At first, the Etzel concentrated on retaliating for the Arab attacks against the Jews. However, after the publication of the British White Paper in 1939, the British became the main target of the Etzel attacks. The horrifying news of the mass annihilation of the Jews of Europe, together with Britain’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees to enter the Land of Israel, led the Etzel to renew their struggle against the British Mandate in 1944. The Etzel attacked government institutions and the British responded with arrests.
After the UN decided on the Partition Plan in 1947, the Etzel retaliated against Arab bands in Haifa, Tira, Jerusalem and Jaffa. About one month after Israel declared its independence; the Etzel brought a ship, the Altalena, to Israel. The ship carried large amounts of weapons and 800 volunteers. Ben Gurion saw this as an attempt to undermine the authority and the unity of the State of Israel and the IDF. After the Etzel refused to hand over the weapons to the Haganah, the ship was shelled by the Haganah and it went up in flames off the shores of Tel Aviv. 17 Etzel fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed in the incident. That same day, Menachem Begin delivered a speech on the radio:
“There will not be a civil war. The enemy is at the gate. If there is a renewal of the attacks, we will all be brothers, standing together. Again, we will bear arms and we will fight shoulder to shoulder with the Palmach, shoulder to shoulder with the Haganah. … Help me to convince my people. Help me to convince them because brother must not bear arms against brother. Hebrew weapons must not be used against Hebrew fighters.”
Etzel forces and their people took an active part in the War of Independence and on September 21, 1948, members of the Etzel joined the IDF.