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The War of Independence: Operation “Yoav”

(October 15-22, 1948)

Ignoring the provisions of the second truce, the Egyptians denied Jewish convoys passage through the Hatta-Karatiya gap in their line. In addition, they captured positions beyond the truce demarcation lines and attacked several IDF posts that covered the pass. Following an Egyptian raid on inter-kibbutz communications routes and the firing on an Israeli convoy on October 15, the Israel Army and Air force took the offensive and launched Operation “Yoav.” In seven days they succeeded in opening the road to the Negev and capturing its capital, Beersheba.

The goal of Operation “Yoav” was to open a corridor to the Negev, cut the Egyptian lines of communications along the coast and on the Beersheba-Hebron-Jerusalem road, isolate and defeat the Egyptian forces, and ultimately to drive them out of the country. Operation Yoav was headed by Southern Front commander Yigal Allon. The force was comprised of three infantry brigades; “Negev," “Givati,” and “Yiftach,” plus an armored battalion from the 8th Armored Brigade and the largest artillery formation that had ever been available to the IDF. (The 'Oded' Brigade joined the command on 18 October). On the eve of 15 October, Gaza, Majdal and Beith Hanun were bombed, and part of the Air Force at El-Arish was put out of action. This action kept most of the Egyptian frontline fighters out of the skies and gave the IDF air superiority for the first time. 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 an infantry battalion of the 'Negev' Brigade, launched a major attack against El-Manshiyeh in an attempt to open the corridor to the south-east. This attempt failed and the force sufferred heavily. The following night,  Givati units made a breakthrough 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 fierce hand-to-hand battle, Hills 113 and 100 were captured, and a day later the junction positions and Kaukaba were taken.

Knowing that the Security Council was anxiously trying to impose a cease-fire, Yigal Allon realized that he had little time to open the Negev road. He tasked the  “Givati” Brigade to attack the formidable Huleiqat defense system south on 19-20 October which was successful in capturing the complex and after bitter fighting the road to the Negev was open. At 4:00 on the morning of 21 October, the IDF moved to capture Beersheba. The force that moved on Beersheba consisted of major elements of the 8th Brigade, the commando battalion and two other battalions of the 'Negev' Brigade. While some units took up blocking positions north and south of the town to hold up Egyptian reinforcements, and another carried out a diversionary action in the direction of Hebron to the North. After fierce fighting, the 500-strong Egyptian garrison broke and, by 09:00 hrs that morning, Beersheba - capital of the Negev had surrendered to Israeli forces. The eastern part of the Egyptian Army was now cut into four isolated forces with brigades in: Rafah-Gaza; Majdal;Faluja (in which a brigade under the command of the Sudanese Brig. Gen. Taba Bey and whose operation officer Maj. Gamal Abdal Nasser was surrounded with all its main supply lines cut and two batallions in the region of Hebron-Jerusalem. The Israel Navy also took part in these southern actions, shelling enemy coastal installations, preventing supplies from reaching Gaza and Majdal by sea, and scoring an outstanding victory on the very eve of the truce when its special unit sank the Amir Faruq ("Emir Farouk"), flagship of the Egyptian navy, off the shores of Gaza.

The Harel Brigade played a major role during Operation Yoav. Mainly active in the mountainous area between the Jerusalem corridor and Bet Guvrin, widened the approaches to Jerusalem and cut the Egyptian artery from Bet Guvrin to Bethlehem. A truce was ordered for 15:00 hours on 22 October, 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 (28 October) and Majdal (6 November) to Gaza, IDF troops occupied the coastal strip down to Yad Mordechai. On 9 November, the Iraq Suedan fortress was finally captured, after Israeli forces had failed to make it during previous attacks. Renamed Yoav Fortress in honor of this operation, it is today the site of the Givati Museum.

Source: Israel Defense Forces