Rifles of Israel 1948 - 1980
by Dan Reynolds
On November 29,
1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition the British
controlled mandate of Palestine into two states, one Israel, the other
an Arab Palestine. The United States and the Soviet Union used their
influence to secure the votes of smaller states to gain the two thirds
majority needed to pass this resolution 33 to 13. This transfer was
to take place on October 1, 1948. A UN Special Commission was to
oversee the transition. It was composed of Czechoslovakia, Panama,
Bolivia, Denmark, and the Philippines.
The British received
control of Palestine as a spoil of WW1 when they defeated Turkey.
In the struggle to win WW1, the British promised the Arabs certain things
if they revolted against Turkey. They also promised the Zionist movement
certain things which were in conflict with what the Arabs believed they
were promised. The British issued the Balfour Declaration which promised
a Jewish National Homeland in Palestine which was the goal of the Zionist
movement. The British controlled Palestine under a League of Nations
mandate in the inter war period.
The Zionist movement
began in 1897, founded by Theodore Herzl to establish a Jewish homeland
in Palestine. A limited immigration of European Zionists seeking
to establish agrarian communes had been underway even under Turkish rule
and continued during the years of British control. The goal was to
form a Jewish state. The British resisted implementation of the Balfour
declaration due to the opposition of the Palestine Arabs. This was
sometimes violent and Zionist settlers faced security problems. They sought
to obtain arms for defense, but these were not legal due to British gun
control laws. The answer was to obtain what could be had on the black
market. The Bedouin, nomadic Arabs, had been engaged in smuggling
for ages and many WW1 and older arms could be purchased at the right price.
The Arab population obtained arms in the same manner.
Turkish issued rifles
from the days of Ottoman rule were common. Battlefield pick ups,
deserter weapons, looted dumps, etc. all contributed to the stores which
were for sale. Mausers from the Model 1887, the M1890, Model 1893
and Model 1903 were available as were Gewehr 98 and Kar.98az. Ex-German
Commission Rifles were available, older Martini Peabody rifles as well
as Snider rifles and carbines of former Turkish usage were also to be had.
British designs such as the Martini Henry and SMLE were also for sale.
Egyptian Remington Rolling Block rifles, M1874 Gras rifles, Mannlicher
Model 88/90 and M95 rifles, even Berdan rifles were seen. Limited
numbers of Mosin Nagant rifles also turned up. The big problem with
all black market weapons was ammunition supply. It was always scarce
and expensive. The easiest to obtain was .303 British, and this made
rifles using it worth a large premium.
During WW2, the
British formed a Jewish Brigade which fought with them. Zionist volunteers
fought with the British against the Vichy French in Syria. French arms
and ammunition in this period became available to settlers in Palestine,
again in limited numbers. From 1943 onward large quantities of Italian
arms became available across North Africa and the Near East due to the
Axis collapse. First in Ethiopia and Somali land, then in Cyrenica
and Tunisia, Italian rifles and ammunition were collected from stragglers,
battlefields and poorly guarded Allied collection points. They were
moved by camel and dhow via traditional trade routes. As WW2 ended
small numbers of Enfields were diverted to Zionist groups by elements in
the British Army.
In the wake of the
devastation and dislocation of WW2, large numbers of DP's, Dislocated Persons,
were all over Europe. Numerous among them were Jewish survivors of
NAZI concentration camps. The British did not want all these people
flooding into Palestine and provoking an Arab uprising. The Zionists
arranged to smuggle as many as possible into the area , preparing to create
a Jewish state called Israel. Arms procurement became a major effort
as there was an ongoing conflict with the British and the likelihood of
full scale war with the Arabs.
of rifles on hand were very limited to the Zionists. More handguns
and submachine guns were held. Copies of the Sten machine carbine
were fabricated in workshops and handguns were easy to smuggle. Purchases
continued to be made from willing Arabs, but large quantities of rifles
were necessary. In Europe and the USA operations were undertaken
to acquire as many rifles as possible. In Italy, Carcanos and Enfields
were acquired and captured 7.92 mm Mausers were acquired from various sources.
Surplus U.S. Model 1917 .30-06 Enfields, at least 25,000 were purchased.
As long as the British controlled Palestine it was very ,very difficult
to land any number of rifles. There were three different Zionist
groups attempting to arm themselves. The official Haganah, the Irgun,
and the Stern Group. There was friction between these groups and
they operated independently of each other.
On May 1, 1948 the
British mandate ended and the British withdrew. Israel was proclaimed
and the Arab states attacked. Arms could now be directly imported
without British interference. A major arms deal with Czechoslovakia
involved large number of former German Karbiner Modell 98k 7.92mm Mauser
rifles, copies of the latest version of it based on the Kriegsmodell
in production at ZB in Brno, Moravia, MG34 and ZB26 machine guns, and
even Czech made copies of the Bf109 Messerschmidt fighter. Deliveries
were desperately needed and Dakota aircraft, flying from Bratislava and
refueling in Italy, flew the small arms directly to Israel. Other
rifles were also imported from other sources, but this was the big bulk
of all the rifles acquired at this period. The conflict ended in
In 1949, the rights
to produce the Czech ZK-420S in 7.92mm along with prototypes, work in progress
and some tooling was purchased. Prior to the Communist coup in Prague
it had been planned to adopt this rifle to replace the Mauser in Czechoslavakian
service. The policy changed and it was decide to adopt an intermediate
round in a rifle of other design, the 7.62x45mm Vz.52 being selected in
1952. The Communist line changed the Czech relationship with Israel
after this 1949 purchase as Stalin began the "anti-cosmpolitan" campaign
and purged the Czech leadership.
Circa 1951 Israel
began buying arms from FN in Belgium, including 7.92mm Browning Type D
automatic rifles and 7.92mm Mauser carbines. A factory to make the
Kar.98k in Israel was ordered from Switzerland, but delivery and start
up dragged out over a long period and it never produced complete rifles
but made parts for existing rifles.
During this period
the rights and tooling for the American Johnson rifle and light machine
gun which had been made in limited quanity for the USMC ( American Marine
Corp) were purchased and prototypes were made in .303 and 7.92mm. These
were called the "Dror" and they were used in a series of tests along with
the M1 Garand, K43, and M-420S to select a follow on standard rifle for
the Ka98k. It was by now 1954 and it was clear that NATO was going
to adopt the FN FAL rifle in 7.62x51mm which Britan had adopted back in
1951. FN was sucessful in selling this rifle to Israel.
arrived just as Britan and France attacked Egypt and seized the Suez Canal.
Israel entered the war on on October 29, 1956 and some FAL rifles were
in use but there were problems with them in the sandy environment. Deliveries
with some modification continued along with some 7.62x51mm Mauser carbines.
Israel began assembling these rifles in country from FN supplied parts
and it remained in issue for many years but it was not a completely satisfactory
In the 1967 War,
large numbers of AK47 7.62x39mm rifles were captured and it was so much
more reliable than the FAL that these AK types were issued and a derivative
was evolved in 5.56mm, originally using Finn Valmet receivers, called the
The USA had supplied
large numbers of M16A1 5.56mm rifles and these were and are issued but
they failed to match the sturdiness and reliabilty of the AK. The
Galil design was adopted as standard to replace the FAL, but problems developed
with the receivers cracking after about 5600 rounds were fired in them.
It was continued in service and over the years produced in large numbers,
some for export. However the USA continued to supply M16A1 and later
versions of the design which served along with Galil. In the years
after the 1973 War, a large number of US M14 7.62x51mm rifles were captured
from the Palestinians. These had been supplied by the USA to Saudi
Arabia. Many of these were issued to Israeli snipers and reserve