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Revenge is a dish best served cold

If used in the military context, this adage would remind one of Israel, with its defining aspect in geopolitics being its conflict with Palestine. It is a land-based issue, with Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, both claiming ownership of regions like the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Violence and instability have characterised the area since these political battle lines were drawn in the past. This primary conflict serves as the foundation stone for various others operating within the larger scheme of things. To exemplify, let us take the example of one of Israel’s widely known undertakings, Operation Bayonet – more commonly referred to as the Operation Wrath of God. It was a long-term covert operation, lasting over 20 years.

Carried out under the direct supervision and orders of various Israeli Prime Ministers, this Operation by Mossad, the Israeli National Intelligence Agency, was meant as retribution for the kidnapping and massacre of 11 Israeli Olympians in the 1972 Munich games. The main target of Mossad was the terrorist group Black September and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the perceived perpetrators. The entire Operation was intricately planned, covering various countries, and not sparing a single person involved. They were cold-hearted to the extent that condolence cards would be sent to the families hours before the assassination.

To contextualise the various issues that arise in such an operation, one may draw the analogy of the surgical strikes and the Balakot airstrike conducted across the LOC by the Indian Army Forces. They were carried out in response to various Pakistan sponsored attacks on the Indian cities of Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama. Prime Minister Narendra Modi bragged, “Earlier one heard about Israel doing such a thing, now the country has seen that the Indian army is no less”. Although the parallel drawn between a strike along the LOC and one carried out internationally may be questionable, there are some similarities. The issues of sovereignty, the efficacy of deterrence and the scope of justifiability of cross border anti-terror operations become relevant to both scenarios. ‘Who takes responsibility for the death of non-terrorists’ is a pertinent question in both cases.

The case in favour of conducting Operation Wrath of God revolves around the need for effective retribution, as a matter of national pride and even otherwise. Some feel that it was justified: to build the morale of the nation, ensure justice and deter future terrorism. The context of the Operation, an attack on Israeli citizens – Olympians no less – cannot be ignored. How can an attack on the very identity and respect of a nation go unanswered?

The missions themselves were carried out with precision planning and detailed research. A lot of intelligence was acquired to establish credible, specific targets about the identity of the individuals and their whereabouts. In many cases, the host nation itself was not on particularly friendly terms with Israel, so collaborating with them was out of the question. Moreover, any claim of aggression is unfounded as there were attacks only on the safehouses and routes of the terror organisations and none on any military structures.

When we look at the psychological warfare techniques they employed, the principal objective is clear: deterrence, not revenge. They published obituaries of living activists and even leaked their personal information intending to traumatise the victims. But Israel does not deserve to take the sole blame for the protracted nature of the Operation since the retaliation attempts from Black September necessitated counter-measures. They assassinated several Israeli officers and even dared to attempt a missile attack on Israeli PM Golda Meir’s aeroplane. All in all, Israel was compelled to start and continue this mission for the various crucial reasons.

On the flip side, there are alternative decisions that might have been more beneficial and involved exhausting fewer resources. The origin of the matter (the killing of Israelis) was in itself a failure on the nation’s part, for having failed to negotiate the safety of the Olympians with the perpetrators. Although the Operation’s intentions had been romanticised, in its essence it was an eye-for-an-eye revenge mission, and such actions of barbarism are unacceptable in the modern world. By taking matters into their own hands, Israel risked the peace of the entire region. Bombing PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon after the attack reflects their craze for vengeance.

If, as they say, the aim was to counter terror, there was no need for such breach of sovereignty. In such dire circumstances and when Israel perceives that the support of the host country shall be unavailable, it should have taken into confidence any member of the international community, possibly an ally. This uncaring attitude of Israel sets a slippery slope of precedence for intervention, with no accountability for loss of lives or property. The malicious intent behind the Operation is the core concern, even shown by their desire for plausible deniability by hiding their identities.

Various events during the Operation highlight the wrongs associated with it. In the Lillehammer affair, operatives killed an innocent waiter on a case of mistaken identity. Ali Hassan Salameh, a key figure, took six attempts to be eliminated and the failed attacks only harmed other innocent civilians. Mossad’s persistent attacks kept the cycle of back and forth between the two parties Black September and Mossad ongoing for a long time. It is comparable to giving guns to children andhaadhundh and watching them shoot randomly in all directions.

There is also the belief that the Operation was a strategic failure since Mossad only got the low hanging fruits and missed most of the real perpetrators. Author Aaron Klein in his book, Striking Back, claims that Mossad got merely one person directly related to the Munich attack. If true, this is a cause of great guilt for over two decades of brutality and misadventures under the guise of national security.

Our blood was boiling. When there was information implicating someone, we didn’t inspect it with a magnifying glass. An intel source inside Mossad

It’s a matter of perspective and context which defines which side’s argument is heavier. Israel would place its national security objectives above other things; victims and their nations would cry foul to that. The era was different. In today’s time, such blatant entry into foreign lands for domestic desires is not tolerable, primarily due to the rise of nationalist governments in various power centres of the world. Was the Operation a divine duty of not staying quiet or was it a mere tool for promoting personal gains? Was it the Wrath of God or the Wrath of Golda?

- Parth Chowdhary


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