Operation Spring of Youth
(April 9, 1973)
Operation Spring of Youth is the codename for an IDF raid in 1973 during which commandos infiltrated Beirut and killed high ranking Palestinian terrorists.
- Planning the Operation
- Executing "Spring of Youth"
- Where Are They Now?
In the Fall of 1972, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists, calling themselves "Black September," infiltrated the Athletes Village at the Munich Olympics, kidnapped and then later murdered 11
Israeli athletes. Israel's most elite and secretive military unit, Sayeret Matkal, was immediately put on the alert after the
massacre and the Mossad was tasked with tracking down and eliminating the Palestinian terrorists who were connected with the attack.
In early 1973, Israeli intelligence located some of the terrorists in the PLO haven of the 1970's - Beirut, Lebanon.
Beirut was a mixture of the old and the new in the
1970's, but certainly the "most Western city of the Arab
world", complete with high-rise hotels, banks, casinos,
"French and Italian boutiques", beautiful beaches with
bikini-clad Lebanese women (a rarity in the Arab world), and not far
away, ski resorts which together attracted "the wealthiest of
tourists and Arabs seeking political freedom in the Lebanese
In 1973, Beirut had not yet collapsed into the
smoldering inferno of destruction that it became known for over the next two decades as a result of fierce infighting among the rivalries between Sunni and Shiite
Moslems, Maronite Christians, and the mountain Druze. At that time a balance among these groups still existed, though it was
tenuous, and the tenuous nature of co-existence meant that a strong
government did not impose its will on the population. Having been forced out of nearby Jordan by King Hussein in September 1970, the PLO hastily took the opportunity which presented itself, moved its forces into Lebanon, and took effective control over much of South Lebanon and
West Beirut, which they used as a base for terrorist operations against
Planning the Operation
In February 1973, Ehud Barak - commander of Sayeret Matkal - obtained photographs and precise intelligence information about the
whereabouts of three PLO arch-terrorists in Beirut and he
immediately went to work planning and brainstorming ideas about how to take out these men. The Israeli intelligence reports not
only knew the exact locations of the terrorists but also had obtained the
exact architectural plans of the buildings they lived within.
Barak's plan involved entereing Beirut from the sea on Zodiac boats - rubber inflatables with outboard engines - and then making their way to the designated targest while disguised as tourists. According to the Mossad's intelligence, from the beach
the attacking units "needed to get to the targets, about ten
kilometers inside the city." There would be three units sent to attack, one each for the three individual apartments, plus a
guard unit to stand outside to defend against Lebanese
police or PLO backup.
In the end, it was decided to use three cars driven by Mossad operatives who knew the city well. They would drive
the fighters to the apartments and pick them up after the operation was
finished. The Sayeret Matkal units, disguised as civilian tourists,
would be equipped with Uzis, small arms, and explosive charges, all
hidden under their clothes. In addition to the three apartments, a unit from a paratroopers brigade, led by Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, was assigned to "hit
the six-story headquarters of the world's hijacking experts, George
Habash's Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine." Another paratroopers unit as well as other soldiers from
the Shayetet-13 were to "raid weapons manufacturing facilities and
fuel dumps that the PLO maintained in the Tyre-Sidon area."
The operation was scheduled to take about
"20 minutes from the first shots until PLO and Lebanese
reinforcements arrived on the scene" and all the soldiers were expected to be back on
the beach ready to alight on the boats that would bring them back
to Israel by that time.
The Sayeret Matkal units decided to go in not only
disguised as tourists, but dressed as women as well. Barak and Amiram Levine, who would stand guard outside the apartments during the raids, were among the Israeli commandos who did
They practiced for the operation in apartment
buildings in North Tel Aviv, similar in construction to those they
would be assaulting in Beirut. In addition to penetration of the
apartments, they practiced walking around as lovers, the men holding
the "women." The Sayeret Matkal not only planned the operation
meticulously, but planned for unexpected errors, accidents, and
interference as well.
Shortly before the operation Muki Betser, who was to
lead one of the units, called a meeting:
"'We're going on a very
unusual operation,' (he) began. 'A civilian target in the heart of a
city. The targets will have guards. They also might be armed,
themselves. Civilians live all around them and we have to be extremely
careful not to harm them. We have a lot of good intelligence. But the best
intelligence we have is that these are people with blood on their
hands.' I paused to let my words sink in. 'We are taking a relatively
great risk. But we are convinced,' I said, knowing that I spoke for all
the officers who planned the raid, 'that the level of risk is logical
and reasonable. If we do it right, we can get away without any harm.
But anything can happen. That's true. If it does, we need to stay cool,
take heart and remain confident that we know how to manage.' I looked around at them. Only a couple of years
younger than myself, I felt confident in all of them, and told them so.
'And because I have that confidence, I am convinced we will
At the last moment, Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of
current Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, joined Muki Betser's team. Netanyahu was considered
by Betser to be a "great fighter, terrifically motivated and
powerfully courageous" and he continued to be involved in secret
operations until he was killed during the Israeli raid and rescue of Jewish hostages
at Entebbe in 1975.
Executing "Spring of Youth"
On Monday, April 9, the group of commandos embarked from Haifa for the 7-hour boat ride to the coast of Beirut. The Zodiac boats were carried on larger missile boats until
they approached the shores of Beirut where they were then lowered into
the water. The soldiers motored towards the Lebanese coast until they were a few hundred meters off and then turned off the motors and
rowed the rest of the way.
Once ashore, they got in the waiting cars drive by Mossad agents and immediately received a report that
three Lebanese policemen were unexpectedly patrolling the area in front
of the apartments that they were supposed to attack. Barak made a quick decision to continue with the operation despite
the obstacle - a call to headquarters could have easily led to the
cancellation of the whole operation.
When they approached their target, the soldiers got out of
the cars and began walking like lovers as planned. No one
suspected them for anything else - the
policemen didn't even react when the soldiers passed right by. They got to the apartments and
didn't see any guards. Muki Betser's group went in, climbing the
stairs at a half-run and set explosive fuses to the door of one of the PLO men. They waited for a signal from outside that the
other two units had also set their explosives and were ready to act.
They got the go-ahead, lit the fuses, and waited. When they would
explode, Barak would immediately "report back to the mother ship that the
operation began, setting in motion the rest of the IDF forces in Beirut
Betser describes his part in the raid:
"Finally, the explosion blew open the door in a blast of smoke. I
burst in with Tzvika, instinctively taking the left-hand turn into the
main corridor of the apartment, running down the hall I knew so well
from my drills. Four strides and I reached my target's office. Half
a dozen empty chairs faced the desk. Behind it, filing cabinets
reminded me that military intelligence wanted any piece of paper we
found. To my right, said the architectural plans I memorized, was the
master bedroom door. I swung in that direction, just as the door flew
open. The face I knew from three weeks of carrying his
picture in my shirt pocket looked at me as I raised my gun. He slammed
the door. Bursts from my Uzi and Tzvika's stitched the bedroom door. I
rushed forward and kicked through the remains of the door."
The PLO terrorist responsible for the Munich massacre of the Israeli
athletes was no more. Betser and his men quickly ran down the stairs to deal with some
shooting they had heard just before entering the rooms. As they neared the bottom of the stairs, the shooting and noise from outside grew louder.
"Out the front door, I
ducked into the shadow of a tree, scanning the intersection just as a
burning Lebanese police Land Rover rolled through the intersection.
Straight ahead, Amiram Levine in a blonde wig looked like a crazed
dancer in the middle of the intersection, his tiny powerful body
swinging his Uzi back and forth from target to target. To my right, Ehud (Barak) stood in the middle of the
intersection, doing the same. I added my own fire at the Land Rover,
giving Amiram cover for him to run toward me. The Land Rover crashed to
a halt against a building. But a second vehicle, a jeep full of
reinforcements came screeching into the box of fire we created at the
They took out this jeep as well. Hearing explosions in the distance was assumed to be Amnon Shahak's paratrooper unit attacking George Habash's headquarters.
Quickly, the Mossad cars came screeching to a halt outside of
the buildings and the fiery intersection. The Sayeret Matkal units, missions completed, jumped into the cars - only
two minutes had passed since they hit their targets in the buildings. Barak checked with the other Sayeret Matkal units; no one had been
killed, but one commando had been wounded. No news was yet known
about the paratrooper unit which had attacked George Habash's six-story
"Ehud cut off radio contact and we rushed in a
crazy race down the hills of Beirut. The Mossad drivers knew the city
and they knew the big American cars well enough to make them slip and
slide around the corners as we raced through the city. No whooping and
shouting broke out inside the getaway car. Each man sat alone with his
thoughts, alert for enemy forces taking chase."
Once outside of the neighborhood they had just wreaked
havoc in, the get away cars slowed down. Soon, before they were to turn off the road
leading down to the beach, they saw a Lebanese Army troop carrier scanning the shoreline. The commandos were tense as they waited for it to pass but the Lebanese didn't
bother with them.
The commandos jumped out of the cars when they got
to the beach. The operation had taken a little longer than expected - a
half-hour instead of the anticipated 20 minutes.
As they motored out to sea, they found out what had
happened. Three of the top PLO leaders they had intended to assassinate
were dead. And George Habash's six-story building was in rubble and
ruins. In that raid, which Amnon Shahak had led, two IDF soldiers were
killed . Shahak won a medal of valor as he saved the lives of wounded
comrades under his command.
Though the commandos did not assassinate PLO chief Yasser Arafat,
though they thought they might have gotten him, the mission was still a glaring success. Operation Spring of Youth is still known as one of
the IDF's finest moments.
Where Are They Now
Ehud Barak, commander of Sayeret Matkal, is currently the Israeli Minister of Defense. He served as IDF Chief of Staff from 1991 to 1995 and also as Prime Minister from 1999 to 2001.
Lipkin-Shahak, leader of the Paratrooper unit, served as IDF Chief of Staff after Barak from 1995 to 1998. He joined Barak's government in 1999 and became Minister of Tourism.
Amiram Levine, who dressed as a woman and stood guard with Barak outside the building, rose to the rank of major-general and served as commander of the northern command. He served as Deputy head of the Mossad.
Yoni Netanyahu, who joined Muki Betzer's squad, eventually commander the Sayeret Matkal. He was killed while commanding Operation Thunderbolt to rescue Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.
Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish
Agency for Israel, (c) 1992-2005, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman,
Webmaster: Esther Carciente. This material may not be republished without
the permission of the copyright owner.
Colonel Muki Betser - Secret Soldier: The
Incredible True Story of Israel's Greatest Commando.
Ian Black and Benny Morris - Israel's
Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services
Dennis Eisenberg, Uri Dan, Dennis Eisenenberg - The
Mossad-Inside Stories: Israel's Secret Intelligence Service
Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman - Every
Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel's Intelligence Community
Stewart Steven - The
Spymasters of Israel