All Dressed Up (as Women) and Ready to Go

On this day 39 years ago, Israel Defense Forces commandos attacked several PLO targets in Lebanon and killed high-ranking terrorists with Israeli blood on their hands. The raid, known as Operation Spring of Youth, was one of the most daring IDF operations.

Decades ago, Israeli DM Ehud Barak was the commander of Sayeret Matkal, an elite IDF special forces unit. Photo: AP

Earlier that year, the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal IDF commando unit, Ehud Barak, received precise intelligence on the whereabouts of three senior PLO terrorists in Beirut. He wasted little time in planning an operation.

The planners figured that the operation would take about “20 minutes from the first shots until PLO and Lebanese reinforcements arrived on the scene.” They expected to be back on the beach then, ready to sail back to safety in Israel.

On the night of April 9, 1973, Israeli Navy missile boats dropped the commandos off the shores of Beirut. The elite fighters quietly landed on the beach in Zodiac boats, which are rubber inflatables with outboard engines. In order to avoid suspicion, some of the Sayeret Matkal troops, including Barak, donned wigs, dressed as women and walked lovingly arm-in-arm with their non-costumed male counterparts.

The attack began as planned. The Sayeret Matkal commandos approached the target apartments, entered the buildings and planted explosive fuses at the doors. A backup team led by Barak — still looking like a woman — remained outside and stood guard to repel PLO reinforcements or Lebanese police.

When the fuses exploded, the commandos stormed the apartments, gunned down the three targets and seized documents they found. At the same time, a separate group of Israeli commandos disguised as civilians, led by Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, raided a building that housed terrorists from George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The operation had taken a little longer than expected — a half-hour instead of the anticipated 20 minutes.

As the IDF forces headed out to sea, they found out the results of their operation. Three of the top PLO leaders they had intended to assassinate were dead. George Habash’s PFLP building was in rubble and ruins. In that raid, which Amnon Shahak had led, two IDF soldiers were killed. Overall, the operation achieved its aims.

Where are they now?

Ehud Barak, then the commander of Sayeret Matkal, is today the Israeli minister of defense. He was IDF chief of staff from 1991-1995 and prime minister from 1999-2001.

Amnon Lipkin-Shahak rose through the ranks of the IDF and became chief of staff in 1995, succeeding Ehud Barak in that role. Lipkin-Shahak was later a minister in Ehud Barak’s government.

Yoni Netanyahu, one of Israel’s most famous soldiers, also participated in the operation. Netanyahu died while leading the Entebbe rescue mission three years later, in 1976. His brother, Benjamin, is today the prime minister of Israel.