Operation Spring of Youth 

 Dateline : West  Beirut, Lebanon 

  *  Special Forces
      Sayeret Matkal
      Shayeret 13

      Objectives achieved.



Talk about 'Operation Wrath of God', the series of Israeli operations launched by Mossad after the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and it is impossible not to think about the incredible (but ever so true) operation Spring of Youth. As a result of the retribution campaign against the Palestinian militant groups (and their backers), PLO men began to turn up dead throughout Europe. A year before, Wael Zwaiter, officially a translator at the Libyan Embassy, was shot twelve times by two Mossad agents, who managed to escape. He was the PLO representative in Rome.

Back in Israel, Ankie Spitzer got a phone call. "I have no idea who called me," the widow of the murdered coach of the Israeli team said. "They just said, 'Why don't you listen to the 10 o'clock news this morning?' Okay, I listened. And then I heard. So this was probably a sign, or an indication for me to understand that they were not sitting still." (More on 'Wrath of God'.)

If carrying out assassination missions of junior PLO agents using Mossad agents in Europe was risky, the Israelis cemented their reputation as the most audacious special forces of its kind in the Middle East by carrying out a commando operation in a foreign country during a non-war period.This meant if the special forces operators ran into trouble, there would be no backup, no air support, no nothing. They were in a foreign country. Their mission was simple : eliminate three of the top P.L.O officers in the terrorist group's hierarchy, in their heavily guarded enclave in Beirut. Aside from the various militia guarding the location, the local police and armed forces would also have to be reckoned with.Not only were they up against the top brass of an armed organization whose tenacious members had only recently displayed their callousness for their cause, they were operating in an entirely hostile country. Extraction could be compromised, if at all the forces make it. But the mission was far from a suicide mission. After intense training including in buildings similar to the target in Israel, the Sayeret Matkal set out for Lebanon.The leader of the unit had previously participated successfully in the storming of a hijacked Sabena Flight a year back. His name was Ehud Barak.

Zodiac speedboats sped for 7 hours to reach the coast of Beirut on the night of April 10th, 1973. By midnight, 14-16 (the number varies according to the sources) armed commandos set foot on Lebanese soil. Mossad agents had arranged for three cars with keys in the ignitions on the beach road. Armed with grenades, Berettas, and submachine guns, the attack was lead by two women - a brunette and a blond. Dressed in women's clothing complete with a bust and wig, the "brunette" was Ehud Barak, who was the commander of Israeli Special Forces at the time.

The rational behind this "cross-dressing" was that dressing up as civilians (especially as women) would help to lower suspicions and maintain a low profile. Says Barak, "We decided maybe some of us will go like women. It will reduce the suspicions." "We put everything in place. A wig, and a breast, and everything. And I had my lieutenant Muki Betser, he was kind of a half a head taller than me. And we were a couple."

They headed to the Muslim area of West Beirut where residing in a pair of seven-story buildings protected by armed guards were their targets. The building also served as the H.Q of the PLO. The "couple" crept up to the entrance of the building where they killed a guard with a silencer. As the rest of the Sayeret Matkal crept up the building, they were met with heavy resistance. Their civilian disguise turned out to be a good idea. The appearance of the "women" had the effect of delaying the trigger finger of the defenders just long enough for the commandos to succeed. When they arrived at the apartment of Kamal Adwan, the PLO's chief of operations, he was waiting for them inside with a Kalashnikov.

"The moment that they opened the door, the terrorist was there with his Kalashnikov and an AK-47 in his hands," says Barak. "And it was only the split second of hesitation of the terrorist when he see that it's civilian people that, that ended up our officer [sic] shoot the terrorist and not the other way around."

A total of 55 bullets riddled Adwan's body. His 5 year old daughter Dana was 5 years old at the time. She recalls; "Glass was being shattered on our heads". "And he just fell. And his face was somehow turned like that. And I was telling my brother, 'They’re playing cowboys and Indians here.'"

By this point the Lebanese authorities were alerted. Shrewd Israeli agents successfully confused the investigating Lebanese forces, feeding them erroneous information buying the commandos time for extraction, which like the insertion was also by sea.


During the operation, a female Italian resident of the building as well as two Lebanese policemen were killed. The Sayeret Matkal suffered 2 fatalities. In the 2005 film Munich, one of the commandos was shown to have been killed by gunfire penetrating a door. But in reality, the two casualties were at a refugee camp that was also raided during the course of the operation.

On the Arab side, dozens of people died, including the three targets and several of their armed guards

The commandos were also able to bomb a building nearby that housed militants. Finishing the mission in thirty minutes, the special forces returned to the beach and boarded boats that took them back to Israel. The operation cemented fear in the Middle East that Israel could strike anywhere, anytime.



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