Israel has signaled it is prepared to take the war on Hamas far beyond the confines of Gaza and the West Bank. Fresh words by the country’s defense minister have invoked “our Munich” in relation to planned efforts to hunt down notable Hamas operatives abroad.
“The cabinet has set us a goal, in street talk, to eliminate Hamas. This is our Munich. We will do this everywhere, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar,” said Ronen Bar, who is the head of Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet.
He emphasized, “It will take a few years but we will be there to do it.” Israel has long been known to conduct aggressive and high risk assassination campaigns abroad, especially in Iran of late.
The words have outraged Turkey in particular, given it was named in Bar’s comments. On Monday Turkish Intelligence warned of “serious consequences” if Israeli agents try to seek Hamas members abroad, or especially on Turkish soil.
The most famous targeted assassination covert op was in response to the 1972 killings of 11 Israeli Olympic team members. Terrorists belonging to the Palestinian Black September had launched an unprecedented attack on the Munich games. Some eight members of the radical group had breached the Olympic compound and entered the two apartments used by the Israeli team, after which they began executing athletes amid a hostage standoff.
From there began a process on the part of Israeli intelligence to hunt down the Munich killers over a period of several years and spanning different countries. Israeli intelligence had dubbed the covert operation – details of which only became known decades later – as the “Wrath of God”.
According to a recounting of how the risky Munich response came together…
The clandestine programme was spearheaded by then Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, prime minister Golda Meir and her counterterrorism adviser Aharon Yariv, said historian Michael Bar-Zohar.
Initially, “after Munich, Golda Meir didn’t know what to do”, Bar-Zohar said. The two security chiefs, both with “the air of university professors”, met Meir, the Israeli historian said. “They were timid, well-dressed, and said one thing: ‘Now we must destroy Black September’.”
The trio, aware it would be nigh impossible to hunt down all members of Black September, instead devised a strategy of “smashing the head of the serpent” by killing the group’s leadership, said Bar-Zohar.
“Golda really hesitated,” he said. “Should she authorize assassinations throughout Europe and the Middle East?
“She said ‘yes’.”
Over the next few months, the heads of Black September and their allies from the Palestine Liberation Organization began to die in mysterious circumstances in Rome, Paris and Cyprus.
But Oct.7 was clearly many times worse that the Munich Olympic massacre, with some 1,200 Israelis – most of them civilians – killed. Around 240 hostages were taken, and currently 137 are still captive in Gaza, among them small children, after last week’s truce and prisoner swap deal collapsed.
Much of Hamas’ political leadership lives abroad, making decisions for the militant group from afar – and often from within the safety of Muslim countries. One famous operation in the recent past was known as the “Dubai job”. A high-ranking and founding Hamas member had been killed at his hotel by a group of Mossad assassins dressed as if they were playing tennis.
But the operation was somewhat of a fiasco given how widely the CCTV footage was publicized in the aftermath. Author Ronen Bergman has detailed this and other clandestine killings in his book Rise and Kill First: the Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations. Many targeted killings have also taken place against Iran, where Iranian nuclear scientists have especially been in the crosshairs of late.