Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947

Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947

by Bruce Hoffman


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Winner of the National Jewish Book Award
Winner of the Washington Institute Book Prize

One of the Best Books of the Year
St. Louis Post-Dispatch * Kirkus Reviews

In this groundbreaking work, Bruce Hoffman—America’s leading expert on terrorism—brilliantly re-creates the crucial thirty-year period that led to the birth of Israel. Drawing on previously untapped archival resources in London, Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem, Anonymous Soldiers shows how the efforts of two militant Zionist groups brought about the end of British rule in the Middle East. Hoffman shines new light on the bombing of the King David Hotel, the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo, the leadership of Menachem Begin, the life and death of Abraham Stern, and much else. Above all, he shows exactly how the underdog “anonymous soldiers” of Irgun and Lehi defeated the British and set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the creation of the formidable nation-state of Israel.

One of the most detailed and sustained accounts of a terrorist and counterterrorist campaign ever written, Hoffman has crafted the definitive account of the struggle for Israel—and an impressive investigation of the efficacy of guerilla tactics. Anonymous Soldiers is essential to anyone wishing to understand the current situation in the Middle East.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307741615
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/22/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 955,358
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Bruce Hoffman is the director of the Center for Security Studies and director of the Security Stud­ies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is also a senior fellow at the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. His previous books include Inside Terrorism, The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama Bin Laden’s Death, and The Failure of British Military Strategy Within Palestine, 1939–1947.

Read an Excerpt

Does terrorism work? Its targets and victims steadfastly maintain that it does not, while its practitioners and apologists claim that it does. Schol­ars and analysts are divided. Given the untold death and destruction wrought by terrorists throughout history, the question has an undeniable relevance that has only intensified since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Yet a definitive answer unaccountably remains as elusive as a universally accepted definition of the phenomenon itself.
“Terrorists can never win outright,” Prime Minister Ian Smith of Rhodesia confidently declared in 1977. Following the 1983 suicide truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. military service personnel in Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan defiantly proclaimed that “the main thing” is to show that terrorism “doesn’t work . . . [and] to prove that terrorist acts are not going to drive us away.” Margaret Thatcher described the attempt by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) to kill her at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference as illustrative not only of a failed attack but of a fundamentally futile strategy. And in July 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel promised that his government “will not give in to blackmail and will not negotiate with terrorists when it comes to the lives of Israel Defence Force soldiers.”
Scholars have made similarly sweeping claims. The Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling observed in 1991 that despite considerable exertion, terrorists mostly have little to show for their efforts except for fleeting attention and evanescent publicity. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, the historical novelist cum military historian Caleb Carr consolingly averred, “The strategy of terror is a spectacularly failed one.” And in a 2006 article unambiguously titled “Why Terrorism Does Not Work,” the political scientist Max Abrahms argued that terrorism was also tactically ineffective. “The notion that terrorism is an effective coercive instrument,” he concluded, “is sustained by either single case studies or a few well-known terrorist victories.”3
Yet if terrorism is so ineffective, why has it persisted for at least the past two millennia and indeed become an increasingly popular means of vio­lent political expression in the twenty-first century? The sense of personal empowerment and catharsis articulated by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, based on his experiences in Algeria during that country’s struggle for independence against France, only partially explains terror­ism’s enduring attraction to the alienated and disenfranchised, the “so-far powerless [and] would-be powerful,” described some forty years ago by Frederick J. Hacker, a psychiatrist like Fanon. It is necessarily incom­plete because individual motivations are only one side of a coin that also must address organizational dimensions and imperatives and the collec­tive mind-set that they reflect.
Hence, much as statesmen and scholars may trumpet terrorism’s inef­fectuality, it is nonetheless widely accepted that terrorist violence is neither irrational nor desperate but instead entirely rational and often carefully calculated and choreographed. Terrorism is thus consciously embraced by its practitioners as a deliberate instrument of warfare, a pragmatic deci­sion derived from a discernibly logical process. As the doyenne of terrorist studies, Martha Crenshaw, explained in her seminal 1981 article on the causes of terrorism, “Campaigns of terrorism depend on rational political choice. As purposeful activity, terrorism is the result of an organization’s decision that it is a politically useful means to oppose a government . . . Terrorism is seen collectively as a logical means to advance desired ends.”
Terrorism’s posited ineffectiveness as a coercive strategy—confined to a handful of case studies or to infrequent and entirely sui generis successes—thus hardly squares with the terrorists’ own fervent and abiding faith in the efficacy of their violence, its intractable persistence over the course of history, or indeed the disproportionate influence that even a small number of well-known victories has had in inspiring imitation and emulation by successive generations of terrorists.
In other words, the handful of supposed exceptions may be far more important and far more compelling than the perceived rule. And even if terrorism’s power to dramatically change the course of history along the lines of the September 11, 2001, attacks has been mercifully infre­quent, terrorism’s ability to act as a catalyst for wider conflagration or systemic political change appears historically undeniable. The assassina­tion of the archduke Franz Ferdinand by a young Bosnian terrorist in June 1914 and the cross-border Palestinian terrorist attacks that led to the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War are arguably examples of the former, while the struggles for independence won by Ireland in 1922, Cyprus in 1960, and Algeria in 1962 are among the examples depicting the latter.
The list goes on: Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe; the U.S. Marines soon departed Lebanon; Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, a former PIRA ter­rorist, has been the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland since 2007; and that same year Israel freed five of its imprisoned terrorists in exchange for the bodies of two kidnapped Israeli sergeants. Hezbollah’s significant role in Lebanon further challenges arguments about terrorism’s strategic futility. Indeed, neither Sinn Féin nor Hezbollah could ever have acquired the power, influence, and status both enjoy today if not for its terrorist antecedents.
The political violence that plagued Palestine when it was ruled by Great Britain presents an ideal case with which to examine and assess terror­ism’s power to influence government policy and decision making. Prior to 1948, the land that eventually became the Jewish state of Israel was admin­istered by Britain under the terms of the mandate awarded it in 1922 by the League of Nations. Charged with preparing this territory for eventual independence, Britain was regularly subjected to violent pressure by both Arab and Jew alike. Arab rioting and attendant anti-Jewish violence and terrorism during the 1920s led to more widespread insurrection in the late 1930s. Then, during the 1940s, two Jewish terrorist organizations—the Irgun Zvai Le’umi (National Military Organization) and the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), known to Jews by its Hebrew acronym, Lehi, and to the British as the Stern Gang—arose to challenge Britain’s rule over Palestine.
The terrorist campaigns waged by both these organizations, it should be emphasized, were only one facet of a broader confrontation that domi­nated Anglo-Zionist relations throughout the mandate’s final decade. Palestine’s Jewish community and Britain came into conflict over a num­ber of issues involving the rights of Jews—immigration to Palestine; the purchase of land and construction of settlements; the acquisition, impor­tation, and storage of weapons; the organization and training of civilian self-defense forces—and, most fundamentally, over Palestine’s political future. The struggle for Jewish statehood employed almost every means possible: diplomacy, negotiation, lobbying, civil disobedience, propa­ganda, information operations, armed resistance, and terrorist violence.
But the Palestine case is especially valuable in understanding the impact that terrorism can have on government policy and decision making. The Jewish terrorist campaign was arguably the first post–World War II “war of national liberation” to clearly recognize the publicity value inherent in terrorism; the violence was often choreographed for an audience far beyond the immediate geographic locus of the terrorists’ struggle. The lessons with respect to government policy responses and tactical counter­measures are equally profound. Modern Western nations’ fear of foreign terrorist infiltration and radicalization of an indigenous minority popula­tion, for instance, echoes concerns sixty years ago about the spread of Jewish terrorist activities from Palestine to Britain and Europe.
Many of the security challenges that Britain subsequently encountered in Malaya, Cyprus, and Kenya during the 1950s and in Northern Ire­land throughout the closing decades of the twentieth century and that the United States and Britain together have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 were also present in Palestine throughout the period of Brit­ish rule. Highly professional military forces, in some cases flushed with recent hard-fought victories on conventional battlefields, were perplexed by their failure to swiftly suppress and ultimately defeat numerically infe­rior, poorly armed, enigmatic adversaries. They chafed at highly restric­tive rules of engagement in densely populated urban areas and often had grave difficulties in obtaining the cooperation of the local population. Intelligence collection and analysis were similarly frustrating and often inadequate; policing was largely accorded a low priority, and consequently training was poor and personnel numbers deficient; proficiency with local languages was frequently a problem; and civil-military relations were strained and coordination fractured.
Since the late 1970s, a more complete understanding of the events and processes that led to Britain’s decision in 1947 to surrender the mandate and leave Palestine has emerged as a result of the declassification of many critical state documents from that time. The British Public Records Act of 1958 stipulates that official records will be made available to the pub­lic thirty years after their creation—unless they are either still in use by government ministries or deemed by those ministries to be of sufficient sensitivity that they must be retained.
Accordingly, three decades after Britain left Palestine, a variety of cabinet papers, minutes, and memorandums became available along with correspondence from the Colonial, Foreign, Prime Minister’s, and War Offices, among other government ministries. The material included reports and analyses prepared by individual departments and the reflections of the senior officials who reviewed and commented on them, tele­grams and letters exchanged between ministers in London and their subordinates overseas, the war diaries of military forces deployed to Pal­estine, the records of the colonial police service, and so on. The array of personal papers deposited in private archives by many of the dramatis personae involved in the formulation and execution of British policy in Palestine during the mandate filled in more of the details, as did official documents of various kinds found in both Israel and the United States.
As a young doctoral student, I spent several years researching this sub­ject during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I examined material in the Public Record Office at Kew, London, as well as in collections of pri­vate papers scattered throughout England, consulted archives in Israel and the United States, and interviewed many former British statesmen, soldiers, and police involved either in governing Palestine or in crafting British policy for the mandate, along with past members of the Irgun and Lehi (my doctoral thesis was submitted to the Faculty of Social Studies at Oxford University in 1985).
I was always conscious of the material at the Public Record Office to which public access was denied. Notations attached to numerous files in archival registries stated that they were either closed for fifty years or “retained by department.” Equally frustrating were the fleeting glimpses of individual intelligence reports and analyses occasionally found in the files of other ministries or departments that had somehow escaped vetting and exclusion. These lacunae were perhaps most conspicuous with respect to the records of Britain’s intelligence and security services and those of the Palestine Police Force’s intelligence arm, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
The centrality of intelligence to understanding history has long been the focus of research by the renowned Cambridge historian Professor Christopher Andrew. “Secret intelligence in twentieth-century Britain,” he wrote in the preface to Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community, “has varied greatly in both quantity and quality but the historian of national and international politics can never afford to ignore it. Any analysis of government policy, particularly on for­eign affairs and defence, which leaves intelligence out of account is bound to be incomplete. It may also be distorted as a result.”
I subsequently moved on to the study and analysis of more contempo­rary issues of terrorism and counterterrorism, often on behalf of the U.S. government while employed for some twenty years at a prominent think tank. Nonetheless, I always carried with me the nagging thought that the work for my doctorate, as Professor Andrew’s admonition implied, was incomplete and thus was best regarded rather as a work in progress— to be amended at some future time.
The opportunity to undertake this work finally presented itself about a decade ago as a result of two developments. First, starting in the late 1990s, the British Security Service (MI5) made available at the Public Record Office— renamed the National Archives in 2003— the first tranche of documents pertaining to its early history. This was the start of subsequent, often annual releases of hitherto highly classified intelligence reports, analyses, interrogations, intercepts, diaries, and other communications. Second, in 2002 the service selected Professor Andrew, by now a cherished friend and mentor, to write its official history— the magisterial book published in 2009, to coincide with the service’s centenary, titled The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (and in the United States as Defend the Realm). Professor Andrew’s work on this project continued the flow of additional files, including many pertaining to Palestine. The KV series, as the Security Service’s papers are designated, I soon discovered, yielded a treasure trove of new information on Palestine, among which were handwritten minutes to memorandums by Winston Churchill and correspondence sent to MI5 signed by H. A. R. “Kim” Philby, the notorious cold war spy.
Over the next seven years I made several visits to the archives at Kew. I also revisited private papers collections in Britain and archives in both Israel and the United States— where I found a large amount of newly donated papers and recently declassified documents. As the participants in the struggle over Palestine in the 1940s aged and, in many cases, passed away, either they or their heirs had increasingly deposited at university libraries and research centers hitherto unknown and unavailable material in the form of long-forgotten official papers and personal diaries. The papers of John J. O’Sullivan, a senior British intelligence officer who served in Palestine and was at the vortex of virtually all the investigations into all the major terrorist attacks both in Palestine and elsewhere between 1944 and 1947, proved invaluable especially with respect to the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944, the bombings of Jerus-lem’s King David Hotel and the British embassy in Rome in 1946, and the kidnapping and lynching of two British field intelligence sergeants the following year. In addition, the discovery in Israel of the long-mislaid intelligence files of the Palestine Police Force, now housed at the Haganah Archives in Tel Aviv, also provided insight.
The result is the research presented in Anonymous Soldiers, which takes its name from the title of a poem written by Abraham Stern that subse­quently became the Irgun’s and then Lehi’s anthem. The book is divided into three parts.
The first part, comprising chapters 1 through 6, covers the period of time from Britain’s conquest of Palestine in 1917, toward the end of World War I, to the early years of World War II. It attempts to depict the reasons behind the emergence of a Jewish underground in response to Arab violence and terrorism and traces its evolution into a counter-terrorism strike force that eventually turned its weapons on Britain as well.
The second part, chapters 7 through 10, focuses on wartime Palestine: the split that produced rival Jewish terrorist factions; their relations with the mainstream, official Zionist movement; and the growing polarization of the Jewish community from the British government that led in turn to the escalation of Jewish terrorism, now directed solely against the British government.
The final part, chapters 11 through 19, chronicles the war that Britain fought in Palestine following World War II. It was during this time that a concatenation of powerful forces, including Jewish terrorism, combined to render Britain’s continued rule of Palestine untenable. These chapters, accordingly, focus on terrorism’s role in the momentous events that led to Britain’s decision to abandon the mandate. An epilogue assesses the les­sons of this struggle in the context of both terrorism’s subsequent trajec­tory and the challenges faced by governments in countering this menace.
Neither this book nor its author makes any pretension to providing a definitive history of the Zionist struggle against British rule or the entire spectrum of factors that led to the creation of the State of Israel. Rather, as might be expected from someone who has spent his entire career studying terrorism and counterterrorism, this book considers those spe­cific dimensions of this story in light of the broader question raised at the beginning of this preface: how terrorism affects government policy and decision making and whether terrorism is an effective weapon with which to achieve fundamental political change. Anonymous Soldiers thus recounts the history of this struggle mostly through the eyes of the Brit­ish statesmen, soldiers, officials, policemen, and others variously charged with administering the mandate, policing it, and crafting policies for, or making decisions about, it.
Bruce Hoffman
Washington, D.C.
May 2014

Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 To Die for Our Nation 3

2 The Seeds of Terror 21

3 Red Days of Riots and Blood 40

4 Terror Against Terror 60

5 Dark Nights of Despair 86

6 The Shadow of Death 101

7 The Revolt 119

8 Conscripted for Life 141

9 The Deed 162

10 Tears of Bereaved Mothers 182

11 Wider Horizons 202

12 To Defend and to Guard Forever 227

13 Only Death Will Free Us 258

14 Defense and Conquest 290

15 Beating the Dog in His Own Kennel 323

16 Blunted Bayonets 355

17 An Instrument of Death 385

18 Buried Quietly in the Night 415

19 Drunk with the Hangman's Blood 447

Epilogue: Only Thus 472

Acknowledgments 485

Appendix: Who Was Who 489

Notes 495

Bibliography 569

Index 593

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