Saturday, 14 November 2015

Operation "Wrath of God" : How Mossad avenged the Munich massacre

The Munich Olympics in 1972 were to hold a pretty historical significance. Olympic games returned to Germany after the infamy of the 1936 games at Berlin which were tainted by Hitler's gambit to convert the games into his own agenda. Hence these games were augured to be the "peace games" by many. And so it proved, until that one fated evening of September 4, 1972, which changed how the world viewed terrorism. 

As a Jewish contingent of 11 athletes came back to their quarters, they were followed by members of a newly emerged terrorist group Black September, which was believed to include members of Palestinian Liberation Organization(PLO) and PFLP(Popular front for liberation of Palestine). The contingent was taken hostage and the terrorists demanded that more than 200 Palestinian prisoners of wars who were trapped in many Israeli and other jails be released. What transpired was the most grisly counter-terrorism encounter with an extremely lumbering German attempt to obliterate the terrorists resulting in the death of all the hostages. 3 of the terrorists were captured alive. 

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One of the most iconic images from the Munich massacre. A Black September terrorist appearing at the balcony of the room where hostages were held

While the Jewish population at large remained enraged and saturnine, the Israeli administration was swiftly seeking methods to retaliate. They first responded with raiding of PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon, killing as many as 60 belligerents. But it was decided under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister Golda Meir, that Israel had to expunge all the Palestinian names that surfaced out of the initial inquires, off the face of the planet, And it was mutually understood that the prime objective was to spread the message of what it means to mess up with Israel, than to just seek vengeance. The operation was named "Wrath of God" and it lasted for the next 2 decades! 

New teams were formed from the scratch. The teams comprised of kidons(assassins), guards and bulwarks, helpers, clean up personnel and even bomb and weapon experts. Most of the people were picked from different Mossad, IDF and Shin Bet divisions and these teams were ordered to function under the dominion of the plausible deniability doctrine. It meant that Mossad or Israel had nothing to do with these teams and hence there was no way for anything to be traced back to Israel. And with this premise, these teams set on to their job. No one knows the exact number and size of these teams or the whereabouts of these agents. It was designed to be the perfect clandestine operation. 

The revenge commenced with the assassination of Wael Zwaiter, a Palestinian who translated Arabian Nights into Italian but who was the PLO point man in Rome. He was shot 12 times as he headed back to his apartments. But the operation that takes the cake was the ingeniously stupefying termination of Mahmoud Hamshari. 

Hamshari was the prime PLO henchman in France and was regularly interviewed including during the hostage crisis at Munich. A Mossad agent posing as a journalist made it to Hamshari's apartment, and excused himself to his landline telephone to study its specs. Later on, the Mossad team designed and planted an explosive inside the same phone. A few days later, Hamshari received a call on the same phone and a voice questioned from the other side "Are you Mahmoud Hamshari?", and the moment Hamshai identified in affirmative, a remote detonator was pressed from a nearby vehicle, literally knocking off Hamshari. Hamshari survived but later on succumbed to his injuries. 

Another notably risky but immensely successful assassination was carried out when Hussein Al Bashir was blown up. Al Bashir was not only believed to be involved in the Munich Massacre but he was the PLO's supreme operative in the turbulent and close by nation of Cyprus, and was also KGB's contact for the Black September. In fact as per what's depicted in the 2005 movie Munich, he was literally accompanied to and from his room at the Olympic hotel by KGB officials every day. A Mossad agent finally checked into the room adjacent to that of Al Bashir, and the bomber set to work. 

A bomb circuit was planted under Al Bashir's mattress, such that his weight would force the loose joints together and complete the detonator circuitry. One night, as Al Bashir switched off his lights and went to bed, a powerful explosion rocked the entire roof of the floor and Al Bashir was gone in no time as a remote detonator sealed his fate. Al Bashir was quickly replaced by another PLO operative, who too was assassinated by Mossad just a few months later. 

Mossad teams spread all over the world kept seeking the targets and kept killing. Most of the assassinations were covered up as accidents or inscrutable and mysterious occurences including one Palestinian activist who got crushed to bits as he was pushed under a London bus. Throughout Europe, many assassinations were happening, all unconnected to the outside world, but the Black September and its patriarchal organizations knew that Mossad was knocking them off. Hence Black September planned to launch a missile at Israel PM Golda Meir's aircraft in 1973 when she was about to land in Rome to meet the pope. The attempt was foiled just in time and the prime perpetrator of this proposed attack and the Munich Massacre, Ali Hassan Salameh made it to the top of Mossad's hit list. 

Salameh was a venerable figure among the PLO ranks and the commander of Force 17, the prime force in charge of Yasser Arafat's security. His tactics and mission planning capability made him unnervingly frightening to the Israelis and their fight against the Palestinians. While Salameh was the top target since 1972, Mossad prove too lumpen on 4 occasions including one in Norway when an innocent man was mistaken to be Salameh, and killed. Many Mossad agents were convicted for espionage and some were released. And the mission was called off because it made the whole Wrath of God pretty debilitated. 

Finally the mission resumed in 1978 when out of hibernation search and seek operations, Salameh was tracked down to Beirut. Being wary of the bungled up attempts that brought much disdain and contempt to Israel in the past, Mossad was careful not to jump the horses and to plan a mission to take off Salameh in the most punctiliously planned fashion with almost no scope for error. Multiple Mossad agents went and left and on the afternoon of 22nd January 1979, as Salameh's vehicle passed through a Volkswagen van, it exploded. All the passengers of the car, which comprised of Salameh and his bodyguards, were instantly killed and a few bystanders were extirpated as well. And finally, Mossad nipped off the biggest bud of PLO. 

Assassinations kept moving on with no rescinding and no consternation of any sorts. Some Mossad agents might've dithered on the issue in the beginning. But with the terrorists who were captured at the Munich massacre getting released when a Lufthansa flight was hijacked and the release of the former was demanded and secured, all of that fizzled away. At the prime of this assassination spree, Mossad partnered with Shin Bet and Israeli navy in carrying out a full blown Brobdingnagian assault on the PLPF headquarters in Lebanon. They killed 3 from the original list of Black September's perpetrators, and many other PLO and PLPF staff. 

It is believed that it was only in the 90's that the operation was formally terminated with only 2 of the original list of the 11 Palestinian operatives believed to have planned the Black September attacks left alive. Israel didn't expect the terrorist forces to blench or cower, and the Black September did cause quite some quagmire through their letter bombs sent to many Israeli embassies But Israel did in fact accomplish the task of taking down many of those it intended to. Once again, it serves to act as a testimony to the legerity and perspicacity of Mossad, which was successful in running probably one of the largest espionage and termination operations to be ever carried out.

This article is a series of articles, all intended to outline some of the bravest feats Mossad has pulled off. For more, please visit the following links.




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