Striking Back No one has stood trial for the Munich massacre, but Israel's revenge operation brought lethal justice

August 25, 2002

The three surviving terrorists: Only Jamal Al-Gashey (center)
eluded Israel's wrath. that Israel would try to avenge the
deaths of 11 of its Olympians was a certainty. Three separate
passages in the Torah refer to the principle of lex talionis, or
"exact retaliation"--that no crime shall go unpunished. Yet even
as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir told the Knesset that "we
will smite them wherever they may be," she struggled with
exactly whom to target and how to go after them. It took another
event to lead her to unleash in all its fury Wrath of God, a
revenge operation of extraordinary scope, breathtaking ingenuity
and dubious legality.

In the aftermath of the Munich attack, Black September threatened
to target Lufthansa planes as long as the three surviving Olympic
terrorists remained in German custody. According to Abu Daoud,
whose account is not disputed by several highly placed German
sources, West German officials responded by offering $9 million,
plus a proposal for a staged hijacking to provide a pretext for
returning the captives. Indeed, on Oct. 29, 1972, two terrorists
commandeered a Lufthansa jet as it left Beirut for Frankfurt with
only 11 passengers, none of them women or children. West Germany
promptly acceded to the hijackers' demands, sending the three
surviving Munich terrorists to Libya so quickly that they were
virtually on the ground in Tripoli before Israel knew the swap
had been consummated.

The Germans' swift capitulation led Meir to become "literally
physically sickened," as she put it in her memoir. She gave free
rein to the Mossad, the Israeli secret police, whose hit teams
over the next six years tracked down and killed at least 20
Palestinians, in Rome, Paris, Athens and Nicosia, Cyprus, as well
as in the Arab world. Two of the three freshly released Munich
terrorists, Adnan Al-Gashey and Mohammed Safady, were among those
to die. Eventually agents assassinated the charismatic patrician
whom Yasir Arafat regarded as a possible successor, Ali Hassan
Salameh, who had helped orchestrate the Munich attack and joined
mastermind Abu Daoud and the eight fedayeen for dinner at the
train station on the eve of the operation. But most targets were
highly ranked Palestinians whom Israel wanted eliminated for
broader strategic reasons.

In the most legendary action, in April 1973, future Israeli prime
minister Ehud Barak, dressed in drag and carrying grenades in his
brassiere, led three teams of Sayeret Matkal special forces into
Beirut under cover of darkness. After coming ashore in inflatable
rafts, the commandos pulled off three assassinations in three
apartment buildings, then returned to getaway speedboats, all
within 30 minutes. Three months later in Norway--in the future
Olympic city of Lillehammer--the Mossad committed a shameful
blunder. Two agents mistook a Moroccan immigrant waiter for
Salameh, gunning him down in the street while his pregnant wife
looked on. That disaster led to a suspension of Wrath of God for
five years, with 15 or so names still on Israel's list.

Today Jamal Al-Gashey, the lone surviving Munich terrorist, is
believed to be living in North Africa. As for Abu Daoud (page
65), in 1981 in a hotel lobby in Warsaw he took five bullets yet
survived what had likely been a joint assassination effort of the
Mossad and a breakaway Palestinian faction. Though he tries to
conceal his whereabouts, Abu Daoud says he still feels as though
the Mossad is following him all the time. --A.W.

B/W PHOTO: INDEPENDENT TELEVISION NEWS The three surviving terrorists: Only Jamal Al-Gashey (center) eluded Israel's wrath.

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