In the early 1950s
had a very hostile
relationship that was just short of outright war
. What is now known as the West Bank
belonged to Jordan at the time, and was used as a staging area for Arab terrorist
gangs to conduct raid
s on Israeli towns, with the implicit consent of the host country. In the middle of 1953
, after a mother
and two of her children were killed in their sleep during one such assaul, the IDF
decided to do something about it.
The Jordanian town of Qibbiya (also spelled Kibia or Kibya) was known to be a popular haven for the gangs that invaded Israel. It was also well inside the Israeli-Jordan border. The IDF chose to use its 101st commando unit and its only paratrooper brigade, to send Jordan a message by raiding the town and evacuating its citizens. While a small group of commandos provided a diversion by firing upon two nearby towns, the rest of the soldiers would blow up the buildings in the town. There were possible approaches to this: One was to destroy the outlying government buildings and wealthier houses only (destroy the support centers only), and the other was do blow up the entire town (send a more powerful message).
When the paratrooper commander expressed his belief that his unit was not ready, a young Ariel Sharon, the head of the commandos and the lowest-ranking officer in the room, volounteered to lead attack instead. Sharon decided on the second plan, and ordered his troops to pack in over 600 kilos of dynamite on the raid.
After easily dispatching the Jordanian Defense Force soldiers stationed at the outlying buildings, Sharon's force entered what appeared to be an entirely deserted town. Troops performed a hasty house-to-house search, entering each house, firing a shot to make themselves noticed and asking the occupants to come out to evacuate. Only a few children and old people were discovered in the searches. The soldiers took them out of the town, then blew up the buildings and made their retreat, believing that they had only killed 10 soldiers in battle.
By the time they were debriefed, it was discovered that 59 additional civilians, most of them women and children, had died in the attack. They had hidden in their houses and not shown themselves when strange soldiers appeared at their doors.
As a result of the raid, Israel took a lot of global criticism, but Sharon got a good reputation as an effective fighter who could get things done, even earning an audience with David Ben Gurion.