The State of Israel was formed in May 14, 1948.

I guess the first Arab-Israel war broke out in the same month of the same year.

Israel won the war decisively.

The question is not "How did they win the war?"

The question is, "How did they build up their military within days of the inception of the State of Israel?"

Who helped them to build their Military so quickly?

Where did they find military hardware so quickly?

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    Just as India and Pakistan had an army on day 1 of their existence. No state exists without first building an army (except when another state's army assists them first). The army in question was previously the provincial government's (Britain's) army. It became the Israeli army once Israel came into existence.
    – Apoorv
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 9:09
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    @MonsterTruck, Wouldn't the army have been mostly British? I'd have thought that Britain would have pulled out along with their army.
    – Russell
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 10:25
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    According to Wikipedia, it was mass conscription.
    – Russell
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 10:40
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    @Russell The British did leave but the Haganah/IDF/Jewish Brigade etc… (some of which were technically part of the British army before) didn't. They were reorganised into the modern day IDF (Israel Defense Forces).
    – Apoorv
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 0:50
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    @Russell That you answered --mass conscription. But an army is more than people. The infrastructure existed already.
    – Apoorv
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 4:47

4 Answers 4


The Arab-Israeli conflict didn't start in 1948, it has a long history and was particularly intensified after the British government promised Palestine both to its Arab and Jewish population in the course of World War I. The first armed conflict is apparently assumed to be the Battle of Tel Hai in 1920.

As a result, while Israel didn't exist before 1948 there was already a number of Jewish paramilitary organizations like Haganah, Irgun, Lehi. You can read the details in Wikipedia's history of the Israel Defense Forces but the point is: the army didn't come out of nowhere, it was created around existing organizations that came out in the open. Obviously, these were reinforced by a mass conscription once war broke out but there were existing structures available to integrate new arrivals in.

As to the military equipment, there was apparently a lot of it smuggled into the country over the earlier years. France was also an important source of weaponry, at that time it was the only country to sell weapons to Israel (later replaced by the United States).

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    "The Battle" of Tel Hai in 1920 is a peculiar choice of wording: 8 killed vs 5 killed... Thus decisive Arab victory! No kidding, everything is in Wikipedia.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 19:36
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    @kubanczyk: Your point posting this non-sense? Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 21:29
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    @corsiKa: You are wrong. Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 16:34
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    @corsiKa - The main opponents of Jewish tribes at the time weren't Arab states. Arabs didn't reach the area en masse till Islamic invasion and conquest of the 7th Century AD, way after Jews were scattered out of the area for most part. Moreover, both Arabs and Islamic states were initially significantly more Jewish-friendly than not, especially compared to Christendom.
    – DVK
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 18:33
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    @WladimirPalant - who said it was without approval? Remember that USSR started out VERY pro-Israel, thinking it will be another Socialist Paradize based on who was running things there (yeah, I know it is deeply schitzophrenic relative to Stalin's ideas about jews in 1952/3)
    – DVK
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 21:18

As a matter of fact, the 1948 war actually started on November 30th, 1947 - the day after the UN Partition Resolution, as the Arabs vowed not to accept it. The first phase of the war pitted Palestine Arab irregular warbands against Jewish paramilitary formations - the mainstream Haganah, the more nationalist Irgun, and the really really radical Lehi. The Arabs were largely beaten in this phase. During the second phase, the armies of five regular Arab states invaded the newly formed State of Israel and by and large met with defeat. (The only one of them to acquit itself well was the Transjordanian Arab Legion, a British-trained and partially British-officered unit).

The main brunt of the first phase of the fighting was borne by the Haganah. Where did it come from? Well, for the duration of the British Mandate in Palestine, the Jews were building, with British sanction, the institutions of a proto-state, usually called in later historiography "medina shebaderech", literally meaning Hebrew for "a state on its way". This included democratic elections of quasi-executive and quasi-legislative councils, trade unions, healthcare institutions etc. (Wikipedia is very brief on this - but still worth a look). It was also building a paramilitary capacity, known as the Haganah - unlike the rest of the institutions, this was mostly against British wishes. (Haganah-British relations are a somewhat complicated subject, which I haven't time to treat here fully). Haganah was also practicing a form of "voluntary conscription" - young men were expected by their society to join its training for a year; those who declined to do so were socially frowned upon.

So, when the newborn Israel needed an army, it had the nucleus of one - Haganah. This is the story in brief.

One source which treats this from an interesting angle is a chapter in the book Supreme Command by E.Cohen.


Actually she wasn't able - the Israeli army of that time was quite far from being mighty. It was a more or less hodge-podge assembly of what they could assemble during the British rule and what they could import just after the British left. The thing is (as other replies pointed out) that the invading Arab armies (with the exception of the Arab Legion from Transjordan) weren't any more mighty, even less so.

During the British era prior to the Independence there was a ban on weapons so what they could smuggle in and hide from the Brits were quite limited in quantity and quality. But even that time there were local conflicts between Arabs and Jews and it was clear that the moment the Brits leave there will be a wide-scale open conflict. So they built up paramilitary militias (like Haganah) which later during the war served as the core of the new army (other replies give a good view on this) and tried to arm themselves: smuggle in weapons and also manufacture them while hiding all of these from the Brits. E.g. they exported civilian airplanes to use in agriculture then secretly converted them to military use - once the Brits left these converted civilian airplanes formed the first batch of the new Israeli Airforce. They manufactured weapons, copying the British arms (like the Stern machinegun https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sten#Palestininian_Mandate_Stens ) or even inventing new types like the Davidka mortar which wasn't really of any use as a mortar but was loud and scary which made it quite useful in scaring the enemy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davidka). Another preparation for the war was that the Jewish Agency tried to buy up weapons they could get in Europe and in the US. They could buy up a variety of weapons, usually outdated or inferior versions of more modern weapons (like the Czechoslovak Avia S-199 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avia_S-199) but as the enemy wasn't equiped any better it gave the Israelis quite the edge during the war. The Jewish Agency made a deal with Chechoslovakia, purchased arms from them and had them store them in Chechoslovakia. They smuggled in what they could during the British rule and started to transport the rest (like the airplanes) once the British left (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_shipments_from_Czechoslovakia_to_Israel_1947%E2%80%9349). This was called Operation Balak (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Balak)


The Israel had a number of paramilitary groups which had been training, stockpiling arms long before the 1948 war, many Jews joined the British forces during ww2 to gain military experience. The Zionists had created a shadow army and had stockpiled weapons for a long time before 1948.

The Local Arab forces were very disorganised divided and had little weaponry by comparison, and their supporters in other Arab states were reluctant to effectively arm them no lest because they were keen to suppress any possible Palestinian state and annex land the could form that state.

The Arab intervention forces were poorly organised and equipped in General and very divided politically. The Arab Legion was pretty well equipped and organised (though not that well supplied with ammunition that had not stockpiled well and the blockade of resupply was much more effective on Arab forces than Zionist forces, who were better able to circumvent the arms embargo during the war and cease fires) Jordan sought to reach an understanding with the Zionist leadership and was primarily focused on annexing much or the proposed Palestinian state rather than attacking the new state of Israel the only real disagreement being Jerusalem. Syrians were involved in a limited land Grab, the Lebanese made a demonstration not an attack, and Iraqi forces were troublemakers shipped off rather than supported army force.

The Syrians used extremely dated pre ww2 French tanks of dubious value. The Israeli forces were not fighting well developed and equipped armies. The Arab states were also fairly new, badly equipped with obsolete weapons operating in many cases a long distances from the logistical bases.

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    second paragraph is bogus. There was no concept of "Palestinians" until AFTER the 1948 war, when Jordan and Syria invented the term to unite the Arabs they'd forcibly displaced out of Israel against Israel. The Arab locals in Israel were as well armed as the Israeli locals, mostly with assorted WW1 and WW2 era rifles and pistols. On the Israeli side though, the armed forces had detachments in most towns and Kibutzin in anticipation of an attack and raids by Arab bandits, which helped enormously during the early stages of the conflict.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 8:08
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    Yes there was a concept of Palestinians before 1948. My wife who was born early 1948 in what is now Northern Israel has Palestine as the place of her birth on her birth certificate. Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 8:34
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    "Palestinian" meant "Jew" until 1960-ies, when PLO hijacked the term.
    – sds
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 20:42
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    The various Palestinian Arab Congresses 'en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine_Arab_Congress
    – pugsville
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 5:20
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    – pugsville
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 5:26

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