Operation Shmone (Hebrew: מִבְצָע שְׁמוֹנֶה </noinclude>, Mivtza Shmone, lit. Eight) was an Israeli military operation conducted against the Egyptian-held police fort of Iraq Suwaydan in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The battle was fought between the Israel Defense Forces and the Egyptian Army on November 9, 1948 and ended in an Israeli victory, following numerous previous Israeli attempts to capture the fort, two of them in Operation Yoav just weeks before.
The Israeli 8th and Givati brigades attacked the fort in broad daylight following a heavy artillery barrage. After a hole was blown through the wall of the fort, the Egyptian forces surrendered. The capture of the fort led to the Egyptian evacuation of Bayt 'Affa and other nearby positions, reducing the besieged Fallujah Pocket to the villages of Fallujah and Iraq al-Manshiyya.
The Iraq Suwaydan police fort was built along with the other British Tegart forts in the wake of the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. It occupied a strategic location overlooking the Majdal–Hebron road and the junction with the internal Negev road. When the British withdrew from the area in May 1948, the fort was handed over to Muslim Brotherhood forces. It was a major obstacle to Israeli transportation to the Negev enclave and served as a forward base against Israeli positions in the area, including kibbutz Negba. The Israelis nicknamed the fort "The Monster on the Hill".
Before Operation Shmone, the Israelis made seven attempts to capture the fort throughout the war. The first was made on May 13, right after the Muslim Brotherhood occupied the building. The Givati 53rd Battalion was expecting to find the place deserted, but met with fire and retreated. Three more tries were made before the first truce (June 11); on May 18–19, forces from the 53rd and 54th battalions attacked from the north and were beaten back. The same units repeated their attempt two days later but also failed to capture the fort. Finally, a Negev Brigade unit tried and failed in the same task on the night of June 10–11.
The next and fifth Israeli attack came on July 8–9, during Operation An-Far in the Battles of the Ten Days. The Negev Brigade came close to reaching the fort itself, after cutting through four outlying fences, but retreated due to ammunition shortages.
No further attempts to capture the fort were made until the resumption of hostilities in Operation Yoav's Battles of the Separation Corridor. On October 19–20 and October 21–22, the 51st Battalion of Givati attacked from the south and on their second try managed to reach the fort itself. However, they too were unable to occupy the structure and retreated. Despite the failures, the Israelis managed to surround the Egyptian 4th Brigade in the area around Fallujah in Operation Yoav (referred to as the Fallujah Pocket), preventing outside reinforcement and resupply. This paved the way for Operation Shmone (literally, Eight), so named because it would be the 8th Israeli attack on the location.
The operation was proposed by the 8th Brigade commander, Yitzhak Sadeh, and carried out by elements of the 8th Brigade. Sadeh conducted extensive research on the possibility of an attack, and concluded that the fort's defense was perfect and neither a surprise attack nor ingenious maneuvering would win the battle. He proposed to hold the attack during the day and use overwhelming firepower. The plan for the artillery attack was presented by the junior officer Dan Kessler. Three waves of attackers were made ready: two for the assault and one as operational reserve. Diversionary attacks would also take place in Iraq al-Manshiyya and the Iraq Suwaydan village.
The operation started at 14:00 on November 9, 1948, with an artillery barrage from a number of units: two batteries of 75 mm Saint Chamond-Mondragón ("Cucaracha"), two batteries of 75 mm Krupp cannons, a number of 6 pounders and sixteen 120 mm mortars with delayed fuses. The cannons fired directly, in order to force the Egyptians to abandon their defensive posts and go inside the building. Machine gunners from Givati's 51st Battalion also positioned themselves to the west of the fort to provide cover fire.
The Israelis selected southwest as the direction of the main attack, in order to avoid the Egyptian-held village Bayt 'Affa, which was defended by 2–3 companies and a number of 6 pounders that could be used to fire at the Israelis. This also made sure that the setting sun would work against the Egyptian side, which would be blinded. The attacking force consisted of 8th Brigade forces: two tanks, two half-tracks armed with 6 pounders and two half-tracks armed with flamethrowers.
The assault started at 15:45 under the command of Abraham "Kiki" Elkin (who later was promoted to Lt. Colonel), and all the while the fort was subjected to artillery fire. At 15:47, the Egyptian flag on the southeastern tower was knocked down by a shell, which significantly raised the Israeli morale. Yitzhak Sadeh wrote: "The flag is a symbol. I guess our "dry" people hold symbols in high regard. When the flag fell, to them it looked like the victory was in the box." At 16:00 the Israeli forces breached the outlying fences without encountering resistance.
After a hole was blown through the fort's outer wall, the 180 remaining Egyptian soldiers surrendered without a battle. There were few Israeli casualties. Other than the prisoners of war, the Israelis captured four medium machine guns, two 3" mortars and a number of PIATs. Following the surrender of the fort, the Egyptians decided to evacuate nearby positions, including Bayt 'Affa, the village Iraq Suwaydan and the positions west of Fallujah. The Israelis immediately capitalized on this, taking hills 112.4, 112.6, 120.4 and 128.6 on November 9, and the seven hills west of Fallujah on November 10, which they had failed to take by force just a week earlier.
Meanwhile, Israeli mechanized forces were met with stiff resistance in the village of Iraq Suwaydan, and two armored vehicles were hit by Egyptian artillery. The driver of the first vehicle, Private Siman-Tov Gana, was severely injured but provided cover fire for the rest of the force as it retreated, and was awarded the Hero of Israel citation for his efforts. Six Israelis were killed and 14 were wounded in the battle.
In Operation Shmone, the Israel Defense Forces significantly managed to reduce the size of the Fallujah Pocket, limiting it only to Fallujah and Iraq al-Manshiyya. The victorious Israeli forces returned for a victory celebration held in Negba a week later. Negba, which had been attacked twice by Egyptian forces, was presented the Egyptian flag from the fort by Yitzhak Sadeh.
The Givati Brigade culture officer, Abba Kovner, renamed the structure to Yoav Fortress (Hebrew: מְצוּדַת יוֹאָב </noinclude>), after Yitzhak "Yoav" Dubno, who was killed in action in Negba on May 21, 1948. The fort became an Israeli military base and the Givati Museum was opened there in the 1980s.
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- Sadeh, Yitzhak (1950). How the Fortress was Captured. Workers' Library (Hebrew)
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