Military Wiki
Reprisal operations
Part of the Arab-Israeli conflict
LocationMiddle East
Result Decisive Israeli victory.


Supported by:
Commanders and leaders
David Ben-Gurion
Moshe Sharett
Levi Eshkol
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Hafez al-Assad
Hussein bin Talal
? ?
Casualties and losses
400–967 civilians and soldiers killed during this period by fedayeen attacks (1951–55)[1][2] 2,700–5,000 Arab soldiers and Palestinians* killed by retribution operations (1951–55)[3]
  • Both guerrillas and civilians

Reprisal operations (Hebrew: פעולות התגמול‎, Pe'ulot HaTagmul) were raids carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in the 1950s and 1960s in response to frequent fedayeen terror attacks during which armed Arab militants infiltrated Israel from Syria, Egypt and Jordan to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. The goal of these operations was to create deterrence and prevent future attacks. Two other factors behind the raids were restoring public morale and training newly formed army units.[4]


Border clashes between Israel and neighbouring states began almost immediately after the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Along the 1949 armistice line, infiltrations, armed or otherwise, were frequent from both sides. According to Avi Shlaim many Palestinian infiltrations were by refugees who were 'looking for relatives, returning to their homes, recovering possessions, tending to their fields, collecting their crops and, occasionally, exacting revenge.'[5][6] Half of Jordan's prison population at the time consisted of people arrested for attempting to return to, or illegally enter, Israeli territory, but the number of complaints filed by Israel over infiltrations from the West Bank show a considerable reduction, from 233 in the first nine months of 1952, to 172 for the same period in 1953, immediately before the attack. This marked reduction was in good part the result of increased Jordanian efficiency in patrolling.[6] According to some Israeli sources, between June 1949 and the end of 1952, a total of 57 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed by Palestinian infiltrators from the West Bank and Jordan. The Israeli death toll for the first nine months of 1953 was 32.[7] Over roughly the same time (November 1950 – November 1953), the Mixed Armistice Commission condemned Israeli raids 44 times.[6] For the same period, 1949–1953, Jordan maintained that it alone suffered 629 killed and injured from Israeli incursions and cross-border bombings.[6] UN sources for the period, based on the documentation at General Bennike's disposal (prepared by Commander E H Hutchison USNR),[8] lower both estimates.[9][Clarification needed]


Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli chief of staff Moshe Dayan ordered reprisal raids as a tough response to terror attacks. The message was that any attack on Israelis would be followed by a strong Israeli response. In the words of Ben-Gurion, from his lecture "retribution operations as a means to ensure the Peace":

We do not have power to ensure that the water pipe lines won't be exploded or that the trees won't be uprooted. We do not have the power to prevent the murders of orchard workers or families while they are asleep, but we have the power to set a high price for our blood, a price which would be too high for the Arab communities, the Arab armies and the Arab governments to bear.[10]

This approach dominated in Israel during the 1950s and 1960s, although it was not the only one. Moshe Sharett, the Israeli prime minister during the retribution operations, objected to this policy and after the Ma'ale Akrabim massacre he wrote in his diary:

Committing a severe responsive act to this bloodbath would only obscure its horrors, and put us in an equal level with murderers of the other party. We should rather this instance to raise political pressure on the world powers, to have them exert unprecedented pressure on Jordan.

The head of the United Nations truce observers, Canadian Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns, was very critical of what he described as "constant provocation of the Israeli forces and armed kibbutzim." His conclusion was "The retaliation does not end the matter; it goes on and on ..."[11]

Major operations

April 1951 – October 1956

  • Attack on al-Hamma (התקיפה באל-חמה) – Following the el-Ḥamma incident on 4 April 1951 in which seven Israeli soldiers were killed after attempting to enforce Israel's sovereignty in the demilitarized zone to include the el-Ḥamma enclave – Hamat Gader. The next day the first retribution operation since signing the cease-fire agreements was carried out. Unlike the following retribution operations, this operation was carried out by the Israeli Air Force. The operation failed when the attacking planes missed their target.
  • 'Beit Jalla raid'In reprisal for the rape and murder of a Jewish girl in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem, three houses in the Palestinian Arab village of Beit Jalla are blown up, and seven Arab civilians are killed. Israel formally denies involvement, but international investigators blame an IDF platoon for the raid.
  • Operation Shoshana (מבצע שושנה) known as Qibya massacre – Carried out on 14 October 1953 following an attack in which an Israeli mother and her two children were killed. Commanded by Ariel Sharon, a force made up of paratroopers and members of Unit 101 made a night-time attack on the village of Qibya in the West Bank, which was controlled by Jordan at the time. Sixty-nine villagers were killed during the operation. In addition to that, forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were destroyed.[12]
  • Operation Black Arrow (מבצע חץ שחור) – Carried out in Gaza (while under Egyptian control) between 28 February until 1 March 1955. The operation was aimed at the Egyptian army. 38 Egyptian soldiers were killed during the operation and thirty were injured. Eight IDF soldiers were killed during the operation and thirteen were injured. According to the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, this operation was the main motive for Egypt's big arms deal with Czechoslovakia in 1955.
  • Operation Elkayam (מבצע אלקיים) – Carried out on 31 August 1955 against the police forces of Khan Yunis from where attacks had been carried out against Israelis. 72 Egyptian soldiers were killed during the operation. The operation was followed by a massive buildup of Egyptian troops in the Gaza Strip.
  • Operation Jonathan (מבצע יונתן), 11/12 September 1955, was an attack by two paratroop companies on Khirbet al Rahwa police fort, on the Hebron–Beersheba road, in which over twenty Jordanian soldiers and policemen were killed. Amongst the Israeli casualties was Captain Meir Har-Zion.[13][14]
  • Operation Egged: Following an Egyptian border provocation in the Nitzana Demilitarized Zone, two-hundred paratroopers carried out a reprisal raid against an Egyptian military post at Kuntilla. Twelve Egyptian soldiers were killed and twenty-nine others were taken prisoner.
  • Operation Volcano (מבצע הר געש) – Following the invasion of the Egyptian forces into the Israeli youth village and communal settlement Nitzana in the Demilitarized Zone, the IDF carried out an attack in that area on 2 November 1955. 81 Egyptian soldiers were killed during the operations and 55 were captured.[15] Seven IDF soldiers were killed during the operation.
  • Operation Sa'ir (מבצע שעיר) – Carried out on 22 December 1955, the IDF forces raided Syrian outposts on the slopes of the Golan Heights.
  • Operation Olive Leaves (מבצע עלי זית) – Carried out on 11 December 1955 at Syrian posts located on the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee in response to constant Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen. 54 Syrian soldiers were killed and 30 were captured. Six IDF soldiers were killed during the operation.
  • Operation Gulliver (מבצע גוליבר) – Carried out on 13 September 1956 in Jordan.
  • Operation Lulav (מבצע לולב) – Carried out on 25 September 1956 in the Arab village Husan, near Bethlehem. The operation was in response to the murder of participants in an archaeological conference held in Ramat Rachel and the murder of two farmers from Moshav Aminadav and Kibbutz Maoz Haim.
  • Targeted killings – On 11 July 1956, Mustafa Hafez, the Egyptian military intelligence commander in the Gaza Strip and the organizer of fedayeen raids, was assassinated by Israeli Military Intelligence in an operation planned by Major General Yehoshafat Harkabi. The following day, Israel assassinated Salah Mustafa, the Egyptian military attache in Amman who had dispatched infiltrators into Israel via the West Bank.[16]
  • Operation Samaria (מבצע שומרון) – Carried out on 10 October 1956 in which IDF forces attacked the Qalqilya police forces. 100 Jordanian soldiers and 17 IDF soldiers were killed during the operation. The operation was carried out in response to the constant infiltrations from the West Bank, and in response to the constant attacks from the Jordanian army aimed at Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Casualties 1949–1956

Between 1949 and 1956 cross border attacks from Israel's neighbours killed around 200 Israelis, with perhaps another 200 Israeli soldiers being killed in border clashes or IDF raids. Over the same period between 2,700 and 5,000 Arabs were killed; the majority unarmed civilians who had crossed the border for economic or social reasons. Most were killed during 1949–1951. After which the average was between 300 and 500 killed a year.[17]

January 1960 – November 1966

The Sinai War of 1956 ended the first phase of the Israeli retribution operations. The retribution operations policy continued also after the Sinai War, but were held mainly in Jordan and Syria, because at that time the majority of attacks originated from the Jordanian and Syrian borders. The main retribution operations held after the Sinai War include:

  • Operation Cricket (מבצע חרגול) – Carried out on 31 January 1960, was the first Israeli retribution operation carried out after the Sinai war. The operation was carried out by Golani forces at the Syrian village of Tawfiq, in response to attacks on Israelis in Tel Katzir. Tawfiq was designated by the IDF as the center of many Syrian attacks and as a result it was decided that the destruction of the village was vital. During the operation the village was conquered and destroyed while being attacked by Syrian artillery. Six Syrian soldiers were killed during the operation. Three IDF soldiers were killed and seven were injured.
  • Operation Swallow (מבצע סנונית) – Another operation which was carried out as a result of Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. During the operation carried out on 16 March 1962, Israeli forces from the Golani Brigade raided Syrian posts in the village of Nuqayb. 30 Syrian soldiers were killed during the operation. Seven IDF soldiers were killed during the operation and seven were injured.
  • Samu Incident (פעולת סמוע) – Carried out on 13 November 1966, IDF forces, of a brigade strength, with air support, attacked the village of as-Samu, south of the city of Hebron, in response to sabotage acts aimed at Israeli targets. During the operation dozens of houses were bombed. 18 Jordanians were killed during the operation. One IDF soldier was killed during the operation – the paratroop battalion commander, Lt. Col. Yoav Shaham. In addition to the ground operation, an air battle was conducted between eight Hawker Hunter aircraft of the Royal Jordanian Air Force and four Mirage aircraft of the Israeli Air Force.

Israeli commemoration of the retribution operations

A commemoration site called "Black Arrow" (חץ שחור), which commemorates the various retribution operations and the heritage of the Israeli paratrooper units, is located in the Negev.


  1. "Map". Jewish Agency for Israel. 
  2. Martin Gilbert (2005). The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 0415359015.,M1. 
  3. Benvenisti, 412–416
  4. Morris, Benny (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949 – 1956. Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0 19 827850 0. Page 179.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 'No one would deny that the Israel authorities would be justified, and are justified, in using strong measures to check (infiltration), in so far as damage to property or loss of life results. But not everyone who crosses the armistice demarcation line does so with criminal intent. Acts of violence are indeed committed, but as the volume of illegal crossings of the demarcation line is so considerable, if one is to judge from the available statistics, it seems probable that many crossings are carried out by persons - sometimes, I understand, even by children - with no criminal object in view.'England's ambassador to the UN = para.52 S/635/Rev.1 9 November 1953
  7. Which Came First- Terrorism or Occupation - Major Arab Terrorist Attacks against Israelis Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War
  8. Commander E H Hutchison USNR “Violent Truce: A Military Observer Looks at the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1951-1955” Chapter XI A Survey of the Whole Conflict p. 90-100
  9. The Lebanese ambassador on 16 November summed up the figures at the UN's disposal for Jordanian-Israeli incidents from 1949 in these words: ‘Israel, in Israel territory, has lost 24 people killed; and Jordan, in its own territory, has lost 77 people killed, of whom 55 lost their lives at Qibya. Of the 77 killed since June 1949 in the Palestinian West bank by Israel, 55 were killed four weeks in the Qibya incident’S/636/Rev.1 16 November 1953
  10. Allon, Yigal (1970) Shield of David. The Story of Israel's Armed Forces. Weidenfield and Nicolson. SBN 297 00133 7. Page 235. Allon attributes a identical quote to Moshe Dayan, Israel's Chief of Staff.
  11. Burns, Lieutenant-General E.L.M. (1962) Between Arab and Israeli. George G. Harrap. Pages 50, 38.
  12. Benny Morris, Israel's Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 258–9.
  13. Morris. Page 393. Teveth. Page 244.
  14. Dayan, Moshe (1965) Diary of the Sinai Campaign 1956. Sphere Books edition (1967) page 32. "He was gravely wounded, the bullet striking his windpipe, but his life was saved by the medical officer of the unit, who crawled to him under fire and performed a tracheotomy with his pocket knife."
  15. Zeʼev Derori, Israel's reprisal policy, 1953-1956: the dynamics of military retaliation, Frank Cass (2005) p. 152
  17. Morris, Benny (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949 – 1956. Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0 19 827850 0. Pages 215, 216.

See also

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).