Israeli Soldiers in Independence War of 1948
Israeli soldiers in independence war of 1948

Poor leadership meant that Arab forces resisting Zionist military units in the run-up to the Israeli War of Independence were doomed to defeat.

The head of British military intelligence in Palestine during 1947-48 dismissed Arab leaders as cowards, files which were previously kept secret have now revealed.

In the weeks leading up to the partition of Palestine in 1948, when the British empire relinquished its mandate over the disputed territory, Arab and Jewish forces sought to establish military bridgeheads in anticipation of the battles to come.

Unlike Field Marshal Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff who famously predicted that the new Jewish state would be defeated by the Arabs in two weeks, the head of British Intelligence, Lt Col CRW Norman, made a more accurate forcast. In secret memos, he portrayed the Arab forces as unprofessional, poorly led and incapable of resisting the nascent Israeli army.

Norman said Arab soldiers were "following the cowardly example of their inept leaders" by fleeing in their thousands as Jewish forces advanced.

In his final report before the British mandate was due to end in May 1948, he reported that Arabs "deserted positions and jettisoned arms and equipment" in the battle for Haifa.

British officals also spoke of the "steady influx of Arab volunteers" from neighbouring countries pouring into Palestine.

Echoing the contemporary debate over the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, documents from 1946 reveal officials warning London that Jewish opinion would oppose partition "unless the Jewish share were so enlarged as to make the scheme wholly unacceptable to Arabs".

The Palestine records were released by the National Archives in Kew, West London.