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Operation Wrath of God: Mossad’s Response to the 1972 Munich Massacre

The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics was the catalyst for Operation Wrath of God.

Even since the modern nation of Israel was formed in 1948, peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been difficult to obtain. This has been especially true of Israelis and Palestinians who inhabited the Holy Land before they were expelled to make room for new Israeli settlers. There has been a great deal of violence between these two groups over the years, but one of the most prominent events occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics proved the catalyst for one of the most well organized and methodical plots for revenge in modern history.

After the PLO killed those eleven athletes at the Munich Olympics on the 5th and 6th of September, the Israeli people demanded that the Israeli government take reprisal against the PLO. It was hoped that if sufficient action was taken, that the PLO would think twice between attacking Israelis in the future. To that end, Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, authorized two operations to punish those responsible. The first, called Operation Spring of Youth, was led by Israel’s Special Forces and was carried out on April 9th and 10th, against several targets in Beirut and Lebanon. The raids resulted in the deaths of at least three PLO leaders in their homes as well as the deaths of anywhere between a dozen and a hundred PLO fighters.

The other operation was more covert in nature and was carried out by Israel’s Mossad (their equivalent to the CIA) and codenamed Operation Wrath of God. Its targets were leaders of the militant Palestinian group Black Hand as well as leaders of the PLO and anyone who had helped organize or in any way supported the Munich Massacre. This covert operation carried out a number of high profile assassinations against these targets in countries throughout Western Europe. Indeed, the idea was to make the assassinations as high profile as possible so as to draw the world’s attention to what happens to those who kill Israeli’s. At the same time, however, Israel strove to maintain a policy of plausible deniability. While they wanted the Black Hand and PLO to know why its leaders were being assassinated, they did not want to leave any direct proof that Israel was responsible.

Because Operation Wrath of God was and still is highly classified, it is impossible to know with any certainty how the operation was organized. Some say that it was comprised of fifteen men working in five teams. Others say that it was comprised of fix or six men who worked in a single team. Still others say it was comprised of several teams all operating at different times and occasionally at the same time, but independent of each other. Most accounts that do exist cannot be verified and it is unlikely that we will know the true details of Operation Wrath of God until they become declassified. That is likely to take a very long time, however. Until those files become declassified, we must turn to films like Munich and novels like Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team to see what MIGHT have happened.

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