This Week in Israeli History: Battle of Be’er Sheva, Sinking of the Emir Farouk and the Chazon Ish

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The Battle of Be’er Sheva
After Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, the invading Egyptian army launched a two-pronged attack on the Negev, Israel’s southern region. The first force, which comprised of the majority of Egypt’s army, advanced up the coastline towards Tel Aviv while the second force advanced towards Be’er Sheva with their sights set on Jerusalem.
After effortlessly taking over the city shortly after the outbreak of the war, the Egyptian army left a sizable contingent of troops to hold the city and then advanced to Hebron and Jerusalem. With the Egyptian forces spread out throughout Israel, the IDF High Command seized the opportunity and greenlighted Operation Yoav whose goal was to drive a wedge between the two Egyptian forces and cut off their supply lines.
The success of Operation Yoav largely depended on the capture of Be’er Sheva, which in addition to its military significance would also give the nascent Jewish state valuable political leverage.
On October 21, 1948, the IDF commenced its offensive on Be’er Sheva (codenamed Operation Moses) and overwhelmed the Egyptian defense despite being outnumbered. In only one day, the IDF liberated the historic city and severed the supply route of the invading Egyptian army. The conquest of Be’er Sheva was the final stage of Operation Yoav, whose success gave Israel a substantial advantage over the Egyptians that would ultimately lead to the capture of the entire Negev.
Sinking the Emir Farouk
The Emir Farouk was the flagship of the Egyptian navy during the War of Independence. During the war, the Emir Farouk led a fleet of ships to Israel’s coast and set up a maritime blockade that prevented Israel from receiving arms and men from the sea.
Ben-Gurion repeatedly denied the request of the Israeli Navy to sink the ship, but Paul Shulman, the deputy commander of the Navy, was persistent. Shulman, a 26 year old American who made Aliyah to help Israel in the war, was successful in convincing Ben-Gurion who agreed to okay the mission: "Paul, if you can sink them, shoot; if you can't, don't."
The mission was carried out on October 22, 1948, and was led by Yohai Ben-Nun, the sixth commander of the Israeli Navy. The mission was successful and marked Israel’s most successful naval victory of the War of Independence.
Avrahom Yeshaya Karelitz – The Chazon Ish
Avraham was born in a small Belarusian town in 1878 to a religious family of Torah scholars. After learning for years under his father, the town’s local rabbi, Avraham moved to Vilna where his brilliance was recognized by Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, one of the leading poskim of his generation.
In Vilna he anonymously published his first halachic work, Chazon Ish (lit. Vision of Man), a title that would later become more famous than his birth name. With the encouragement of Rabbi Grodzinski, the Chazon Ish immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1933 and settled in the city of Bnei Brak.
Although holding no official positions, he was quickly recognized by the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community as a brilliant and influential Torah scholar. The Chazon Ish broached many topics that until that point remained undiscussed, particularly laws pertaining to the cultivation of the Land of Israel.
Although the Chazon Ish was not a Zionist, he was not adamantly opposed to the movement. After the Jewish state was formed, David Ben-Gurion famously met with the Torah giant to discuss matters pressing the Haredi community. Although the two did not find much common ground, they amiably parted and expressed favorable opinions of each other.
Until his passing on October 24, 1953, the Chazon Ish was the supreme authority on all halachic matters. His teachings and views served as the foundation of the Haredi community in modern-day Israel.