Operation Wooden Leg

Wooden Leg
Part of Israeli–Palestinian Conflict
Map of Tunisia.gif
Map of Tunisia
Operational scope Strategic
Planned by Israel Air Force Flag.svg Israeli Air Force
Objective Destroy Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Hammam al-Shatt, Tunisia
Date October 1, 1985
Executed by Eight F-15 Eagles
Outcome Success
Casualties ~100 dead

Operation Wooden Leg (Hebrew: מבצע רגל עץ‎, Mivtza Regel Etz) was an attack by Israel on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Hammam al-Shatt, Tunisia, 12 miles from the capital of Tunis. It took place on October 1, 1985. Taking place 1,280 miles (2060 km) away, this was the furthest operation from Israel undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces since the 1976 Entebbe Operation in Uganda. For this reason, Tunisian sources believed that attack must have been known by the United States, if not actually involving US collaboration.[1]



Tunisia had previously made friendly gestures to Israel. After President Bourguiba visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, he urged Arab states to recognize Israel. Tunisia was suspended from the Arab League for adopting such a stance.[1]

After the 1982 Lebanon War, the PLO had been based in Tunisia. On September 25, 1985, three Israeli civilians were killed on their yacht off the coast of Larnaca, Cyprus. The attack took place on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. An elite section of the PLO known as Force 17 claimed credit for the attack. The Israelis claimed that the victims were tourists, but Palestinians said they were Mossad agents, monitoring the Palestinian naval traffic out of Cyprus. That attack was a response for capture and imprisonment of senior Force 17 commander Faisal Abu Sharah by Israelis two weeks earlier. The boat he was sailing, was intercepted by Israelis in international waters on the way from Cyprus to Lebanon [2].

The Israeli cabinet and the Israeli Air Force desired immediate retaliation, and chose the Tunis headquarters of the PLO as their target. Intelligence supplied to the Israeli government by Jonathan Pollard greatly facilitated the raid.[3]

On the eve of the attack, Tunisia expressed concern to the United States that it may be attacked by Israel. However, the US, according to a high Tunisian official, assured Tunisia there was no reason to worry.[1]

The Operation

The strike was carried out by eight F-15 Eagles. At 07:00 on October 1, the aircraft took off from Tel Nof Airbase. A Boeing 707 heavily modified for refuelling operations refueled the F-15s in mid-flight over the Mediterranean Sea in order to allow the operation to be executed over such a distance. The Israeli Navy stationed a helicopter-carrying vessel near Malta to recover downed pilots, but these were never needed. The route was designed to avoid detection by Egyptian and Libyan radars, and United States Navy vessels patrolling the Mediterranean. The F-15s flew low over the shore, and fired precision-guided munitions on the PLO headquarters, a cluster of sand-colored buildings along the seaside. The planes attacked the southern location first, so that the northern wind would not pull smoke over the northern targets.[4] The attack lasted for six minutes, after which the F-15s flew back to Israel, refuelled again by the Boeing 707.

The PLO headquarters was completely destroyed, although Yasser Arafat, the head of the organization, was not there at the time and escaped unharmed. Israel claimed that some 60 PLO members had been killed, including several leaders of Force 17, and several of Arafat's bodyguards. In addition, the operation resulted in casualties among civilian bystanders.[1] According to other source, 56 Palestinians and 15 Tunisians were killed and about one hundred wounded.[5]

Because the attack was conducted so far from Israel, Tunisian sources believed that attack must have been known by the United States, if not actually involving US collaboration.[1]


The attack provoked a strong outcry, even in the United States, Israel's strongest ally. Though initially labeling the strike a "legitimate response to terror," the Reagan administration later said the attack "cannot be condoned." The attack also harmed relations between the US administration and the Tunisian president, Habib Bourguiba. Believing the US knew about the attack, and was possibly involved, Tunisia considered breaking diplomatic ties with the US.[1]

Egypt suspended negotiations with Israel over the disputed border town of Taba. Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying "It was an act of self-defense. Period."

In the United Nations Security Council Resolution 573 (1985) the Security Council voted (with the United States abstaining) to condemn the attack on Tunisian territory as a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and considered that Tunisia had the right to appropriate reparations.[6]

On October 9, 1985 in response to the Israeli attack on Tunisia, members of radical Palestinian organization Popular Liberation Front hijacked Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro and killed one of the hostages on board the ship.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f W. Seelye, Talcott (March 1990). "Ben Ali Visit Marks Third Stage in 200-Year-Old US-Tunisian Special Relationship". The Washington Report: pp. 7. http://www.washington-report.org/backissues/0390/9003007.htm 
  2. ^ Seale, 1993. p237
  3. ^ Black, Edwin (20 June 2002). "Does Jonathan Pollard Deserve a Life Sentence?". History News Network. http://hnn.us/articles/796.html. Retrieved 24 November 2009. 
  4. ^ http://www.iaf.org.il/46940-33087-en/IAF.aspx
  5. ^ a b Seale, 1993. p.238
  6. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution S-RES-573(1985) on 4 October 1985 (retrieved 2007-08-10)

External links

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