Right after the Arab-Israeli War began on May 15, 1948, the CIA produced a memo two weeks later (1).
The memo, titled Clandestine Air Transport Operations, gave a brief overview and several examples of how private U.S. citizens were supporting the Jewish or Arab people during the Partition of Palestine. This support was not endorsed by the U.S. government at the time. The report states that these individuals were secretly flying supplies, equipment, and even arms into Palestine in an effort to support the warring factions.
The citizens referenced in the memo were owners of charter airlines in the U.S. who would order the illicit goods to be flown into Palestine via less obvious routes.
The Partition Plan for Palestine was a United Nations attempt in 1947 to separate Palestine into three states: a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a neutral area that encompassed Jerusalem. Of the countries who voted on the plan, 33 voted for while 13 voted against. (2)
The plan was never implemented, and its proposal resulted in a riff between the Arab and Jewish communities. Tensions between the two communities exploded into a civil war when Jewish leaders declared the establishment of a Jewish state within Palestine. The war became known as the Arab-Israeli War.
Covert Flights Into Palestine
The memo states that the clandestine activities conducted by these private citizens during this conflict posed several national security threats to the Unites States. According to the document:
“U.S. national security is unfavorably affected by these developments and that it could be seriously jeopardized by continued illicit traffic in the ‘implements of war.’”
The memo offers five reasons these activities could have jeopardized U.S. national security; however, three of the reasons have been redacted from the declassified report. The two that have not been redacted are the possible negative effects on liaisons with foreign political groups and the possible protest from “friendly” governments. Apparently, the U.S. had already experienced some of these negative effects, and offered those up in the document.
Unfortunately, those too have been redacted.
The CIA did outline at least two of the known instances of these clandestine operations. The memo does not mention any dates when these action took place, but it is implied that they occurred during the proposed partition plan or right after.
The two examples the memo listed included two separate companies, indicating that these clandestine activities were not the result of a single group. The two companies specified in the document were Service Airways and Ocean Trade Airways.
Service Airways was created in 1944 in New Jersey as a legitimate charter business, but was purchased in 1948 for the sole purpose as a cover to secretly purchase planes for the Israeli Air Force. (3) The CIA memo states that the activities of Service Airways was, “typical of a traffic which has now grown to large proportions.”
Cover Companies Used for Flights
The second company mentioned, Ocean Trade Airways based out of North Carolina, was more involved with the movement of arms, equipment, and men.
The Ocean Trade Airways crew wore American Airlines uniforms with the American Airlines logos removed to make them appear more credible during covert flights. According to the document, “35 cases weighing a total of 14,000 pounds were loaded onto the aircraft” after it landed in Czechoslovakia.
The document further stated that the plane transported “hand tools and surgical equipment” to Beit Dara, Palestine. However it was unclear if Ocean Trade Airways activities were supporting the Jews, the Arabs, or both.
The document gives specific details into these clandestine activities during the Palestine Partition and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli War. This illicit air traffic into foreign countries was frowned down upon by the CIA. However, the memo makes no reference as to how the CIA planned to mitigate the issue.