CIA Files

Report by the Central Intelligence Agency1


ORE 48–48

Probable Effects on Israel and the Arab States of a UN Arms Embargo2


Neither Israel nor the Arab states now have sufficient stocks of arms and equipment to carry out prolonged, full-scale hostilities following the end of the four-week truce which began 11 June. Israel is weak in heavy equipment, although it has adequate stocks of small arms and ammunition, and is believed capable of supporting guerrilla warfare operations with its own armament industry. The Arab states, although superior in artillery, armored vehicles, and aircraft, have only limited stocks of ammunition and replacement equipment and possess insufficient facilities for producing armament.
Both sides are negotiating to obtain matériel from outside sources. Zionist agents abroad have been able to stockpile light weapons and ammunition from Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries for eventual shipment to Palestine, and the Jews undoubtedly hope to acquire additional heavy equipment from the US. The Arabs look, as in the past, to the UK as a principal source of arms but are exploring additional sources. Arab financial resources for such transactions, however, are not extensive.
The application of an effective UN arms embargo against both Israel and the Arab states would limit the scale of the fighting and would probably result in a military stalemate, leading eventually to a compromise. The Arabs would find themselves incapable of prosecuting a large-scale offensive. The Jews would also be unable to wage [Page 1280] offensive war, but would probably be able to maintain their present positions along the coast and possibly in Galilee. Jewish extremists would resist any attempts at compromise, and the Provisional Government of Israel itself would probably make every effort to have the embargo modified before entering into negotiations with the Arabs. The Arabs would also be loath to make concessions. In the end, however, both Israel and the Arab states (or at least Transjordan) might feel constrained to accept a Jewish state exclusive of the Negeb.
Inadequate enforcement of the embargo could also be expected to result ultimately in a virtual stalemate. Israel, possessing better facilities for obtaining illegal arms than the Arabs, would be able to defend more territory than under an effective embargo but could not win a decisive victory. The Arabs would probably obtain measured assistance from the UK, which favors a stalemate. Since some support for Israel would come from the US, anti-US feeling in the Arab states would rise following any Jewish successes. The USSR would probably supply arms to both belligerents in an effort to promote continued unrest in the Middle East. (See ORE 38–483 for an evaluation of Soviet Policy in the Middle East.)
A UN embargo against the Jews alone would lead to eventual Arab victory, and would increase US prestige with the Arabs. In Israel a struggle for power between pro-Soviet, extremist groups and the moderates would ensue, with the moderates probably attempting to find a modus vivendi with the Arabs. The amount of support provided by the Soviet bloc, on one hand, and the nature of the terms provided by the Arabs, on the other, would determine the outcome.
A UN embargo against the Arab states alone would permit the Jews to obtain sufficient military supplies to take the offensive and force Arab acceptance of a Jewish state and the withdrawal of Arab armed forces from Palestine. Under such circumstances, the Arab states would probably see no significant loss involved in leaving the UN and severing relations with the nations responsible for the embargo. They might also be willing to risk the economic dislocation entailed in cancellation of economic concessions; these concessions might eventually be reassigned to more friendly powers. Political upheavals would probably ensue in the Arab states, facilitating Soviet exploitation.
If the UN takes no positive action following the end of the truce, military developments will in large measure depend on the great powers. If the present US and UK embargoes are maintained, fighting would continue on a greater scale but neither side would obtain decisive victory. The UK would probably attempt to redress the balance if Soviet aid or other factors appeared to make Jewish success [Page 1281] imminent. The Zionists would then increase the pressure on the US to end its embargo. If the US did so, the Palestine battle would become bloodier, and US–UK relations would be further strained. A cessation of British aid to the Arabs at this point, in order to avoid a break with the US, would result in significant Soviet military aid to the Arabs, accompanied by intensified efforts to extend Soviet influence into the Arab countries.

Probable Effects on Israel and the Arab States of a UN Arms Embargo

1. Current Situation.

When the United Nations Palestine truce became effective on 11 June, the fighting between the Arabs and the Jews was tending toward a stalemate, in which both sides were experiencing difficulties in marshalling effective military strength. Nevertheless, neither Israel nor the Arab League bloc was willing to retreat publicly from its basic position. The Zionists insisted on the maintenance of a fully independent state within the territories allocated them under the UN partition plan. The Arabs, although they showed some signs of willingness to compromise, were committed to opposing both sovereignty for Israel and unlimited Jewish immigration into it.

At present under the truce, Arab regular and irregular forces within Palestine or near its borders total approximately 50,000, about 25,000 of whom have been actually committed inside Palestine. The strength of the Israeli forces totals some 90,000. About 35,000 of the Israeli troops have been used for active operations, half of this figure being employed as a striking force, and half for local, mobile defense.

The Arabs have approximately 250 light aircraft and transports, while Israel possesses an estimated 45 light aircraft, an unknown number of transports, and possibly several heavy bombers. The sea power of both Arabs and Jews is relatively slight. The Arab Armies have a wide variety of small arms and are stronger than Israel in artillery and tanks. However, their stocks of ammunition and replacement materiel are limited, and the Arab states have insufficient facilities and raw materials for the production of armament. Present Israeli stocks of small arms are adequate to arm all combatant members of the Israel forces. Israel’s industrial capacity is restricted by the shortage of raw materials but is believed capable of keeping present weapons and equipment in condition and of supplying replacements and ammunition for guerrilla warfare.

The arms and equipment of neither Jews nor Arabs are sufficient for prolonged, full-scale hostilities, and both sides are involved in negotiations for obtaining matériel from various outside sources. The Jews have managed in various ways surreptitiously to acquire large amounts of arms and equipment from British Army stocks in Palestine. [Page 1282] The efforts of Zionist agents abroad have resulted in the stockpiling of quantities of small arms, automatic weapons, and ammunition in various eastern European countries for eventual shipment to Palestine. Most of these stocks come from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and possibly from Poland and the USSR. Jewish acquisitions from the US consist mainly of machinery, motor vehicles, and air transport. The Israeli forces are much more concerned with obtaining such heavier equipment than in acquiring small arms.

The Arab states look to the UK (subject to its UN commitments) as their principal source of arms supply and will continue to do so. However, such alternate sources as France, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia are now being explored, and Spain and Argentina are also possibilities. It is expected, however, that financial limitations will prevent large purchases from these sources.

There is no evidence that either Arabs or Jews have smuggled any substantial supplies of arms into Palestine since the truce went into effect.

2. Implications of a UN Arms Embargo Against Jews and Arabs.

If the efforts of the UN Mediator fail and hostilities are resumed, it is possible that the UN will impose an arms embargo on Israel and the Arab states. If effectively enforced, such a step would: (1) deny arms to both sides, and thus keep the war on a small scale and of a more or less local nature; (2) make it difficult for the belligerents to negotiate blackmarket arms purchases and even more difficult to effect delivery; and (3) probably create a military stalemate leading eventually to a political compromise between the Jews and Arabs.

If the Provisional Government of Israel (PGI) is unable to obtain the heavy equipment which it needs to conduct a successful campaign against the Arab states, it will be forced to reappraise its position in the light of these changed conditions. Policy hitherto has been based on the assumption that the Zionist organization throughout the world, and particularly in the US, would be successful in enlisting sufficient great-power support to assure the establishment and continued existence of the Jewish state. Faced with the realization that their present military resources would not be sufficient to force a solution to the Palestine problem in accordance with the terms of the General Assembly partition plan, it seems inevitable that the more moderate Jewish elements would be obliged to consider some retreat from their present attitude.

While Arab outside sources of supply would also be cut off, this loss would be compensated for by the shutting off of Jewish supplies. Thus a stalemate would ensue. The Jewish forces, though incapable of waging offensive war, could probably maintain their present positions; along the coast and possibly in Galilee. Under these circumstances, [Page 1283] both the PGI and the Arab states, or at least Transjordan, might be willing to accept a Jewish state exclusive of the Negeb (assigned by the UN plan to the Jews but now cut off by Arab forces).

No such willingness to consider compromise could be expected from the Jewish extremists. Both the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvai Leumi have already rejected the authority of the PGI, and they have been working with the government only for reasons of expediency. Both groups would reaffirm their claim to all of Palestine and Transjordan, disassociate themselves from the decisions of the PGI, and resume their terrorist activities. This schism would further weaken the Jewish political position, and produce increased dissension in Jewish ranks. Attempts by the Irgun to import arms during the truce have already resulted in a bloody engagement with the Israeli Army.

Before seeking a compromise with the Arabs, the Jews would make every effort to bring about modifications in the embargo. To this end, they would probably be willing to undertake a political alignment with any country which evinced a disposition to consider their pleas.

Even if the embargo were inadequately enforced, a military stalemate would probably eventuate. Jewish facilities for obtaining illicit arms would be greater than those of the Arabs, although the Arabs could probably obtain sufficient quantities to prevent an Arab defeat but not to permit a decisive victory. The Jews could consolidate the areas of Palestine which they now hold and perhaps also force the Arabs to relinquish the Negeb.

An active, well financed Zionist organization throughout Europe and the US would be able to run arms ships as formerly it ran ships of illegal immigrants. Principal sources for small arms, automatic and semiautomatic weapons, ammunition, explosives, mortars, and light artillery would continue to be Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, with delivery accomplished by transshipment through Albania, Bulgaria, and Italy. This arrangement would entail minimum jeopardy to the UN status of the countries of origin. Any air or ground transport, self-propelled units, or heavy ordnance supplied by these countries would probably be of German or US manufacture, thereby making determination of the immediate source more difficult.

The British apparently favor the development of a military stalemate, which would force a compromise solution. For this reason, it is likely that British arms in sufficient quantity to bring about such a situation and to prevent an Arab defeat would find their way into Arab hands. Czechoslovakia would accept arms-purchase contracts on a dollar basis, and private sources in Italy could furnish arms on the same basis. The dollar shortage of the Arab states, however, would limit the quantities thus procured to a very small percentage of what the Jewish forces could obtain.

The US would probably be deeply involved in the illicit Jewish [Page 1284] arms traffic. Financial support would certainly stem mainly from this country, and a considerable portion of the actual war matériel would likely originate here. Consequently, violent anti-US reaction could be expected throughout the Arab world in the wake of any Jewish military successes. There is also the probability that under such circumstances similar resentment would be directed against the UN and against those nations voting for the embargo. Meanwhile, the USSR could be expected to exploit the inadequacies of the embargo in order to play both ends against the middle.

3. Implications of a UN Arms Embargo Against One Belligerent.

a. Against the Jews.

An effective UN arms embargo against the Jews alone would obviously mean military victory for the Arab forces. In a relatively short time the Arabs would be in a position to establish some form of unitary state in Palestine, wherein the present Arab majority would be able to control the Jewish minority. US prestige in the Middle East would be improved since Arab leaders would probably credit the US with having permitted this pro-Arab measure.

The repercussions in Israel of an embargo against the Jews would be violent. The Jews would look on the embargo as a betrayal by the West, and the Stern Gang and other pro-Soviet elements would gain in influence and would attempt to wrest control from the pro-West or moderate elements. To circumvent the schemes of the extremists, the moderate elements might try to bargain with the Arab leaders in the hope of finding a modus vivendi for the Jews under some form of confederation. Deciding factors in the extremist-moderate struggle for power would be the amount of support given by the USSR to the extremists and the nature of the political terms the Arabs would be willing to grant the moderates.

b. Against the Arabs.

An effective UN arms embargo against the Arabs alone would mean military victory for the Jews. While the Arabs would be denied outside help, the Jews would be able to buy arms in various parts of the world, and to effect relatively easy delivery. They could thus assume the offensive and force Arab acceptance of a Jewish state. Other nations could be expected to grant diplomatic recognition, which would add to the prestige of Israel and its government and help to ease current economic difficulties.

The Arab states would, of course, look upon such an embargo as a hostile act intended to defeat their claims in Palestine and to guarantee Israel’s independence. Arab leaders have already declared that, if increasing aid is given the Jews by other powers, the Arab states will [Page 1285] leave the UN, break off diplomatic relations with those nations most directly concerned, and cancel the concessions held by the same powers in Arab countries. These concessions might eventually be transferred to more friendly powers.

In terms of self-interest, the Arab states would lose little by severing diplomatic relations with the SC members responsible for the embargo or even by withdrawing from the UN. The imposition of economic sanctions by the Arab states on the powers which had voted for the embargo would cause serious dislocations in the Arab countries and would delay development programs indefinitely. Nonetheless, the Arabs might well be willing to sacrifice economic benefits in order to punish the offending nations. Sanctions would likely include the cancellation of oil and air concessions or the sequestration of foreign installations. Moreover, the Arab masses would probably turn against their own governments, holding them responsible for the defeat. The violence and unrest accompanying these political upheavals would create the chaotic conditions most favorable to Soviet exploitation.

4. Implications of UN Failure To Take Positive Action.

In the event that the UN truce expires with the UN having taken no positive action, the development of the military situation in Palestine will depend largely on the policies pursued by the US and UK regarding arms shipments to the Middle East. If the US and the UK should maintain embargoes, the Jews could obtain more arms and equipment from other sources than the Arabs. This advantage, however, would not be immediately decisive; fighting would continue on a greater scale but would not bring outright victory to either side.

The USSR probably would not support either side exclusively. If it should attempt to increase its influence in Israel by making large shipments of materiel to the Jews, or if for any reason a Jewish victory appeared imminent, the UK would almost certainly seek to redress the balance by resuming arms shipments to the Arabs. Thus the military deadlock would hold.

The UK’s action would cause the Zionists to increase their pressure on the US to lift its embargo. If their efforts were successful, the result would be an increasingly bloody struggle in Palestine for an indefinite period of time, coupled with a catastrophic deterioration in already strained US–UK relations. Should the UK subsequently stop its shipment of arms to the Arab states in order to avoid a complete break with the US, the Arabs would be in a desperate situation. At this stage, the USSR would almost certainly give support to the Arab Armies considerably beyond the small amount of materiel aid already reaching them through the Soviet satellites and would take advantage of the isolation of the Arab world from the West to extend is control into the Arab countries.

[Page 1286]

[Here follow Appendix A, “Present Military Situation”; Appendix B, “Israeli Arms Supply”; Appendix C, “Arab Arms Supply”; Appendix D, “Aircraft and Air Defense Supply”; and Appendix E, “Naval Strength and Supply.”]

  1. The source text includes the CIA map entitled “Military Situation—11 June 1948”, reproduced facing p. 1200.
  2. According to a note on the source text: “The information in this report is as of 1 July 1948. The intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Army, Navy, and the Air Force have concurred in this report. This report was prepared in collaboration with the Departments of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, and at the request of the State Department.”
  3. Dated July 27, p. 1240.