When Israel issued its declaration of statehood in May of 1948, David Ben-Gurion assumed the joint offices of prime minister and defense minister. He demanded that the various armed factions that had been fighting to protect Jewish families and towns from Arab attacks be merged into one fighting force, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He masterminded the creation of many of the burgeoning state’s institutions and various internal projects to aid development. He organized, for example, Operation Magic Carpet to airlift Jews from unfriendly Arab countries, the founding of new towns and cities, and a national waterworks along with other infrastructure projects.
He continued to encourage pioneering and farming in the remote areas of the land. Ben-Gurion achieved Theodor Herzl’s dream, his passion for a Jewish state, and was then entrusted with its guardianship. The newly acknowledged State of Israel was all that Herzl had imagined. As Yoram Hazony, author, philosopher, and political theorist, wrote: “Ben-Gurion found himself overseer of a state that was neither neutral nor multinational as Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, Lessing Rosenwald or the ever-present U.S. State Department had hoped to see formed. It was, instead, in the most precise way conceivable the state about which Herzl had written in The Jewish State—a place where non-Jewish residents were welcomed ‘to participate in the up-building of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship,’ but one whose significance, single-mindedness, and function would nevertheless result in ‘the right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate…in their own sovereign state.’”
When Ben-Gurion stepped to the podium at 4:00 p.m. on that warm Friday afternoon in May, he carefully read the statement that declared Israel’s sovereignty. The following day, May 15, Egypt launched her military aircraft toward Tel Aviv in retaliation. It was Shabbat, and there would be no official response until Saturday evening at the conclusion of the holy day. As the prime minister again delivered a news bulletin to his awaiting audience, he announced that an Egyptian warplane had been shot down, its pilot imprisoned, and the aircraft added to the Israeli Air Force. He also reported that the United States had been the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence.
Ben-Gurion’s announcement was the initial step in a war that would last one year, three months, and ten days. It would test Israel’s very resolve and preparedness. It was a war very few expected the newly reborn state to survive. Azzam Pasha, the Arab League secretary-general incorrectly asserted: “It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.” It was an opinion widely shared around the world. But it was an opinion that did not take into account the promises and prophetic plan of God.
At the outset of the confrontation, it was obvious that Israeli forces were greatly outnumbered. One army, alone, the Egyptians, boasted 40,000 ground troops armed with approximately 135 armored fighting vehicles, heavy artillery, and 60 planes in its arsenal, including bombers and single-seat fighter planes. Forces in Egypt and Jordan had been trained and led by British army officers. The Israelis were faced with those daunting figures, yet marched forward determined and unbowed.