Operation “Wrath of God” also known as Operation “Bayonet”, was a covert operation directed by the Mossad to assassinate individuals suspected of being involved in the 1972 Munich massacre in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed. The targets were members of the Palestinian armed militant group Black September and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) operatives. Authorized by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the autumn of 1972, the operation is believed to have continued for over twenty years.
Two days after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, 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. Pressured by Israeli public opinion and top intelligence officials, Meir reluctantly authorized the beginning of the broad assassination campaign. Yet when the three surviving perpetrators of the massacre were released just months later by West Germany in compliance with the demands of the hijackers of a Lufthansa aircraft, any remaining ambivalence she felt was removed. 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.
The first assassination occurred on October 16, 1972, when Palestinian Wael Zwaiter was killed in Rome. Mossad agents had been waiting for him to return from dinner, and shot him twelve times.After the shooting, they were spirited away to a safe house. At the time Zwaiter was the PLO representative in Italy, and while Israel privately claimed he was a member of Black September and was involved in a failed plot against an El Al airliner, members of the PLO argued that he was in no way connected. Abu Iyad, deputy-chief of the PLO, stated that Zwaiter was “energetically” against terrorism.
The second target of Mossad was Mahmoud Hamshari, the PLO representative in France. Israel believed that he was the leader of Black September in France. Using an agent posing as an Italian journalist, Mossad lured him from his apartment in Paris to allow a demolition team to enter and install a bomb underneath a desk telephone. On December 8, 1972, the agent posing as a journalist phoned Hamshari’s apartment and asked if he was speaking to Hamshari. After Hamshari identified himself, the agent signalled to other colleagues, who then sent a detonation signal down the telephone line, causing the bomb to explode. Hamshari was mortally wounded in the explosion, but managed to remain conscious long enough to tell Parisian detectives what had happened. Hamshari died in a hospital several weeks later. He had given an interview a day after the hostage crisis, saying he was not worried for his life, but did not want to “taunt the devil.” Mossad did not comment on the fact that Hamsari was connected to the attack of Munich. This assassination was the first in a series of Mossad assassinations that took place in France. Another assassination took place in London, where a Palestinian activist was pushed under a bus during rush hour.
On the night of January 24, 1973, Hussein Al Bashir (Jordanian), the Fatah representative in Cyprus, turned off the lights in his Olympic Hotel room in Nicosia. Moments later, a bomb planted under his bed was remotely detonated, killing him and destroying the room. Israel believed him to be the head of Black September in Cyprus, though another reason for his assassination may have been for his close ties with 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.
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. On the night of April 9, 1973, Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet 13, and Sayeret Tzanhanim commandos landed on the coast of Lebanon in Zodiac speedboats launched from Israeli Navy missile boats offshore. The commandos were met by Mossad agents, who drove them to their targets in cars rented the previous day, and later drove them back to the beaches for extraction. The commandos were disguised as civilians, and some were dressed as women. In Beirut, they raided guarded apartment buildings and killed Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar (Operations leader in Black September), Kamal Adwan (a Chief of Operations in the PLO) and Kamal Nasser (PLO Executive Committee member and spokesman). During the operation, two Lebanese police officers, an Italian citizen, and Najjar’s wife were also killed. One Israeli commando was wounded. Sayeret Tzanhanim paratroopers raided a six-story building that served as the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The paratroopers met strong resistance and lost two soldiers, but managed to destroy the building. Shayetet 13 naval commandos and Sayeret Tzanhanim paratroopers also raided PLO arms-manufacturing facilities and fuel dumps. Some 12–100 PLO and PFLP members were killed during the attacks.
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 injured in their car 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.
On December 15, 1979, two Palestinians, Ali Salem Ahmed and Ibrahim Abdul Aziz, were killed in Cyprus. According to police, both men were shot with silenced weapons at point-blank range.
On June 17, 1982, two senior PLO members in Italy were killed in separate attacks. Nazeyh Mayer, a leading figure in the PLO’s Rome office, was shot dead outside his home. Kamal Husain, deputy director of the PLO office in Rome, was killed by a shrapnel bomb placed under the back seat of his car as he drove home, less than seven hours after he had visited the home of Mayer and helped the police in their investigation.
On July 23, 1982, Fadl Dani, deputy director of the PLO office in Paris, was killed by a bomb that had been placed in his car. On August 21, 1983, PLO official Mamoun Meraish was killed in his car in Athens by two Mossad operatives who shot him from a motorcycle.
On June 10, 1986, Khaled Ahmed Nazal, Secretary-General of the PLO’s DFLP faction, was gunned down outside a hotel in Athens, Greece. Nazal was shot four times in the head. On October 21, 1986, Munzer Abu Ghazala, a senior PLO official and member of the Palestinian National Council, was killed by a bomb as he drove through a suburb of Athens.
On February 14, 1988, a car bomb exploded in Limassol, Cyprus, killing Palestinians Abu Al Hassan Qasim and Hamdi Adwan, and wounding Marwan Kanafami.
While the first wave of assassinations from October 1972 to early 1973 caused greater consternation among Palestinian officials, it was the raid on Lebanon – Operation Spring of Youth in April 1973 – that truly shocked the Arab world. The audacity of the mission, plus the fact that senior leaders such as Yasser Arafat, Abu Iyad and Ali Hassan Salameh were only yards away from the fighting, contributed to the creation of the belief that Israel was capable of striking anywhere, anytime. It also brought about popular mourning. At the funerals for the victims of the raid, half a million people came into the streets of Beirut. Nearly six years later, 100,000 people, including Arafat, turned out in the same city to bury Salameh.
The operation also caused some of the less radical Arab governments to begin putting pressure on Palestinians to stop attacks against Israeli targets and threatened to pull support for the Palestinians if they used their passports during the course of attacks against Israel. As a result, some Palestinian militants began to instead use forged Israeli documents.