Reasons of defeat

Kamel Ismail El-Sherif, Monday 15 May 2023

From The Muslim Brothers in the Palestine War, 1949, Cairo. pp 87-91

Arab volunteers 1947
Arab volunteers 1947


From Al-Ahram Weekly archives: Fifty years of dispossession 1948-1998*

Issue: 12 March 1998


Some have the mistaken belief that guerrilla warfare, or war carried out by irregulars, is tantamount to anarchy. The experience of the Moslem Brothers, however, in Palestine may shed some light on how complimentary guerrilla warfare is to war by regular armies. It must be remembered, however, that Guerrilla warfare cannot be carried out except by men who firmly believe in the justice of the cause they are fighting for. To insure optimum results, those men must be highly trained and in possession of a high degree of intelligence, as they confront in their fight various difficult situations.


As the main task of guerrillas is fighting the enemy in a land occupied by the troops of that enemy, they have to be capable of spreading terror in the ranks of the enemy's forces by carrying out fleeting attacks on roads used by the enemy thus cutting off roads, and whenever possible destroying the enemy's arms and equipment.


The aims of any guerrilla warfare can be summed up as follows:


-First, making the enemy incur heavy loses without engaging in direct battles.


-Second, forcing the enemies troops to be dispersed, thus exhausting the enemy in chasing and combating the guerrillas.


-Third, forcing the enemy to constantly guard its installations and transportation roads, thus keeping the enemy in a constant state of worry.


-last, inciting all national elements against the enemy, preventing any cooperation with its troops and mobilizing those elements in gathering information on the enemy's moves and locations.


We can now move to examining whether the Muslim Brothers succeeded in their guerrilla war in Palestine.


Many wars were not decided except by the help of guerrillas.... In the second world war when many of the European armies were smashed under the blows of the Nazis, many of the leaders, as well as the liberation movements, in these occupied countries resorted to guerrilla warfare to disturb the German occupying forces leading the Germans to give up many of the regions they occupied, only maintaining strategic centres. The guerrillas were one of the direct reasons behind the defeat of the Nazis when Europe itself became the battlefield. They were the best allies of the allied armies who went in later to liberate Europe.


Jews in Palestine have resorted to guerrilla warfare tactics, forming their forces on the basis of attacking the centres where Arab armies were stationed, dealing a blow to those armies without engaging in a direct battle.


When the Arab armies stopped the war in accordance with the Security Council imposed truce, the Jews were organised in regular troops, as well as irregular gangs. The regular army would engage in battles with the aim of acquiring land, while the terrorist gangs provided help to the regular troops. Thus the gangs were able to continue fighting when the army was not, and the excuse the Jews could always give was that the gangs were irregular forces and that the state of Israel had no control over them.


Similarly, the Arab armies in Palestine were in great need of cooperating closely with irregular forces. And there is no doubt that the Palestinians themselves should have been the main source to draw upon for these irregular forces. However, seeds of doubt and distrust, the work of the enemy, were planted between the Arab armies and the Palestinians and the result was catastrophic.




In conclusion I'd like to discuss an opinion held widely by many: that the entry of Arab armies into Palestine was the beginning of the catastrophe that led to the loss of Palestine, and that there was no need in Palestine for any troops other than the guerrillas who could have worked freely without adhering to any decisions by the Security Council or the UN.


This opinion became widely held after the defeat of the Arab armies, which was caused partly by adhering to the Security Council imposed cease fire, especially the first four-week-truce (imposed on june 11), during which the Jews were able to obtain arms and equipment which they did not have before that date.


My answer to that opinion is that guerrillas can never decide the result of the war on their own. They remain an important and effective weapon if they coordinate with an organized army and if they themselves are well trained. While the regular army can occupy cities and strategic centres and maintain the locations they occupied, trained guerrillas would carry attacks on the enemy's backlines, cutting transportation roads, spreading fear and anarchy among the troops of the enemy.


The entry of the regular Arab armies to achieve the aim we were struggling for was inevitable; the mistake lies somewhere else.


Firstly and foremost those armies were not well trained or equipped to carry out the mission they were supposed to fulfill. They were totally ignorant of the enemy they were fighting. Another mistake was that of the Arab political leaders who did not calculate well the influence of the international organizations on them and how vulnerable they were vis-avis those organizations, as they were totally dependent on them.


There is no doubt about the necessity of regular armies in a battle such as ours; they were a necessity in the past, they are for the future- that is if we really want to liberate the holy land.


This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly’s special pages commemorating 50 years of Al-Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe when Israel was created on 15 May 1948. These pages, published in 1998, were part of a year-long series of articles documenting the history and nature of the Arab-Israeli struggle, as well as that of Palestinian dispossession and exile.

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