"Victory at war comes not from the number of soldiers."

- Maccabees I, iii 19

The Golani brigade was formed on 28 February, 1948 when the Levanoni brigade deployed on Israel's Lebanese border was divided into two smaller brigades. Golani was stationed in the valleys and hills of the Lower Galilee in northern Israel. Their combatants included members of the Hagannah, residents of settlements in the areas of combat, and enlisted soldiers from all over the country. Prior to the Declaration of Independence, the soldiers of the brigade fought in the areas of Mishmar Ha'emek, Tiberias, Migdal, Zemach and Rosh Pinna. Their mission was to defend the Upper Galilee and the Galilee valleys. They also participated in the victory at Safed in Operation Yiftach. They captured Arab Sejera, and Bet Shean and its environs.

Upon the foundation of the State, Arab armies invaded the country. In the north, this included the Syrian army, the Iraqi army, the Lebanese army, and Kaukji's irregulars. The Golani brigade was deployed to face this threat, although it had severely depleted ranks and was short of arms. New arrivals to the State of Israel were thrown into the fray; many joined the Golani brigade. The new refugee recruits, though fiercely loyal to the country and proud of their Judaism, were reluctant soldiers. There were economic and social problems 'at home' in the transit immigrant camps. The standard of army equipment was poor. The available weapons were Czech rifles, with a built-in magazine that held only five rounds, and Sten machine guns, which were originally designed as cheap throwaways for British paratroopers to use until their 'real' weapons were dropped. As for transport, each battalion had one stationwagon, a tender van, and a single truck. One company had their leave stopped by their commander because they dared respond to the battalion CO's interest in their problems by showing him boots that were tied with string to stop the soles from dropping off. However, the Golani Brigade succeeded in bringing the Syrian columns of armor and infantry to a halt, sometimes through the use of Molotov cocktails and face-to-face combat. Iraqi forces were halted in the Jordan Valley. The guerilla, improvisational tactics that prevailed in the pre-State era were grafted with the Brigade commander's experience in the British Army to set the tone of Golani combat doctrine.

The Golani brigade took part along with the Seventh armored infantry brigade, and the Carmeli brigade in Operation Dekel (in the Galilee). In this operation, the forces involved captured the Nazareth area from Kaukji's irregulars. Golani troops, now incorporated into the newly-formed Israel Defense Forces participated in activities to gain control over the entire Galilee in what was called Operation Hiram. This involved counter-thrusts that penetrated as deep as the Litani River in Lebanon.

The Golani brigade also took part in Operation Assaf to take control of the western Negev, and also participated in Operation Horev in which the Egyptians were repelled from Israeli territory. Golani's final mission in the War of Independence was the successful seizure of the Negev in Operation Ovdah. Golani participated in the capture of the Southern Negev, all the way down to the Red Sea at Eilat.

As part of the organizational changes towards the 21st Century, the Golani Brigade, which was hitherto directly subordinate to GOC Northern Command, was now placed under the command of a formation in the Northern Command.