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POSTSCRIPT

Munich Terrorists Become Target of Israel's Wrath

September 06, 2002|Alan Abrahamson

Shortly after the murders of the 11 Israelis at the Munich Olympic Games, the Israeli government set out on an extraordinary campaign of retribution. Planned by a select group of Israeli officials called "Committee X," the campaign, which has since become widely known as "Operation Wrath of God," had but one simple, lethal goal: Assassinate terrorists involved in the Munich massacre.

Thirty years later, only one remains alive: Jamal al-Gashey, who remains in hiding, somewhere in the Middle East. He was 19 in 1972, one of the youngest of the eight Black September terrorists who infiltrated the Olympic Village.

The two other terrorists who survived the firefight at the Furstenfeldbruck airport, Adnan al-Gashey and Mohammed Safedy, were among those targeted and killed. Also executed by the Mossad, Israel's secret service, or by Sayeret Matkal, an elite Israeli military unit, were a number of others believed to be linked to the attacks, including Ali Hassan Salameh, a key Palestinian figure suspected of playing an instrumental role in planning the attacks. Salameh, a close friend of Yasser Arafat's, was killed by a remote-controlled car bomb in Beirut in 1979.

The campaign also includes one highly publicized and enormous mistake. In 1973, a Moroccan waiter, Ahmed Bouchiki, was gunned down in front of his pregnant wife near a bus stop in Lillehammer, Norway; he was mistakenly believed to be Salameh. In 1996, without accepting responsibility for the killing, the Israeli government paid compensation to Bouchiki's family.

Israeli officials, current and former, have long declined to confirm or deny any details of "Operation Wrath of God." Shabtai Shavit, who from 1989-1996 headed the Mossad, would only say in an interview, "It doesn't matter where a terrorist act is committed. Israel is committed to defending its citizens all around the world.... We never let it off, even in periods when we had other items on our agenda that had priority."

According to a number of accounts, in particular the book "One Day in September," written by British author Simon Reeve and based in part on research done for the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, Golda Meir, Israel's prime minister in the early 1970s, authorized the campaign.

Meir acted after the three terrorists who survived the firefight were flown to Libya just weeks after the Israelis were killed--"exchanged" as part of a "hijacking" that, according to the book, was in truth a deal agreed to by senior figures in the German government to get the three terrorists out of Germany as quickly as possible.

That, said David Makovsky, a former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "only deepened a sense of isolation in Israel's mind that it had to act--that no one would act on its behalf."

The attack at the Games, Makovsky added, represented nothing less than an "assault on Israel's normal place in the family of nations," adding that because to many Israelis the United Nations is seen as sympathetic to Arab concerns, "what the family of nations represents in the Israeli imagination is the Olympic Games. It's not the only representation--but it's a prime representation."

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