Operation Yoav  (October 15-22 1948) was a military operation of the IDF in the 1948-49 Israel War of Independence with the strategic aim of destroying the Egyptian military expedition in Israel and opening the road to the Negev. It was only partially successful. The operation was originally called "10 plagues." It was renamed Yoav in honor of a Haganah member who fell in defense of Kibbutz Negba.  The chief accomplishments of operation Yoav were the capture of Beersheva and the isolation of a part of the eastern arm of the Egyptian expeditionary force in an area around Iraq el Sueidan (Qiriat Gat) and Faluja (Plugot) - known as the Faluja pocket.

The Egyptians had invaded Israel and effectively cut off the Negev, due to be part of Israel under the partition plan, from the rest of the country. The Negev included over 50% of the land area of the new state. In the light of Egyptian success, and despite the principle of non-acquisition of territory by military force, the Bernadotte Plan awarded the Negev to the Arabs, and there was a clear danger that it would be adopted. By this time, the extent of Israeli military superiority was evident, and the UN was careful to impose cease fire agreements in accordance with the convenience of the Arab side. 

The operation was carried out pursuant to a government decision of October 6. The original intent was to open the road to the Negev, but commander Yigal Allon broadened the aim to include the defeat and destruction of the Egyptian forces in Israel. This latter goal was not achieved. The operation was part of a broader effort to capture the south and the Negev, and an overall strategic concept which sought to deal first with the southern and northern fronts, and then to capture Jerusalem and the Hebron area after securing the wings. This grand concept was frustrated by political developments and by the still limited resources of the IDF. Operation Yoav was one of the largest IDF operations to date. It put into play the concept of separate regional fronts or operational theaters that had evolved in the IDF in August of 1948, and it involved coordinated attacks by several divisions as well as air attacks.

The government decision of October 6 noted that the operation could not be carried out in defiance of the UN, and it assumed that the Jordanians would not attack, allowing the use of resources from the Jerusalem and central front. The Negev, Givati, Yiftach, Harel and Oded Brigades participated, as well as a battalion of the Eighth Armored brigade, a large artillery force, the Israel navy and the 69th air squadron (B-17 Flying Fortresses) and other IAF units. The map shows the approximate deployment of forces.

Operation Yoav - Overview Map

On the 15th, after notifying the UN, a convoy was sent through to the Negev in order to provoke an incident. Under the truce agreement, the Egyptians were supposed to allow such convoys to pass. After sufficient provocation, the Egyptians duly fired on the convoy, providing an sufficient reason for violating the truce. 

Yigal Allon gave several lectures on the conception of operation Yoav, strategic aspects and the history. He was quite frank about the use of the convoy as an excuse for breaking the truce. Allon noted that the Egyptian deployment, while formidable in some aspects, was also very strange. The positions in the northern Negev had no strategic depth and they suffered from very extended and exposed supply lines. The strategy took advantage of the situation of the Egyptian situation to isolate a part of the Egyptian force in the eastern area of the country.

Yigal Allon (right at microphone) in 1949. The bearded gentleman behind him was Yitzhak Sadeh.

On the evening of October 15, Gaza, Majdal and Beith Hanun were bombed, and part of the Air Force at El-Arish was put out of action by Israel's two B-17s. This kept most of the Egyptian  fighters out of the skies and gave the IDF air superiority. The commando battalion of the “Yiftach” Brigade mined the railway between El-Arish and Rafah and various roads in the Rafah-Gaza area, and attacked Egyptian installations and camps. At the same time, two battalions of the “Givati” Brigade forced a wedge southwards to the east of Iraq El-Manshiyeh, thus cutting the road between Faluja and Beit Guvrin.

On the morning of 16 October, a tank battalion of the 8th Armored Brigade, along with the seventh infantry battalion of the 'Negev' Brigade, launched a major attack against El-Manshiyeh  to open the corridor to the south-east. The attackers had no experience in attacking fortified positions of that kind. The attempt failed, four Hotchkiss tanks were destroyed and the force suffered heavy losses.

Yigal Allon decided to focus instead on the area that became known as "Givati Juncion" to achieve a breakthough there. The next night, Givati brigade units attacked west of Faluja, fighting their key battles at Hill 113 and nearby Egyptian strongholds known as the junction positions dominating the crossroads between Majdal and Faluja. After a fierce hand-to-hand battle (including biting!), Hills 113 and 100 were captured, and a day later the junction positions and Kaukaba were taken, driving a wedge between the eastern and western parts of the Egyptian army.

The detailed map below shows the wide operations that were part of Yoav. They  included parts of south central Israel then controlled by the Egyptians, and in later phases, reached Beersheva. 

Map - Operation Yoav, IDF 1948

Given the probable reimposition of a cease fire in a few days, Allon realized that he had little time to open the road to the Negev. He ordered the Givat” Brigade to attack the formidable Huleiqat defense system south on October 19-20. The attack  was successful in capturing the fortifications after bitter fighting. The road to the Negev was now open. At 4:00 on the morning of October 21,  mounted by major elements of the 8th Brigade, the Negev Beasts commando battalion and two other battalions of the 'Negev' Brigade began the attack on Beersheva. Some of the units took up blocking positions north and south of the town to hold up Egyptian reinforcements, and one carried out a diversionary action in the direction of Hebron to the north. After fierce fighting, the battalion strength Egyptian garrison broke and, by 09:00 hrs that morning, Beersheba surrendered to Israeli forces. The local inhabitants fled as the Israeli army entered the town.

Captured Egyptian anti-tank gun entering Beersheva with Negev Beasts commandos.

The eastern part of the Egyptian Army was now divided into several isolated forces with brigades in Rafah-Gaza Majdal and Faluja. The last, the Faluja pocket, was  a brigade under the command of the Sudanese Brig. Gen. Taba Bey with operations officer Maj. Gamal Abdel Nasser. It was surrounded with all its main supply lines cut, but refused to surrender. An additional two battalions were cut off in the Harel campaign theater in the area between Hebron and Jerusalem.

The Israel Navy took part in the southern part of the operation, shelling Egyptian coastal installations, blockading Gaza and Majdal by sea, and  sinking the flagship of the Egyptian navy, the "Emir Farouk",  off the shores of Gaza.

The Harel Brigade played a major role in Operation Yoav. These operations were known as "Operation Hahar." Harel was mainly active in the mountainous area between the Jerusalem corridor and Bet Guvrin, in the northern end of the theater of operations. It widened the approaches to Jerusalem and cut Egyptian communications from Bet Guvrin to Bethlehem. As the truce approached, Harel units could see Gush Etzion, now occupied by the Jordan Legion, but were ordered to disengage.

A truce was ordered for 15:00 hours on October 22, but there was some action in the days immediately following. The police fort of Bet Guvrin fell on 27 October, and after the Egyptians retreated southward from Ashdod (October 28 ) and Majdal (November 6) to Gaza, IDF troops occupied the coastal strip down to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (which had previously fallen in the battle of Yad Mordechai). On November 9, the Iraq Suedan fortress, site of many bloody failed attacks, was finally captured. It was renamed Yoav Fortress in honor of operation Yoav. It is currently the site of the Givati Museum.

References: Teperson, David, "Eyes of the Beholder," 2008.  See  Negev Beasts. All photos from the book. Herzog, Chaim and Gazit Shomo, The Arab Israeli Wars, Vintage Books, N.Y. 2005, pp 89 -97 et passim.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Ten Plagues, Operation Egrof.

Further Information:  See also  Operation Yoav I - Opening the Negev Operation Yoav II - Conquest of Beersheba

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. 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.

ch - (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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