Was 'Operation Wrath of God' Operational Success?

Thesis: The purpose of this study is to examine the methodology of the covert action teams authorized by Prime Minister Golda Meir to find and assassinate those individuals responsible for the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games in September 1972. Specifically, the study addresses whether the operational and tactical methods utilized in this counterterrorist effort were successful relative to the original operational objectives.

Background: In 1972, the Israeli Mossad initiated one of the most ambitious covert counterterrorist campaigns in history. Golda Meir and the Israeli cabinet's top secret 'Committee-X' devised a campaign in retaliation for the massacre of eleven Israeli's during the Munich Olympic games. Meir tasked the committee with devising an appropriate response to the Munich massacre. The panel concluded that the most effective response was to authorize the assassination of any Black September terrorists involved in the Munich incident. The Mossad assumed the responsibility for implementing the panel's directive. To accomplish the directive, the Mossad developed several assassination teams, each with specific mission parameters and methods of operation. The Mossad headquarters element developed one team utilizing staff operations officers supported by recruited assets of regional stations and managed through standard Mossad headquarters' procedures. A second unit recruited staff officers and highly trained specialists and set them outside the arm and control of the government. The theory was to support this team financially through covert mechanisms and let them operate with complete anonymity outside the government structure. The assassination team deployed through normal channels failed to complete their mission and publicly exposed the entire operation. The second team which operated with full decentralized authority and freedom of movement achieved significant success in fulfilling their operational objectives and never compromised the operation.

Recommendations: Although there are inherent differences between Israeli and U.S. policies, specifically those addressing the use of assassination as a political tool, important lessons may be gleaned from this study for policy makers. Planners of sensitive covert operations must have a firm understanding of bureaucratic processes. Government bureaucracies inherently limit the degree of operational success by the nature of their systems. Bureaucracies cannot move effectively beyond a predetermined operational tempo, and impose fatal restraints regarding operational tradecraft and tactics. Successful covert operations demand a flexible capability with full decentralized authority enabling officers to initiate actions as circumstances dictate, enhancing the operational success-failure ratio. When operational teams incorporate decentralized authority in concert with good tradecraft and tactical techniques, success is virtually assured. Government agencies are capable of conducting decentralized, sensitive operations with reasonable operational control and an expectation of success.


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