Unit 101

Unit 101

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Unit 101 was a special forces
Special forces
Special forces, or special operations forces are terms used to describe elite military tactical teams trained to perform high-risk dangerous missions that conventional units cannot perform...

 unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), founded and commanded by Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon is an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. He has been in a permanent vegetative state since suffering a stroke on 4 January 2006....

 on orders from Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Israel
The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of the Israeli government and the most powerful political figure in Israel . The prime minister is the country's chief executive. The official residence of the prime minister, Beit Rosh Hamemshala is in Jerusalem...

 David Ben-Gurion
David Ben-Gurion
' was the first Prime Minister of Israel.Ben-Gurion's passion for Zionism, which began early in life, led him to become a major Zionist leader and Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946...

 in August 1953. It was created in order to better deal with a spate of Arab fedayeen
Fedayeen
Fedayeen is a term used to describe several distinct militant groups and individuals in West Asia at different times in history. It is sometimes used colloquially to refer to suicide squads, especially those who are not bombers.-Overview:...

attacks against Israelis, which the IDF was unsuccessful in halting.

The unit was merged into Battalion 890
Paratroopers Brigade (IDF)
The Paratroopers Brigade , also known as the 35th Brigade, is a unit of paratroopers within the Israel Defense Forces , and forms a major part of the Infantry Corps....

 during January 1954, mainly because they killed dozens of unarmed citizens during the raid known as Qibya massacre
Qibya massacre
The Qibya massacre, also known as the Qibya incident, occurred in October 1953 when Israeli troops under Ariel Sharon attacked the village of Qibya in the West Bank. Sixty-nine Palestinian Arabs, two thirds of them women and children were killed. Forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were...

 into the village of Qibya
Qibya
Qibya is a Palestinian village in the West Bank, located northwest of Ramallah and exactly north of the large Israeli city of Modi'in. It is part of the Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate, and according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, it had a population of approximately 4,901 in...

. Beside the Sayeret Matkal
Sayeret Matkal
Sayeret Matkal is a special forces unit of the Israel Defence Forces , which is subordinated to the intelligence directorate Aman. First and foremost a field intelligence-gathering unit, conducting deep reconnaissance behind enemy lines to obtain strategic intelligence, Sayeret Matkal is also...

, they are considered to be the unit with the most influence on the Israeli infantry oriented units—including both special and conventional units.

Background


Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Israel was faced with cross-border raids by Arab militants. Initially these were small scale attacks launched by refugees
Palestinian fedayeen
Palestinian fedayeen refers to militants or guerrillas of a nationalist orientation from among the Palestinian people...

 often motivated by economic reasons, but they were quickly adopted by the military of the neighboring Arab states, who organized them into semi-formal brigades which mounted larger scale operations from 1954 onwards. According to Israel, about 9,000 attacks were launched from 1949 to 1956, resulting in hundreds of Israeli civilian casualties.

At the same time the IDF was ill prepared to respond to these raids. The Palmach
Palmach
The Palmach was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palmach was established on May 15, 1941...

, its three best combat units of the 1948 war, had been disbanded at Ben-Gurion’s instruction. Many experienced officers had left the army after the war, and the Israeli society had undergone a difficult period of impoverishment. As a result the IDF did not have any units capable of effective reprisal, and did not perform well in offensive operations.
As a response to this problem the IDF formed Unit 30 in 1951—a secret unit that belonged to the IDF Southern Command. Their purpose was to execute retribution missions while operating in compact and well-trained teams. Unfortunately for the IDF the officers lacked the required training and executed their duties poorly, leading to the unit's disbandment 1952.


One of Sharon’s final operations before leaving the army in 1952 was the semi-successful Operation Bin Nun Alef into Jordan
Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

. During the operation he suffered serious injuries, after which Sharon had recommended to the General Staff that an elite force, trained in commando
Commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

 tactics, be set up for reprisal operations
Reprisal
In international law, a reprisal is a limited and deliberate violation of international law to punish another sovereign state that has already broken them. Reprisals in the laws of war are extremely limited, as they commonly breached the rights of civilians, an action outlawed by the Geneva...

. After a series of unsuccessful retribution infiltrations by existing IDF units, Ben Gurion pressed Chief of Staff
Chief of Staff
The title, chief of staff, identifies the leader of a complex organization, institution, or body of persons and it also may identify a Principal Staff Officer , who is the coordinator of the supporting staff or a primary aide to an important individual, such as a president.In general, a chief of...

 Mordechai Maklef to establish such a special forces unit in the summer of 1953. This was Israel's first, and reservist Ariel Sharon was called back to duty.

Sharon was given the rank of Major and chosen to command the company-sized unit, with Shlomo Baum
Shlomo Baum
Shlomo Baum was an Israeli military commando fighter. He was one of the founders of Unit 101 of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as Ariel Sharon's deputy in command....

 as deputy in command. The unit was to consist of 50 men, most of them former Tzanhanim and Unit 30 personnel. They were armed with non-standard weapons and tasked with carrying out special reprisals across the state’s borders—mainly establishing small unit maneuvers, activation and insertion tactics that are utilized even today.

The new unit began a hard process of day and night training. Some of their exercises frequently took them across the border, as enemy engagement was seen as the best preparation. The recruits went on forced marches and undertook weapons and sabotage training at their base camp at Sataf
Sataf
Sataf was an Arab village in the District of Jerusalem depopulated during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. It is located 10 km west of Jerusalem, with Sorek riverbed bordering the east....

, a depopulated Arab village just west of Jerusalem.

In addition to the unit's tactical variation, they were also unique in two ways:
  • They were first IDF Special Forces unit formed from scratch, rather than modify a previously exiting infantry oriented unit—such as with the Golani Brigade
    Golani Brigade
    The Golani Brigade is an Israeli infantry brigade that is subordinated to the 36th Division and traditionally associated with the Northern Command. Its symbol is a green tree on a yellow background, and its soldiers wear a brown beret. It is one of the most highly decorated infantry units in the...

     Special Reconnaissance Platoon.
  • No other unit ever before received its orders directly from the IDF General Staff—the IDF High Command MATKAL, rather than from a lower sub-command.


Originally T'zanhanim company's officers were the biggest opposition against the creation of Unit 101. The reason for this was simply that they didn't want another competitor for retaliation missions. Before the formation of Unit 101 only they undertook these missions. One of the unit's tactical commanders was Meir Har-Zion
Meir Har-Zion
Meir Har-Zion is a former Israeli military commando.As a key member of Unit 101 he was highly praised by Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan who described him as "the finest of our commando soldiers, the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF." His three-year military career was ended by injuries sustained...

, who was later awarded the rank of an officer solely for his conduct in battle. The tactics of Unit 101 was politically very effective and soon the fighters simply could not keep up with the attrition.

This meant that the attacks on Israel decreased and the political objective of Unit 101 was accomplished. The creation of Unit 101 was a major landmark in the Israeli Special Forces history. Beside the Sayeret Matkal
Sayeret Matkal
Sayeret Matkal is a special forces unit of the Israel Defence Forces , which is subordinated to the intelligence directorate Aman. First and foremost a field intelligence-gathering unit, conducting deep reconnaissance behind enemy lines to obtain strategic intelligence, Sayeret Matkal is also...

, they are considered to be the unit with the most influence on the Israeli infantry oriented units including both special and conventional units.

Palestinian refugee camp


According to Yoav Gelber
Yoav Gelber
Yoav Gelber is a professor of history at the University of Haifa, and was formerly a visiting professor at The University of Texas at Austin....

, after one month of training a patrol of Unit 101 infiltrated into the Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip
thumb|Gaza city skylineThe Gaza Strip lies on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Strip borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about long, and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide, with a total area of...

 as an exercise. They attacked Arabs in the al-Burej Palestinian refugee
Palestinian refugee
Palestinian refugees or Palestine refugees are the people and their descendants, predominantly Palestinian Arabic-speakers, who fled or were expelled from their homes during and after the 1948 Palestine War, within that part of the British Mandate of Palestine, that after that war became the...

 camp, and opened fire to rescue itself and left behind about 30 killed Arabs and dozens of wounded between 28 and 29 of August 1953. According to Azmi Bishara
Azmi Bishara
Azmi Bishara , a former member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is a Palestinian intellectual, academic, politician, and writer.In 2007, Bishara fled Israel and resigned from the Knesset after being questioned by police on suspicion of aiding and passing information to the enemy during...

, 43 Palestinian civilians with seven women amongst them were killed and 22 wounded. Other sources estimate the total at about 20 killed. Unit 101 suffered two wounded soldiers. The raid was heavily condemned by foreign observers, who called it "an appalling case of deliberate mass murder", and was publicly criticized in the Israeli cabinet by at least one minister.

Qibya massacre


Two months later, in October, the unit was involved in the raid into the village of Qibya
Qibya massacre
The Qibya massacre, also known as the Qibya incident, occurred in October 1953 when Israeli troops under Ariel Sharon attacked the village of Qibya in the West Bank. Sixty-nine Palestinian Arabs, two thirds of them women and children were killed. Forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were...

 in the northern West Bank
West Bank
The West Bank ) of the Jordan River is the landlocked geographical eastern part of the Palestinian territories located in Western Asia. To the west, north, and south, the West Bank shares borders with the state of Israel. To the east, across the Jordan River, lies the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan...

, then a part of Jordan
Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

. During this operation that inflicted heavy damage on the Arab Legion
Arab Legion
The Arab Legion was the regular army of Transjordan and then Jordan in the early part of the 20th century.-Creation:...

 forces in Qibya 42 villagers were killed, and 15 wounded
. According to United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 observers; bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants may had been remained inside until their homes were blown up over them.

The international outcry caused by the operation required a formal reply by Israel. The Israelis denied responsibility, making diplomats and other officials believe that Israeli settlers or a local kibbutz
Kibbutz
A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture. Today, farming has been partly supplanted by other economic branches, including industrial plants and high-tech enterprises. Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism...

 had carried out the raid on their own initiative. Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.A member of the Irgun as a teenager, Avnery sat in the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979–81...

, founder and editor of the magazine Haolam Hazeh
Haolam Hazeh
HaOlam HaZeh was a weekly news magazine published in Israel until 1993.The magazine was founded in 1937 under the name Tesha BaErev but was renamed HaOlam HaZeh in 1946...

, claims he had both hands broken when he was ambushed for criticizing the massacre at Qibya in his newspaper.

Disbandment


The widely condemned attack on Qibya
Qibya
Qibya is a Palestinian village in the West Bank, located northwest of Ramallah and exactly north of the large Israeli city of Modi'in. It is part of the Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate, and according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, it had a population of approximately 4,901 in...

 led to calls by government officials to disband the unit, which was instead merged with T'zanhanim company during January 1954. After the merger the joint outfit turned into a brigade size unit, namely Battalion 890
Paratroopers Brigade (IDF)
The Paratroopers Brigade , also known as the 35th Brigade, is a unit of paratroopers within the Israel Defense Forces , and forms a major part of the Infantry Corps....

. Sharon became the commander of the merged brigade which composed of two battalions—869 Battalion, made out of the original T'zanhanim company personnel and 101 Battalion, made out of former Unit 101 personnel.
The merge with T'zanhanim company was actually ironic since their officers were originally the biggest opposition against the creation of Unit 101. The reason for this was simply that they didn't want another competitor for retaliation missions. Before the formation of Unit 101 only they undertook these missions.

Operating as a unit within the brigade, they carried out a large-scale attack on the Egyptian army positions in the Gaza strip during February 1955. Sharon personally led the raid, codenamed Operation Black Arrow. It resulted in 42 Egyptian soldiers killed and 36 wounded, versus 8 Israeli dead. The newly formed brigade did most of the Israeli special forces operations during the remaining of 1950's.

Egyptian shock over the magnitude of their losses is often cited as one of the catalysts for the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal that opened the Middle East to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. Up to 20 such attacks were carried out between 1955 and 1956, culminating in the Qalqilya Police raid of October 1956. This particular raid targeted a position of the Jordanian Arab Legion
Arab Legion
The Arab Legion was the regular army of Transjordan and then Jordan in the early part of the 20th century.-Creation:...

 in one of the old British police forts, during which 18 Israeli soldiers and up to a hundred Legionnaires were killed.

During the end of 1950s the IDF realized that they were lacking a small SF unit, since the T'zanhanim company had turned into a infantry brigade. That is the main reason why Avraham Arnan formed the Sayeret Matkal
Sayeret Matkal
Sayeret Matkal is a special forces unit of the Israel Defence Forces , which is subordinated to the intelligence directorate Aman. First and foremost a field intelligence-gathering unit, conducting deep reconnaissance behind enemy lines to obtain strategic intelligence, Sayeret Matkal is also...

 in 1958. In various ways the Sayeret Matkal combined the operational experience gathered by Unit 101 and relied on the structure of the British Special Air Service
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

. After losing their special forces title, the T'zanhanim company formed its own SF unit— the Sayeret T'zanhanim in October 1958.

See also

  • Ariel Sharon
    Ariel Sharon
    Ariel Sharon is an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. He has been in a permanent vegetative state since suffering a stroke on 4 January 2006....

  • List of defunct special forces units
  • List of special forces units
  • Meir Har-Zion
    Meir Har-Zion
    Meir Har-Zion is a former Israeli military commando.As a key member of Unit 101 he was highly praised by Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan who described him as "the finest of our commando soldiers, the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF." His three-year military career was ended by injuries sustained...

  • Qibya massacre
    Qibya massacre
    The Qibya massacre, also known as the Qibya incident, occurred in October 1953 when Israeli troops under Ariel Sharon attacked the village of Qibya in the West Bank. Sixty-nine Palestinian Arabs, two thirds of them women and children were killed. Forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were...

  • Sayeret
    Sayeret
    Sayeret , literally means "reconnaissance unit" in the Israel Defense Forces . In practice, these units specialize in commando and other special forces roles, in addition to reconnaissance...

  • Special Air Service
    Special Air Service
    Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...


External links