Unit 101

Unit 101

Unit 101 was a special forces unit of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), founded and commanded by Ariel Sharon on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1953. It was created in order to better deal with a spate of Arab "fedayeen" attacks against Israelis, which the IDF was unsuccessful in halting. Unit 101 was merged into the paratrooper brigade in 1954, and later disbanded.

Background and organization

Following the 1948 war, Israel was faced with cross-border raids by Arab militants. Initially these were small scale attacks launched by refugees 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. cite book|title="Britain, Israel, and the United States, 1955-1958: Beyond Suez"|author=Orna Almog|year=2003|page=20|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0714652466] According to Israel, some 9,000 attacks were launched from 1949 to 1956 [cite book|title=BIG LIES. Demolishing The Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel|author=David Meir-Levi|year=2005|page=36|publisher=Center for the Study of Popular Culture|isbn=1-886-442-46-0] , resulting in hundreds of Israeli civilian casualties. [ [http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/concepts/d3.html The Arab Israeli Conflict 1949 - 1956] ] [Howard Sachar, History of Israel, p. 450. cited at cite web |publisher= Jewish Agency for Israel |title= Fedayeen Raids 1951 -1956 |url=http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/maps/fed.html] [ [http://www.adl.org/ISRAEL/Record/sinai.asp THE 1956 SINAI CAMPAIGN] ]

At the same time the IDF was ill prepared to respond to the raids. The Palmach, 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 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. cite book|title=”Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War"|author=Benny Morris|year=1993|page=251|publisher=Oxford University Press|isbn=0198292627]

One of Sharon’s final operations before leaving the army in 1952 was a semi-successful raid into Jordan, after which Sharon had recommended to the General Staff that an elite force, trained in commando tactics, be set up for reprisal operations. After a series of unsuccessful retaliatory infiltrations by existing IDF units, in the summer of 1953 Ben Gurion pressed Chief of Staff Mordechai Maklef to establish such a special forces unit, 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 as deputy in command. The unit was to comprise 50 men, armed with “non-standard weapons”, and tasked with carrying out “special reprisals across the state’s borders”.cite book|title=”Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War"|author=Benny Morris|year=1993|page=251-253|publisher=Oxford University Press|isbn=0198292627] One of the unit's tactical commanders was Meir Har-Zion, who was later awarded the rank of an officer solely for his conduct in battle.


According to Gelber, after one month of training "a patrol of the unit that infiltrated into the Gaza Strip as an exercise, encountered Arabs in al-Burej refugee camp, opened fire to rescue itself and left behind about 30 killed Arabs and dozens of wounded." [Yoav Gelber, 2006, "Sharon's Inheritance" [http://www.aisisraelstudies.org/2006papers/Gelber%20Yoav%202006.pdf] ] According to Bishara 43 Palestinian civilians with seven women amongst them were killed, and 22 wounded [ [http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/654/op2.htm A lifetime credo, Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram, 4-10 September 2003] ] Other estimates put the total at "about 20" killed. Unit 101 suffered two wounded soldiers. Ariel Sharon, who had personally led the attack wrote in his report: :"The enemy opened fire on me from the northwest... I decided that it was better to pass through the camp and slip out the other side than to go back the way I came, because crops, gardens, barbed wire and guards made it difficult to move in that direction... I also decided that offensive action was better than giving the impression that we were attempting to escape... Therefore I invaded the camp with my group." [ [http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/654/op2.htm A lifetime credo, Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram, 4-10 September 2003] ] 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. cite book|title=”Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War"|author=Benny Morris|year=1993|page=256|publisher=Oxford University Press|isbn=0198292627]

Two months later, in October, the unit was involved in a raid into the village of QibyaPierre Razoux, Tsahal - Nouvelle histoire de l'armée israélienne, 2006, P125-127] in the northern West Bank, then a part of Jordan. 69 civilians were killed in this operation. According to United Nations observers, “Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them.”The widely condemned attack on Qibya led to calls by government officials to disband the unit, which was instead merged into the Paratroopers Brigade, in January 1954, and Sharon became the commander of the merged brigade. Operating as a unit within the brigade, the unit carried out a large-scale attack on Egyptian army positions in the Gaza strip in 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. 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. Up to 20 such attacks were carried out in 1955-1956, culminating in the Qalqilya Police raid of October 1956 - targeting a position of the Jordanian Arab Legion in one of the old British police forts, during which 18 Israeli soldiers and up to a hundred Legionnaires were killed.


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