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wooden leg

Operation Wooden Leg

Operation Wooden Leg (מבצע רגל עץ, Mivtza Regel Etz) was the Israeli codename for an Israeli Air Force raid on the Palestine Liberation Organization's headquarters in Hammam al-Shatt, Tunisia, 12 miles from the capital of Tunis, that took place on October 1, 1985.

Background

On September 25, 1985, three Israeli civilians were killed on their yacht off the coast of Larnaca, Cyprus. An elite section of the PLO known as "Force 17" claimed the attack. The Israeli cabinet and the Israeli Air Force desired immediate retaliation, and chose the Tunis headquarters of the PLO as their target.

The PLO had been based in Tunisia after it was routed from Lebanon three years earlier in the 1982 Lebanon War. At that time, Israel invaded Lebanon and drove the PLO out in an attempt to put an end to continued rocket attacks, launched from southern Lebanon into Israel.

The Operation

The strike, dubbed "Wooden Leg" by the IAF, was carried out by eight F-15 Eagles, including the primary attack planes, backup attack and escorts. At 07:00 on October 1, the F-15s took off for Tunisia. Taking place 1,280 miles (2060 km) away, this was the furthest operation from Israel undertaken by the Israeli Defense Forces since the 1976 Entebbe Operation in Uganda. A Boeing 707 refueled the craft in mid-flight over the Mediterranean Sea in order to allow the operation to be executed over such a distance.

The Israeli planes dropped precision-guided munitions on the seaside headquarters of the PLO. Helicopters were available from a naval vessel near Malta in case of a need to recover downed pilots, but these were never used.

The PLO headquarters were 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. In addition, the operation resulted in the killing of many Tunisian civilians.

Aftermath

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 U.S. and the Tunisian president, Habib Bourguiba, as well as throwing a wrench into negotiations between Israel and Egypt over control of the border-town of Taba. Though Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying "It was an act of self-defense. Period", many in Arab nations and in the West expressed the opinion that this was an intentional attempt to destroy the peace process, and to threaten the Arab world by displaying the range and power of Israel's military.

In resolution 573 (1985) the United Nations Security Council voted (with the United States abstaining) to condemn the attack on Tunisian territory as a flagrant violation of its Charter and considered that Tunisia had the right to appropriate reparations. Israel does not consider the United Nations to be impartial due to the existence of a voting block, comprised of the Arab-Muslim and developing countries, that they believe will support any resolution critical of it "no matter how one sided".

Operation Wooden Leg is regarded as having little effect on terrorism. The raid was used as justification for a number of attacks, including the seizure of the Achille Lauro cruise ship on October 7, and the Abu Nidal attacks on airports in Rome and Vienna in December 1985. Many commentators outside Israel expressed the belief that the air raid was conducted mainly for psychological reasons, as it did not hinder the PLO.

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