Template:Infobox military unit Unit 101 (Hebrew: יחידה 101) was a special forces unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), founded and commanded by Ariel Sharon on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1953.[1] It was created in order to better deal with a spate of Arab fedayeen attacks against Israelis, which the IDF was unsuccessful in halting.[2]

The unit was merged into Battalion 890 during January 1954, mainly because they killed dozens of unarmed citizens during the raid known as Qibya massacre into the village of Qibya.[1][3] Beside the Sayeret Matkal, they are considered to be the unit with the most influence on the Israeli infantry oriented units—including both special and conventional units.[3]

Background[edit | edit source]

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 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.[4] According to Israel, about 9,000 attacks were launched from 1949 to 1956,[5] resulting in hundreds of Israeli civilian casualties.[6][7][8]

At the same time the IDF was ill prepared to respond to these raids. The Palmach, its three best combat units of the 1948 war, had been disbanded at Ben-Gurion’s instruction.[9] 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.[10]

The Palestinians must learn that they will pay a high price for Israeli lives.
—A conversation between David Ben-Gurion and Ariel Sharon.[1]

As a response to this problem the IDF formed Unit 30 in 1951—a secret unit that belonged to the IDF Southern Command.[11] 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.[11]

File:Ariel Sharon 2004.jpg

Ariel Sharon at a visit to the White House, April 2004.

One of Sharon’s final operations before leaving the army in 1952 was the semi-successful Operation Bin Nun Alef into Jordan.[12] During the operation he suffered serious injuries, after which Sharon had recommended to the General Staff that an elite force, trained in commando tactics, be set up for reprisal operations.[13] After a series of unsuccessful retribution infiltrations by existing IDF units, Ben Gurion pressed Chief of Staff Mordechai Maklef to establish such a special forces unit in the summer of 1953.[14] 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 as deputy in command. The unit was to consist of 50 men, most of them former Tzanhanim and Unit 30 personnel.[11] 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.[10][11]

The new unit began a hard process of day and night training.[2] 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, a depopulated Arab village just west of Jerusalem.[2]

In addition to the unit's tactical variation, they were also unique in two ways:[1]

  • 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 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 (Template:Lang-he, Paratroopers) company's officers were the biggest opposition against the creation of Unit 101.[3] 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.[3][11] 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. The tactics of Unit 101 was politically very effective and soon the fighters simply could not keep up with the attrition.[1]

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, they are considered to be the unit with the most influence on the Israeli infantry oriented units including both special and conventional units.[3]

Operations[edit | edit source]

Palestinian refugee camp[edit | edit source]

According to Yoav Gelber, after one month of training a patrol of Unit 101 infiltrated into the Gaza Strip as an exercise.[2][15] Some sources estimate that a result of the infiltration is 20 killed Arabs. Unit 101 suffered two wounded soldiers.[16] 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.[10]

Qibya massacre[edit | edit source]

Main article: Qibya massacre

Inhabitants of Qibya coming back to their village after the attack.

Two months later, in October, the unit was involved in the raid into the village of Qibya in the northern West Bank, then a part of Jordan. During this operation that inflicted heavy damage on the Arab Legion forces in Qibya 42 villagers were killed, and 15 wounded[17] .[18] 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 may have 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 had carried out the raid on their own initiative.[2] Uri Avnery, founder and editor of the magazine Haolam Hazeh, claims he had both hands broken when he was ambushed for criticizing the massacre at Qibya in his newspaper.[19]

The new recruits began a harsh regimen of day and night training, their orientation and navigation exercises often taking them across the border; encounters with enemy patrols or village watchmen were regarded as the best preparation for the missions that lay ahead. Some commanders, such as Baum and Sharon, deliberately sought firefights. Unit 101 recruits went on forced marches and did callisthenics, judo, and weapons and sabotage training, at their base camp at Sataf, an abandoned Arab village just west of Jerusalem.

Israeli historian Benny Morris describes Unit 101.[20]

Disbandment[edit | edit source]

The widely condemned attack on Qibya led to calls by government officials to disband the unit, which was instead merged with T'zanhanim company during January 1954.[11] After the merger the joint outfit turned into a brigade size unit, namely Battalion 890.[3] 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.[11]

File:Kibya ruins.jpg

A resident of Qibya at the ruins of his house after the attack by Israeli forces in October 1953.

The merge with T'zanhanim company was actually ironic since their officers were originally the biggest opposition against the creation of Unit 101.[3] 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.[3][11]

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.[11] The newly formed brigade did most of the Israeli special forces operations during the remaining of 1950's.[3][11]

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 between 1955 and 1956, culminating in the Qalqilya Police raid of October 1956.[11] This particular raid targeted 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.

During the end of 1950s the IDF realized that they were lacking a small SF unit, since the T'zanhanim company had turned into an infantry brigade. That is the main reason why Avraham Arnan formed the Sayeret Matkal 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.[21] After losing their special forces title, the T'zanhanim company formed its own SF unit— the Sayeret T'zanhanim in October 1958.[11]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Unit 101". Specwar.info. http://en.specwar.info/special_forces/Unit_101/. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "The roots of Ariel Sharon's legacy". al-Ahram Weekly. 26 January 2006. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/print/2006/779/re91.htm. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 "Jewish Virtual Library — Israeli Special Forces History". http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/special.html. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  4. Orna Almog (2003). Britain, Israel, and the United States, 1955-1958: Beyond Suez. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 0-7146-5246-6. 
  5. David Meir-Levi (2005). BIG LIES. Demolishing The Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel. Center for the Study of Popular Culture. p. 36. ISBN 1-886442-46-0. 
  6. The Arab Israeli Conflict 1949 - 1956
  7. Howard Sachar, History of Israel, p. 450. cited at "Fedayeen Raids 1951 -1956". Jewish Agency for Israel. http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/maps/fed.html. 
  9. "Dismanteling of the Palmach". http://www.palmach.org.il/show_item.asp?itemId=8525&levelId=42858&itemType=0. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Benny Morris (1993). ”Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press. p. 251. ISBN 0-19-829262-7.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Morris" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Morris" defined multiple times with different content
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 "Unit 101 (history) - Specwar.info". Specwar.info. http://en.specwar.info/special_forces/Unit_101/history.php. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  12. [citation needed]
  13. "Ariel Sharon — Biography: 1953 Retribution Acts (Pe'ulot Tagmul)". http://www.ariel-sharon-life-story.com/03-Ariel-Sharon-Biography-1953-Retribution-Acts-Peulot-Tagmul.shtml. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  14. "Mordechai Maklef- Chief of Staff". Israel Defense Forces. http://dover.idf.il/IDF/English/about/History/50s/1952/1002.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  15. Yoav Gelber, 2006, "Sharon's Inheritance"
  16. Bishara, Azmi (4 September 2003). "Al-Ahram Weekly — A lifetime credo". http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/654/op2.htm. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  17. Benny Morris, Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 258-9.
  18. Pierre Razoux, Tsahal — Nouvelle histoire de l'armée israélienne, 2006, P125-127
  19. Avnery, Uri. "Uri Avnery — Biographical Notes". http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english/uri2.html. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  20. Morris, Benny (1997). Israel's Border Wars 1949–1956. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-829262-3. 
  21. Reicher-Atir, Yiftach (September 2008). "The secret remains — Haaretz — Israel News". http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1019894.html. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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