Operation Bombing of Palestine

The 'Bombing of Palestine' was part of the Italian air undertaking to strike at the UK and its overseas territories throughout the Middle East (June 1940/June 1941).

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France and the UK. The '1st Battle of the Alps' was the Italian invasion of France, and this short campaign was brought to an early end as the French signed an armistice with the Italians on 25 June, three days after France’s armistice with Germany. This left the British and their commonwealth forces for the Italians to fight in the Middle East.

The Italian air force saw appreciable merit in striking at the British-controlled areas of the Middle East, and the refineries and ports of Palestine, which was controlled by the UK under a League of Nations mandate, were the first chosen.

In the early days of the war in Africa, the Italian forces came closer to victory than most people appreciate. One major success that went a long way to allowing the Italians to make a major fight in North Africa was the long-range bombing missions undertaken undertaken under the command of Tenente Colonnello Ettore Muti on targets in Palestine and Bahrain, which damaged British port facilities and oil refineries. This caused the British considerable logistical problems but also forced them to divert to the defence of the Middle East resources which were much needed elsewhere. Although small, the bombing campaign also helped to lift the pressure which British attacks had imposed on the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, allowing Italian forces to be moved from Italy to North Africa with very few losses. Taking off from bases in the Italian-occupied Dodecanese islands group in the south-east corner of the Aegean Sea, making a wide circle around British bases in Cyprus, the Italian bombers attacked British possessions in the Middle East and put the oil refineries in Haifa out of operation for at least a month. British aircraft operating out of Mt Carmel responded but were too late to intercept the Italian bombers as no one had been expecting an attack so far from what most considered the front lines.

From July 1940, Italian bombing attacks on targets in British-controlled Palestine were centred primarily on Tel Aviv and Haifa. However, many other coastal towns, such as Acre and Jaffa, were also attacked. The last Italian bombing raids on the targets in Palestine occurred in June 1941.

On 9 September 1940, a bombing raid on Tel Aviv caused 137 deaths, and there was another aid on the same city on 12 June 1941, this time causing 13 deaths. The aids were flown by the Italians or by the Vichy French, the latter from bases in Syria.

It had been claimed that the bombing of Tel Aviv that killed 137 people took place because Italian bombers, on their way to the strategic port and refineries of Haifa, were intercepted by British fighters. Forced to turn back, the Italians took the opportunity to drop their bombs on the port of Tel Aviv, but in attempting to avoid British fighters dropped the bombs on a civilian area near the port.