case an officer was court-martialed and sentenced to several years' imprisonment. (Gelber, 2006 p 226).

It is thus not entirely true that the Ben-Gurion silenced the matter, as Morris asserts, or that there were no punishments, and it is not so likely that Ben-Gurion was responsible for expulsion orders. The investigative procedure however, was less than satisfactory to say the least. Gelber goes on to relate that other instances were apparently covered up, especially a massacre in Eilabun that was revenge for beheading of an IDF soldier. He also explains why less villagers fled than in previous campaigns. 

Ami Isseroff

Updated Aug 28, 2009

References and bibliography

Gelber, Yoav, Palestine 1948: War, Escape And The Emergence Of The Palestinian Refugee Problem, Sussex Academic Press, 2006

IDF, Operation Hiram (Hebrew) 

Morris, Benny (1999) "Operation Hiram Revisited: A Correction" Institute for Palestine Studies V. 28, no. 2 (Win. 99): 68-76.

Morris, Benny (2004) The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shavit, Ari, Survival of the Fittest: interview with Benny Morris, Haaretz,

YNET Encylopedia, Operation Hiram (Hebrew)


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:  See also 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het ) . In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

chh - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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