This Week in Israeli History: Axis Bombing of Tel Aviv and Haifa, Nasser’s IDF-Induced Heart Attack, and Mr. Armor

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Axis Bombing of Haifa and Tel Aviv During WWII
In June 1940, Fascist Italy allied itself with Nazi Germany and declared war on the Allied powers. In an effort to cripple Britian’s strategic stronghold in the Middle East, the Axis powers led by the Italian Royal Air Force set its sights on Mandatory Palestine.
The first strikes targeted Haifa, the country’s largest port and home to the Mosul–Haifa oil pipeline. Italian sorties bombed the Haifa coastline and severely damaged several major oil refineries while killing over 40 civilians and injuring dozens more.
The deadliest raid was carried out on September 9, 1940 when Italian planes dropped nearly four tons of bombs on the densely populated civilian areas of Tel Aviv, killing over 120 people. Unlike Haifa, Tel Aviv was not deemed of strategic importance and therefore was not equipped with anti-aircraft units.
In late September, Italy launched another slew of attacks on Haifa that killed 40 civilians and caused extensive damage to the oil refineries. The following year saw a recrudescence of attacks carried out by Italy, Germany, and Vichy France. In addition to repeated attacks on Haifa, a German bomber killed 13 Tel Aviv residents in June 1941.
Although the two-year bombing campaign claimed the lives of over 200 civilians and damaged Britain’s oil supply, the Axis raids failed to yield substantial military and political goals.
Operation Raviv – The Operation That Gave Nasser a Heart Attack
Operation Raviv is one of the most unknown yet successful Israeli military operations of all time, as well as the only ground operation conducted by the IDF during the War of Attrition.
On September 9th, 1969, the IDF dispatched armored and infantry forces across the Suez Canal and into Egypt. Led by Arabic speaking IDF commandos, the forces manned Egyptian tanks captured during the Six Day War, subsequently fooling the Egyptians into thinking that the troops were their own. As a result of the ruse, the IDF forces met little to no resistance and waltzed through Egyptian territory, destroying 12 outposts and 100-200 enemy troops.
After advancing 45 kilometers relatively unhindered, the IDF turned back and crossed the Suez back into Israeli territory. Three IDF soldiers were killed due to an errant explosion, and one fighter pilot was last seen parachuting from his plane, his whereabouts still unknown.
Upon hearing the news, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser was so shocked and angered that he suffered a heart attack, and upon recovering, dismissed his Chief of Staff.
Israel “Talik” Tal – Mr. Armor
Israel Tal was born in the small village of Be’er Tuvia in 1924. At the age of seventeen, he joined the Jewish Brigade and fought in North Africa and Italy during WWII. Upon his return to Mandatory Palestine, he joined the Haganah and later fought in the War of Independence as a platoon commander.
Tal proceeded to climb the ranks of the IDF and soon found himself in the Armored Corps, where he grasped the potential and power of the tank and championed it as the primary power of the military. In 1964, he assumed command of the Armored Corps and completely reformatted its tactics and operational doctrine.
During the Six Day War, his strategy proved effective as he led the Armored Corps to a sweeping victory in the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. His accomplishments led to his appointment as Deputy Chief of Staff, a role which he filled during the Yom Kippur War.
In 1974, Tal retired from the IDF and joined the Defense Ministry to lead a new project of tank development. After years of hard work the project produced the Merkava, a tank widely regarded as one of the best in the world.
Known by many as “Mr. Armor,” Tal was awarded the Israel Security Award twice, as well as the Israel Prize for his contribution to the country’s security. In the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, Tal is listed as one of the five greatest armored commanders to have ever lived. Talik passed away on September 8, 2010 at the age of 85.