1972 Munich Massacre: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Part Sixteen
After the events of Black September in Jordan, the rift between the Palestinian leadership and the Kingdom of Jordan continued to widen. The Arab League affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and called on all the Arab states, including Jordan, to undertake the defense of Palestinian national unity and not to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs. The Arab League also ‘affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent national authority under the command of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in any Palestinian territory that is liberated.
King Ḥussein dissolved the Jordanian parliament. Half of its members had been West Bank representatives. He renounced Jordanian claims to the West Bank, and allowed the PLO to assume responsibility as the Provisional Government of Palestine. The Kingdom of Jordan, Egypt, and Syria no longer acted as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, nor their territory.
1972 Munich Massacre
The Munich massacre was an attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany. On September 5, 1972, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed, along with a German police officer, by Black September. Shortly after the crisis began, they demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, and the release of the founders of the German Red Army Faction, who were held in German prisons. Black September called the operation “Ikrit and Biram”, after two Palestinian Christian villages whose inhabitants were expelled by the Haganah in 1948.
The attackers were apparently given logistical assistance by German neo-Nazis. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers during a failed rescue attempt. The three surviving attackers were captured, but later released by West Germany following the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner.
The massacre prompted many European countries to establish permanent, professional, and immediately available counter-terrorism forces, or reorganize already existing units to such purpose. The massacre also prompted prominent arms designers and manufacturers to produce new types of weapons more suitable for counter-terrorism.
Two days after the massacre, Israel retaliated by bombing ten PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon. Prime Minister Golda Meir created Committee X, a small group of government officials tasked with formulating an Israeli response, with herself and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan at the head. She also appointed General Aharon Yariv as her Advisor on Counterterrorism; he, along with Mossad Director Zvi Zamir, took the principal role in directing the ensuing operation. The committee came to the conclusion that, to deter future violent incidents against Israel, they needed to assassinate those who had supported or carried out the Munich massacre, and in dramatic fashion.
Operation Wrath of God
Operation Wrath of God was a covert operation directed by Mossad to assassinate individuals involved in the 1972 Munich massacre. Authorized by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the autumn of 1972, the operation is believed to have continued for over twenty years.
The committee’s first task for Israeli intelligence was to draw up an assassination list of all those involved in Munich. This was accomplished with the aid of PLO operatives working for Mossad, and with information provided by friendly European intelligence agencies. While the contents of the entire list are unknown, reports put the final number of targets at 20–35, a mix of Black September and PLO elements. Once this was complete, Mossad was charged with locating the individuals and assassinating them.
Critical in the planning was the idea of plausible deniability, that it should be impossible to prove a direct connection between the assassinations and Israel. Several hours before each assassination, each target’s family received flowers with a condolence card reading: “A reminder we do not forget or forgive.” Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the operations were intended to terrorize Palestinian militants.
Italian PLO Rep Wael Zwaiter was shot twelve times killing him in Rome October 16, 1972. Israel claims he was in Black September, but the PLO claims he was in no way connected and opposed terrorism.
French PLO Rep Mahmoud Hamshari was killed by a phone bomb December 8, 1972. Israel believed he was the leader of Black September in France.
Cyprian Fatah Rep and Jordanian citizen Hussein Al Bashir was killed by a bomb under his bed January 24, 1973. Israel believed he was the head of Black September in Cyprus, but he was also connected to the KGB.
On April 6, 1973, Basil al-Kubaissi, a law professor at the American University of Beirut suspected by Israel of providing arms logistics for Black September as well as being involved in other Palestinian plots, was gunned down in Paris while returning home from dinner. As in previous assassinations, he was shot around 12 times by two Mossad agents. According to police, the bullets were “carefully grouped about his heart and in his head”
Three of the targets on the Mossad’s list lived in heavily guarded houses in Lebanon that were beyond the reach of previous assassination methods. In order to assassinate them, Operation Spring of Youth was launched as a sub-operation of the larger “Wrath of God” campaign.
Operation Spring of Youth
On April 9, 1973, Israel launched Operation “Spring of Youth”, a joint Mossad-IDF operation in Beirut. The targets were the head of Fatah’s intelligence arm, which ran Black September, the head of the PLO’s so-called Western Sector, which controlled PLO action inside Israel; and the PLO spokesman.
A group of Sayeret commandos were taken in nine missile boats and a small fleet of patrol boats to a deserted Lebanese beach, before driving in two cars to downtown Beirut, where they killed all three targets. Two further detachments of commandos blew up the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) headquarters in Beirut and a Fatah explosives plant. Several Lebanese security people and civilian neighbors were also killed, as were two of the Israeli soldiers. The leader of the commando team that conducted the operations was Ehud Barak.
Three attacks quickly followed the Lebanon operation. Zaiad Muchasi, the replacement for Hussein Al Bashir in Cyprus, was killed by a bomb in his Athens hotel room on April 11. Two minor Black September members, Abdel Hamid Shibi and Abdel Hadi Nakaa, were seriously injured when their car was bombed in Rome.
Mossad agents also began to follow Mohammad Boudia, the Algerian-born director of operations for Black September in France, who was known for his disguises and womanizing. On June 28, 1973, Boudia was killed in Paris by a pressure-activated bomb packed with heavy nuts and bolts placed under his car seat
Ali Hassan Salameh, nicknamed the Red Prince, who was the head of Force 17 and the Black September operative was believed by Israel to be the mastermind behind the Munich massacre. This belief has since been challenged by accounts of senior Black September officials, who say that while he was involved in many attacks in Europe, Salameh was not at all connected with the events in Munich
In the Lillehammer Affair July 21, 1973, a team of Mossad agents mistakenly killed Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan waiter unrelated to the Munich attack and Black September, after an informant mistakenly identified Bouchiki as Salameh in Lillehammer, Norway. Five Mossad agents, including two women, were captured by the Norwegian authorities, while others managed to slip away. The five were convicted of the killing and imprisoned, but were released and returned to Israel in 1975.
International outrage prompted Golda Meir to order the suspension of Operation “Wrath of God”. Five years later, it was decided to recommence the operation under new Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and find those on the list still at large. They would get Salameh January 22, 1979 in Beirut.
Palestine: Part 17 – Yom Kippur War
Palestine: Part 15 – Black September