This is a series of posts on the Suez Crisis. See here for the first regular post in the series, here for the previous post, and here to go back to the master index.
I’ve had them linked on this website for a while, but it seems a good time to discuss them in detail. (They’re on the sidebar to the left of this post.)
Shortly after I started posting about games, history, and the history of my games, it occurred to me that some of this information would best represented via a timeline. WordPress organizes posts mostly in the reverse order that they are written, meaning that a reader who isn’t following along in real time encounters things backwards. Even if they’re inclined to follow along in reverse order, there’s no guarantee I’m going to write all the topical posts at the same time. Where posts will naturally be organized into historical events, it seemed to me like there should be an easy way to represent them.
My first stop was to see what was available as a WordPress plugin. I did find a few offerings with some mixed results, but in the process discovered a very interesting piece of software. Knight Lab at Northwestern University has developed a script to display easily-configurable, multi-media timelines.
The way it is designed, it is meant to be inserted into a webpage or blog post. However, WordPress doesn’t support that. With some editing of the page code one might get around the limitations, but I’m currently using the free version of WordPress, so that was also out of the question. In the end, I liked the look of it and decided to simply link to a full page display of the time line (again, over there to the left.)
You may have noticed that I’ve started progressing through the Cold War and explored a number of games covering the late 40s and early 50s. When I got to the Arab-Israeli War of 1956 and the Suez Crisis, I found myself searching online for games that covered this period. In doing so, I stumbled across some rather intriguing websites cover the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
My first accidental find was a game, which I talk about in my next post. As you’ll see, that discovery drew me into the 1947-1948 timeframe and so I dug around to look at other wargamers’ take on the that period. I quickly found a set of posts dealing with that war, and particularly dealing with it from the wargamer’s point of view. It is a different perspective. If nothing else, the information is organized by what we wargamers like to see; locations, dates, and orders of battle. The author, clearly, meant it all as a start for developing some Arab-Israeli War scenarios, so it isn’t a comprehensive reference. It emphasizes information that might lead to development of wargame scenarios. Among his information is a timeline for for the period, starting during the First World War and continuing through to the first Truce in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
This timeline presentation was very useful to me. As I’ve said before, it is difficult for the uninitiated to make sense of all the different personalities and organizations in that war. Up until the forming of the Israeli Defense Force, the combatants were a range of different militia groups with a rather convoluted lineage going back decades. Throw that on top of my minimal understanding of time and place, and it becomes almost impossible to follow who is fighting whom and when.
So as I was looking at his timeline, it occurred to me “Wouldn’t it be neat if I had this visualized in the Timeline tool I’ve been using for Wargames.” It seemed to me it would be an easy thing to whip together, even it if was only for my own personal amusement. The Knight Lab system uses a spreadsheet* to create the configuration and it should be just a matter of copy-pasting the information from the existing format into the desired format, relying on the tool to do the plotting.
Of course, like anything computer related, it never seems to be as easy as you would think it would be. It ended up being a good bit of effort. On the plus side, it did make the information much easier to digest which meant just the exercise of reformatting the data helped me understand the nature of what was there. For example, the original author seemed to only get so far with his project, as the original timeline goes only through the beginning of the first Truce of the war (June 1948). It also became apparent that there were different levels of granularity. Outside of the 1947 and 1948 conflicts, events are spaced out over the decades. But during combat operations, there are multiple sets of events going on simultaneously. It is not uncommon to have multiple events per day taking place in different locations, with the timeline bouncing back and forth between operations for many days in a row. As it turns out, plotting events like this on a timeline presents somewhat poorly and so the result remains difficult to read and digest.
The first thing I did, which incidentally addressed this point, was to split up the timeline progression at the end of the Second World War. I did not want a new timeline to overlap the existing timeline I’ve been working on for the Cold War. The Israel timeline itself hit a lull during the Second World War as the world’s focus on defeating the Nazi’s seemed to allow the Arabs and Jews to defer their differences in Palestine. I actually added a couple of extra references at the end of the new timeline, where flashback events from my games from the 1950s took us into the 1940s.
I also created a split at the Israeli Declaration of Independence itself. Before the full-scale Arab invasion, even once the fighting began in earnest in late 1947, was between small groups of irregulars, and largely involving Arab harassment of the convoys that the Israelis used to supply their more remote outposts. The distinct differences in operations made this a natural dividing point.
Issues remained, however, with depicting the multi-front nature of the fighting, event when focused on the short time periods. To help resolve the problem, I made use of one of their other tools. The Story Map tool allows a similar layout of slide to be integrated with a map (or, for that matter, any graphic) if the information to be displayed is more geographical than chronological. The best use of this tool is probably something like the example, where the combination of time and distance is fairly linear. Less useful are examples where the “story” has you bouncing around the map, as just so happens with these these battles.
Nonetheless, I think it does improve the presentation to break up, as I have, the timeline into five distinct sectors, whose timelines are handled separately.
- Northern Galilee, and the fighting around Safed
- The fighting within and near Jerusalem, separate from;
- The battles for control of the Jerusalem Corridor, the supply route from Tel Aviv.
- The Syrian attack on the Kinarot Valley, also called the Triangle, and
- The Southern Sector, or the isolated settlements in Negev.
Perhaps the most significant event of the war was the pair of truces arrange in mid-1948. Although both sides used the lull to reorganize and rearm, Israel gained particular advantage from the ability to create a national army and purchase modern armaments. It is at this event that the timeline at Balagan.info stops, and so do I with my graphical conversion. While I may be tempted to begin mixing in information from other sources, I’m no longer simply re-presenting that work, which broaches some ethical boundaries.
When the fighting resumed in October, the military advantage had shifted to the Israeli’s where it mostly remained until the signing of separate armistice agreements in 1949. I found a timeline through that period, including Israel’s October offensives, which, interestingly enough, also cites Balagan.info as a source.
So there it is. The whole project can be viewed starting with the timeline in 1917, and following the links to get to the additional details. Hopefully this helps with your understanding of the 1948 Arab Israeli War and, by extension, the wars in that region that followed. It has for me.
Return to the master post or go on to the next article.
*As one option. Data can be compiled into a spreadsheet, which then is run through the script hosted on the university website. You can also create the data structures and/or host the script locally, depending on how you want to organize the data.