Israeli Armed Forces in the Arab-Israeli Wars

This section contains general information about how the Israeli armed forces have been organised over time.

Jewish Police Force or Notrim

The British called them the Jewish Police but the Jews called them “Notrim” ( “Guards”). Formed in 1936 this was an auxiliary police force officered by British but paid for by the Jewish agency. There were about 2,000 Guards, organised into sections, and carrying only small arms. There aim was to defend Jewish life and property.

There were two components:

  • Jewish Settlement Police. A mobile force.
  • Supernunery Police. Presumably static guards.

Most Guards were also members of the Haganah, and the Haganah used the Settlement Police as an elite force. The unofficial Haganah commander of the Settlement Police was Yitzshak Sadeh who trained them in mobility and surprise attacks.

Special Night Squads (SNS)

A joint British-Jewish unit set up by the British Captain Ord Wingate in 1936 to defended the Iraqi Petroleum Line against Arab guerillas. They were manned by the best of the Settlement Police, but otherwise received little practical British support However, Wingate did gain Haganah support andhence sometimes reinforced his patrols with POSH fighters. The British disbanded the SNS in 1938.

Haganah (“Defence”)

Full name was Irgun Haganah (“Defence Organisation”). This was the umbrella organisation for most of the Israeli armed groups that formed the basis for the future Israeli army. It was an underground organisation, although during WWII the British authorities cooperated with the Haganah as the Haganah could provide personnel to help the allied cause.

In mid-1947 the Haganah was divided into the general militia of the Hel Mishmar, three Palmach brigades (10-12), and six territorial brigades (1-6) of the Hel Sadeh (“Mobile Field Corps”) who were part-time volunteers under Palmach leadership. Brigades 7-9 were created in mid-1948.

Brigade Designation Area of operations Comments
1 Golani Jordan Valley and eastern Galilee Territorial brigade
2 Carmeli Haifa and western Galilee Territorial brigade
3 Alexandroni Sharon central area Territorial brigade
4 Kiryati Tel Aviv Territorial brigade
5 Givati Southern lowlands Territorial brigade
6 Etzioni Jerusalem Territorial brigade
7 Mechanised Western Jerusalem corridor Formed May 1948
8 Armoured
9 Oded North
10 Harel Jerusalem corridor Palmach.
11 * Yiftach Galilee Palmach
12 HaNegev Southern lowlands and northern Negev Palmach

* Laffin (1982b) lists the Yiftah Brigade as the 9th, however, he also correctly lists the Oded Brigade as the 9th. I have assumed that the Yiftah was the 11th because that number is free and the other Palmach Brigades were 10 and 12.


Full name Plugot SadeH (“Field Companies”) and usually abbreviated to POSH. A elite mobile strike force of the Haganah created in 1937. Although primarily a commando style unit they also included topographical, educational, and intelligence (Arab speaking) units. By March 1938 Fosh had 1,500 trained fighters in 13 regional groups. They openly faced Arabs mobs and initiated raids on Arab villages. Disbanded in 1939 when the Hish were formed.

(Now days POSH includes all the fighters in the IDF.)


Full name Heyl SadeH (“Field Force”) but usually abbreviated to HISH. Formed in 1939 from the POSH.



Shachar literally means “Dawn” and is a common first name for both men and women.

Full name was PLugot MACHatz (“Strike Companies”) hence usually known as PALMACH. They were a full time military force set up by the Haganah in May 1941. They were the elite of the Haganah. Many Palmachniks received commando training from the British during WWII as the British saw them as a potential fifth column to operate behind German lines should the Germans ever take Palestine (a “German Platoon” was formed for this eventuality). 100 Palmachniks – primarily from the elite Shachar / “Arab Platoon” – operated in Lebanon and Syria with Free French agents. Later Palmachniks scouted for the British forces fighting the Vichy French in Syria. By 1943 the Palmach had over 1,000 fighters. In 1945, after VE day, the Palmach began operations against the British military in Palestine. By 1947 the Palmach had reached 2,500 men and 500 women in combat units, plus another 1,000 reserves. In 1948 they were Integrated into the IDF although the three Palmach brigades were considered elite.

The Palmach had a principle of “Purity of Arms” hence only attacked military targets. Because of this they rarely co-operated with the more radical Irgun (ITZL) and Stern Gang (LEHI) groups. In some cases the Palmach even captured “wanted” fighters from these groups and handed them over to the British.


The Gadna were the the youth organisation of Haganah. The members received military training in the guise of Boy and Girl Scout movements. The Gadna still exists today (in fact my wife was a Sergeant in Gadna).

Irgun or ITZL

An illegal Israeli underground organisation favouring active anti-British activity, hence outside Haganah control. Led by Menachim Begin. Had a membership of 2,000-4,000 trained in small unit commando style actions. Full name was Irgun TZvah Leumi (“National Military Organisation”) hence usually known in Israel as ITZL.

Stern Group/Gang or LEHI

Another illegal Israeli underground organisation favouring extreme anti-British activity, hence outside Haganah control. Had a membership of 500-800. Lead by Avraham Stern until he was killed by the British police in 1942. Full name was Lohamei Herut Israel (“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”) hence usually known in Israel as LEHI.


On 31 May 1948 the Haganah was officially transformed into the Israeli army. In English it is known as the IDF for Israeli Defence Force, but in Hebrew the full name is TZvah Haganah L’Israel hence in Israel the IDF is usually known as TZAHAL (also spelt Zahal in English).

The factional Stern Gang and Irgun were made illegal upon creation of the IDF. Similarly the Palmach was disbanded on creation of the IDF although the Palmach brigades continued as separate entities within the IDF organisation.


Full name Noar Chilutz Loche’m (“Fighting Pioneer Youth”) although usually abbreviated to NAHAL.

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