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Special Publication: The Fortieth Anniversary of the Massacre of the Israeli Athletes in Munich

First Publication of Documents on the Israeli Government's Actions During and After the Disaster


The coffins of the Israeli athletes on army command cars at Lod Airport, 7 September 1972
Photograph: David Eldan, Government Press Office


(Six of the documents are in English or German. The rest can be seen on our Hebrew website)

"If there is any tangible manifestation of schizophrenia, it was that night". This is how Prime Minister Golda Meir described the night between 5 and 6 September 1972, when she sat with ministers and senior aides in her home in Jerusalem in a state of high tension, as they followed reports on the operation to rescue the Israeli hostages at the Fürstenfeldbruck military airfield near Munich. Around 1:00 a.m. a sigh of relief was heard, when news started to pour in from the West German media about the success of the Bavarian police operation. West German radio and television presented official spokesmen reporting that all the terrorists had been killed and all the Israeli hostages were safe, and these reports were widely quoted in the world media. However, the reports received every few minutes from the Israeli ambassador in West Germany, Eliashiv Ben-Horin, painted a totally different picture and aroused concern and uncertainty. He reported that there was chaos on the site, shots were still being heard and it was unclear what had happened. Towards 3:00 a.m., disturbing news began to arrive. Then Zvi Zamir, the head of Mossad, Israel's Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, who was at the airfield, told Golda in a telephone call: "I am sorry to tell you but the athletes were not rescued. I have seen them. Not one of them survived".

This was the tragic end of a drama that began to unfold during the early hours of the previous day. Eight Palestinian terrorists, members of the Black September terrorist group, had stealthily penetrated two out of three apartments on 31 Connollystrasse in the Olympic Village in Munich, which housed the Israeli delegation to the Olympics. Two of the athletes, Moshe Weinberg and Yossef Romano, were murdered on the spot, and nine others were gathered in one room as hostages. The terrorists demanded the release of 232 terrorists held in Israel and another two imprisoned in Germany. After the failed rescue attempt, the affair ended with the death of all the hostages and five out of the eight terrorists.

On the 40th anniversary of the massacre, the Israel State Archives is releasing a collection of 45 documents that present the Israeli government's actions during the development of the drama, from its beginning until the conclusion and the aftermath. The documents are taken from the Archives collections, and some have been declassified especially for the purposes of this publication. They include cabinet meetings, ministerial consultations, meetings of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, reports and exchanges of telegrams. In some documents, sections that cannot be published have been deleted. Meetings of the government in its capacity of the Ministerial Committee for Security Matters are referred to but could not be published.

The publication is divided into 9 sections:
A. "The attackers are holding hostages and demand the release of Arabs, apparently in Israel": first reports on the kidnapping of the athletes and developments until the failure of the German rescue operation

B. "German television has no alternative programme": the issue of stopping the Olympic Games

C. "I fear that the whole business will turn into an issue against Germany": dealing with the dimensions of the disaster and its effect on relations with West Germany

D. "They didn't make even a minimal effort to save human lives": Zvi Zamir's reports on the events in Munich

E. Genscher: "General Zamir's report includes a number of inaccuracies or incorrect statements": the German commission of enquiry report and the dispute with the Germans

F. The Koppel Committee report – "The GSS arrangements regarding security abroad did not keep up with the changing needs": the Israeli investigation

G. Golda Meir: "It is a sad and bitter business, that I am in the position that my resignation would drag the government into a crisis": discussions on the ramifications of the Koppel report – who will pay?

H. "We must change them from hunters to prey": discussions of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on the Koppel report and the war against terrorist organizations

I. Eban: "To some degree, it is as if this passes a death sentence on other Israelis" – the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane and release of the Munich terrorists

A. "The attackers are holding hostages and demand the release of Arabs, apparently in Israel": first reports on the kidnapping of the athletes and developments until the failure of the German rescue operation
The initial news about the attack in Munich reached the Israeli Foreign Ministry from the embassy in Bonn at 8:45 a.m. on 5 September 1972, and was forwarded to Prime Minister Golda Meir, Minister of Education and Culture Yigal Allon (whose office was responsible for the Olympic team), and Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan (Document 1). At 9:30 a special meeting of the government was convened, sitting as the Ministerial Committee for Security Matters. At the meeting Eban reported the first instructions transmitted, with the consent of Golda Meir, to the Israeli ambassador in Bonn: the government of Israel does not negotiate with terrorists and expects the government of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to make every effort to rescue the hostages. For that purpose any tactics should be employed that will buy the time necessary to ensure the safety of the hostages. The Foreign Ministry repeated the instructions in a telegram to the Israeli embassy in Bonn (Document 2).

The general feeling at the meeting was that the Germans should begin negotiations with the kidnappers in order to buy time until they were ready to storm in and release the hostages, as Israeli commandos had done during the Sabena hijacking of May 1972. Later it was decided to send an Israeli representative who would brief the Germans and, in fact, serve as a 'supervisor' of the rescue operation. At the beginning, it was decided that Defence Minister Dayan and Mossad chief Zamir would go, but concern arose that Dayan's arrival would attract  attention and publicity, and cause the terrorists to murder the athletes. It was decided to send only Zamir.

In the afternoon the prime minister released a special statement in the Knesset, and afterwards participated, together with Allon and Eban, in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. The ministers reported the information known to the government up to that point regarding the developments, the German government's contacts with the kidnappers, and the response to Israel's demand to stop the Olympic Games until the safety of the athletes had been secured. The participants demanded to stop the Games, and hinted at faulty security measures for the athletes by the Israeli authorities. In her comments, Golda said that there were countless warnings about attacks on Israelis abroad and, despite all the efforts to deal with them, "it is impossible to be prepared at every moment" (Document 3).

In the following hours a nerve-wracking drama was played out. At 21:00 p.m. Mossad chief Zamir and an Arabic-speaking GSS operative arrived at the Olympic Village. At the site they were informed of the German operational plan that included announcing to the terrorists that they would be transferred, together with the hostages, in helicopters to a military airfield near Munich, where a plane would be put at their disposal to take them to Cairo. This was intended to trick them and make it possible for a Bavarian police unit, which was waiting at the airfield, to kill the terrorists and rescue the hostages. The plan that was presented to Zamir seemed reasonable, and matched the Israeli estimate of the situation. However, the operation was carried out ineptly and ended in failure and the death of all nine of the hostages and five of the kidnappers. Meanwhile, Ambassador Ben-Horin forwarded reports by telephone from the Olympic Village to the Foreign Ministry, and the records appearing here present the full drama: the contacts of the authorities with the kidnappers, repeated postponements of the deadlines, and the information about the intentions of the Bavarian authorities, who were in charge of the operation, to use force. After the start of the operation, the reports describe the incomplete information from the airfield about exchanges of fire, contradictory numbers of wounded, a helicopter that went up in flames, and especially about great confusion and unclear reports. At 02:55 a.m. Ben-Horin reported that he had received a report that all the hostages had been killed, and at 3:10 Zamir confirmed it. (Document 4).

B. "German television has no alternative programme": the issue of stopping the Olympic Games
After the first reports about the events in Munich, the Israeli government approached the West German government and the International Olympic Committee with a forceful demand to suspend the games as long as the hostages had not been released. The Israeli embassy in Washington was also involved in the contacts, and tried to put pressure on the American government to act to suspend the games. Golda Meir even told the government the next day that President Nixon had called her and said that he had told the American delegation to stop its participation as long as the Israeli athletes were in danger (see Document 9). Indeed, at the beginning, it seemed that the Americans were inclined to try to stop the games, as reported by Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin in a telegram to the Foreign Ministry (Document 5). Public opinion in Israel was outraged and also demanded stopping the games. However, the embassy in Bonn reported that the heads of the Olympic Committee and the West German authorities had decided not to stop the games; among other things, because "German television has no alternative programming" (Document 6). Later, it was decided to suspend the games and conduct a memorial ceremony the following day for the two Israelis killed in the first few hours, which eventually became a memorial ceremony for all eleven murdered athletes.

The tragic conclusion of the attack raised the issue of cancelling the games completely. At the government meeting deep differences of opinion emerged among the ministers on the question of whether Israel should continue to demand stopping the games (Document 9). It was decided to await the United States' position on the matter, and the statement that was released said only that the entire Israeli delegation had cancelled its participation and was returning to Israel. However, an exchange of telegrams with the embassy in Washington made clear that the Americans had asked that Golda should not approach the president with a request to pull out the American delegation, and should not force them to face this dilemma. Mordechai Gazit, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry told Rabin: "We, as a government, do not wish to present a demand to stop the games, but if the American delegation were to shorten its stay, we would be very grateful" (Document 7). Although the German ambassador to Israel had stated on 6 September that his government was inclined to stopping the games (Document 8), after a recess of one day, they continued to their planned conclusion.

C. "I fear that the whole business will turn into an issue against Germany": dealing with the dimensions of the disaster and its effect on relations with West Germany
On 6 September 1972, after the full details of the massacre in Munich were revealed, deep mourning enveloped the state of Israel.

At 9:00 a government meeting began, in a very sombre atmosphere. After reports from Golda Meir, Allon and Eban, the discussion focused on three main points: a) should Israel's part in the failure to secure the safety of the delegation to Munich be investigated; b) should a demand be made to stop the Olympic Games; c) in light of the severe criticism directed at the failed German operation, what would the effects be on Israeli-West German relations (Document 9).

On the first issue, the ministers made every effort to deny hints heard in Germany that the refusal of the government of Israel to discuss the release of terrorists was partly to blame for the failure. On Israel's responsibility for the safety of the delegation, Defence Minister Dayan declared that: "Although there were no tip-offs about Munich, we did recently, without any doubt, have more serious tips than in the past, on groups of terrorists – with names and details – leaving for Europe with the intention of harming us; and these tips were immeasurably more serious than those we received in the past". He proposed to re-examine all the standard security measures, especially those relevant to Israelis abroad. However, other ministers spoke out more explicitly, and said that that the failure to protect the delegation was an apparent error on the part of Israel, as well, and that Israel's share in the events at Munich should also be investigated from all aspects, as quickly as possible, since that question "would, in any case, be asked in every house in Israel". However, the prime minister requested not to decide on appointing a commission of enquiry just yet, and argued that such a decision would be an admission by the government that there was neglect by Israel.  The statement released after the meeting said only that it had been decided to collect information about the security arrangements in Munich, both by the West German government and by the relevant Israeli authorities.

The traumatic event was also reflected in the ministers' statements, sometimes in an extraordinary manner. Minister Yisrael Galili was greatly concerned about the first signs of the Palestinian terrorists' readiness to commit suicide and, in what today seem prophetic words, expressed the fear that: "This event may serve the terrorists as the basis for a new national mythology". Haim Bar-Lev proposed demanding that West Germany, and perhaps other countries, deport the Palestinians living there; a proposal that aroused objections by several other ministers.

A significant part of the discussion was taken up by the issue of the effect of the events on Israel's relations with West Germany. The news of the murder of Jews on German soil and the rumours about the German police's inept performance naturally raised comparisons with the Nazi period, and gave rise to a growing tide of anti-German feeling among the general public. The leaders of West Germany were aware of this. During the morning a telegram was received from the German ambassador in Israel, which expressed Chancellor Willy Brandt's regret and condolences. The prime minister sent a warm reply, which emphasized her appreciation for Germany's readiness to make every effort to release the hostages (Document 10 in German and English). During the government meeting Golda Meir reported that the German ambassador had proposed, without the knowledge of German authorities, that Chancellor Brandt himself participate in the funeral of the murdered athletes, but she rejected that proposal outright, and a message to that effect was sent to the embassy in Bonn.

However, the situation put the prime minister and the foreign minister – and, in fact, the entire government - in a difficult political position. The government appreciated the German government's willingness not to give in to the terrorists and to try to use force. Moreover, for some time now, Golda had been working towards strengthening her ties with Chancellor Brandt. She saw him as a friend and supporter of Israel in present and future political strategies. For example, on 4 September, a day before the Munich massacre, she had sent Brandt a letter urging him not to assist political initiatives being touted in Europe that would harm the chances of progress on a political settlement, that had arisen after the expulsion of the Soviet military advisers from Egypt in July 1972. Israel used Brandt's good relations with the leaders of the USSR as a channel for transmitting messages about the issue of Jewish immigration, and West Germany was very important in Israel's relations with the Common Market. In addition, general elections were about to take place in Germany, and the decision-makers in Israel had no interest in harming the chances of Brandt, the head of the Social Democratic Party, of being re-elected.

At the government meeting the prime minister, foreign minister and others spoke of the need to prevent a wave of anti-German feeling based on past memories and, as Eban feared: "that instead of directing our rage against the Arabs, we'll direct our rage against the Germans!" Minister Moshe Kol argued: "I fear that the whole affair will be turned into a matter against Germany". In its decisions, the cabinet expressed "its appreciation at the decision by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Germany to work for the release of the Israeli hostages, and to use force to do so".

In the following hours the prime minister and the foreign minister made great efforts to ensure that accusations would not be directed towards Germany. Golda Meir sent a message to the general secretary of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labour, on the eve of the meeting of its Council on 6 September, to which she added in her own handwriting, a request "that the rage not be directed against Germany" (Document 11). For its part, the Foreign Ministry directed the Israeli representatives abroad to try to prevent a wave of criticism against Germany because of the failure of the attempt to rescue the hostages (Document 12).

See also: Documents 13 and 14 (in German and English)

D. "They didn't make even a minimal effort to save human lives": Zvi Zamir's reports on the events in Munich
In the evening of 6 September, Mossad chief Zvi Zamir returned from Munich and reported to Prime Minister Meir and Ministers Allon, Eban and Galili. Zamir described to the shocked ministers, with great emotion, the unfolding of the events – the rejection of his attempts at involvement in the operation, the chaos, the lack of professionalism and apathy displayed by the German forces. "They didn't make even a minimal effort to save lives, didn't take even a minimal risk to save people, neither theirs nor ours", he said. In his opinion, the Germans only wanted to finish with this business, at all costs, in order to get on with the Olympics. When Golda asked him why in his opinion the Israeli delegation had not been guarded, he quoted the words of the security officer at the Israeli embassy in Bonn. The officer had asked the local police to provide protection for the delegation, and his reply was: "What are you thinking about? The Olympic spirit reigns here and nothing will happen." (Document 15).

Golda Meir made it clear that this was a terrible story, "but it is a German matter… We are not responsible for what the Germans did". However, in view of Zamir's harsh report, the prime minister expressed some regret at the friendly message she had sent to Chancellor Brandt earlier, and at the praise in the government's statement for the Germans' efforts. She accepted Minister Galili's suggestion to send Brandt another message, with the information she had received from Zamir and a demand to investigate the events as soon as possible. Shortly after the meeting, a telegram that had been very carefully worded was sent to Brandt (Document 16).

A day after his return, Zamir presented the prime minister with a detailed written report, in which he summarized the chain of events. He repeated the information given to the ministers on the previous day, but in a more organized and precise manner. He concluded with his conclusions as to the reasons for the failure of the operation, which was carried out "poorly and ineptly, which led to the tragic outcome". Together with a diagram of the situation at the airfield, the report was translated into English and sent to the West German government (Document 17 in Hebrew and English).

On 22 September Zamir also gave a report to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. In reply to questions by the committee members, Zamir said that the Germans had had a plan and fully intended to rescue the hostages, but they were unable to improvise and devise solutions while the events were occurring. This partially accounted for the failure of the operation (Document 19)

E. Genscher: "General Zamir's report includes a number of inaccuracies or incorrect statements": the German commission of enquiry report and the dispute with the Germans
Immediately after the events in Munich, accusations of police incompetence were heard in Germany as well and probing questions began to be asked in the German media, as reported by the Israeli embassy in Bonn (Document 20). Those responsible for directing the crisis, Federal Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the head of the Munich police Manfred Schreiber and the Interior Minister of Bavaria Bruno Merk, hurried to release a statement the next day, explaining the course of events and stating "that the final decision to use force in an attempt to prevent the kidnapping of the hostages was only made after they were officially informed by the government of Israel that it refused to release 200 Arab prisoners in exchange for the release of the members of the Israeli delegation". The public storm in Germany was intensified by the approaching general elections, and the events in Munich became the focus of an acrimonious political dispute.

In the meantime, the joint Federal and Bavarian enquiry commission into the events in Munich completed its task. Interior Minister Genscher presented the main points of its report to Israeli Ambassador Ben-Horin, thus beginning an argument over the different versions as compared with Zamir's report (Document 23). On 20 September the German report was published, and is presented here in Hebrew translation (Document 24). The report investigated three aspects of the events: 1. Security measures in Munich and at the Olympic Village; 2. Efforts to release the hostages without using force; 3. The police operation in Munich and at the Fürstenfeldbruck airfield. It was noted that there had been warnings about possible terrorist attacks during the Olympics, but no specific reports regarding Israeli targets. Contacts with Israeli representatives about security for the athletes were described and it was pointed out that these meetings did not give the impression that the representatives were dissatisfied with the security arrangements. In conclusion, the authors claimed that given the terrorists' intent, even significant reinforcement of the security arrangements would not have prevented a terrorist attack on the Israelis in the Olympic Village or elsewhere.

The second section presented a detailed review of the efforts to release the hostages, and listed the reasons for the Germans' conclusion that it was not possible to rescue the hostages without the use of force, or to fly them to Cairo. The Germans again repeated the claim that this was impossible because, among other things, Israel refused to consent to the attackers' demands to release Palestinian prisoners. The third section described the details of the operation at the airfield. A series of operational questions were raised and, in view of the circumstances at the scene, no fault was found with the actions of the various arms of the German police. The German Parliament (Bundestag) Interior Committee adopted this conclusion. No disciplinary action was taken, and no one in Germany was removed from their position.

Based on the significant differences in the Israeli and German assessments of the operation in Munich, the release of Zamir's reports on the one hand and the German reports on the other created a wave of reaction and counter-reaction from the Israelis and Germans involved. The Foreign Ministry decided to prepare a summary setting out the differences between the German report and the comments by Mossad chief Zamir and Ambassador Ben-Horin, and Director-General Gazit sent it to the prime minister. The report presents major differences between versions regarding the different stages of the operation, the measures taken by the Germans and the Israelis' share in the affair (Document 25).

The dispute with the Germans continued in the following days, as can be seen in a letter from Chancellor Brandt to Prime Minister Golda Meir, giving  their reactions – especially that of Genscher – to the Zamir Report (Document 26 in German).

See also: Documents 21, 22 and 27.

F. The Koppel Committee report – "The GSS arrangements regarding security abroad did not keep up with the changing needs": the Israeli enquiry
Following the murder of the athletes, there was growing pressure in the Knesset and in the media to appoint a commission of enquiry to investigate the events. On 11 September Golda Meir proposed to the government, in its capacity of Ministerial Committee for Security Issues, "that an enquiry commission be appointed according to the Enquiry Commissions Law, to investigate our part in the matter, not just that of Munich". At the meeting, a majority of ministers expressed their objection to appointing a judicial commission headed by a Supreme Court judge, which was supported only by Golda Meir and Yigal Allon. They decided not to appoint such a commission, but to delegate the prime minister to appoint a person or team of her choice, "to complete the collection of information regarding the security arrangements of the Israeli delegation to the Olympics in Munich, and to present the findings of its investigation and its conclusions to the government ". Golda chose Pinhas Koppel, who had been the inspector general of the Israel Police until shortly before, to head the investigating committee, and added two public figures: Moshe Kashti, the former director-general of the Ministry of Defence, and the engineer Avigdor Bartel, who was known to her from his work in the Ministry of Labour. Two days later the prime minister convened a consultation with two committee members and the attorney-general, Meir Shamgar. At this meeting the functions and scope of the investigation were defined, as well as its methods of operation. The committee was asked to gather information about the security arrangements for the Israeli delegation from all the bodies involved, and to present its conclusions and recommendations to the prime minister (Document 28).

The committee's work continued for approximately two weeks. 36 witnesses appeared before it, including senior members of the General Security Service, the head of Mossad, surviving members of the Munich delegation, and journalists and public figures who were in Munich during the events. In addition, telegrams were sent from the embassy in Bonn, with information on the involvement of embassy personnel in providing security for the delegation.

On 29 September the committee, which was officially designated as a "team", presented its report to the prime minister. The report consisted of a series of findings about the action taken before the opening of the games for protection of the delegation by the security forces both in Israel and in Germany. They noted that according to the accounts of the delegation members, they felt insecure in the Olympic Village and feared an attack, but did not demand an upgrade in the security, and "explained this by their belief that there were German and Israeli covert security arrangements". The report reviewed the tip-offs about plans for attack that had accumulated in the intelligence community from 1 July 1972 until the day of the disaster, and noted that there was no specific warning about an attack at the Olympics, and that the amount of warnings "was not more intensive than at other periods of the year". On 31 August 1972 a committee composed of representatives of the GSS, army intelligence and Mossad had met to analyze and assess "the information, and did not link it to the Olympics".

In its conclusions the committee pointed to the "complete failure of the Germans", but also to a number of unclear points and failures in the functioning of the Israeli bodies responsible for the delegation's security, and especially noted the actions of the security officer of the Israeli embassy in Bonn. The members of the committee determined that "GSS arrangements regarding security abroad did not keep up with the changing needs". In fact, according to existing protocols, "the relevant ministries are responsible for events in their field of action, even abroad". The report concluded with a series of recommendations for the improvement of security arrangements abroad, and that "the head of the GSS reach conclusions, as he sees fit, about senior operatives for whom the conclusions of the team point to faults in their actions" (Document 31).

See also: Document 29, Document 30.

G. Golda Meir: "It is a sad and bitter business, that I am in the position in which my resignation would drag the government into a crisis": discussions on the ramifications of the Koppel Committee report – who will pay
On 1 October Golda Meir reported to the government that the committee had presented the report and it was sent to Minister of Justice Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira, but no discussion had yet taken place. Minister of Police Shlomo Hillel attacked the articles in the newspapers about the committee's work that could, in his opinion, serve the terrorist organizations. Golda said that the items in the newspapers are no more than "a figment of the journalists' imagination", and added: "anyone who is a journalist is automatically an expert on every topic" (Document 32).

Several days later a team that included the prime minister and a number of ministers met to discuss the handling of the report, on the eve of a discussion at a government meeting. Minister of Justice Shapira attacked the report and called it "a very strange document". Other ministers also attacked the committee's work. The prime minister said that they must "prevent  a gross injustice to the GSS". The discussion focused on the question of responsibility for the failure to protect the delegation, and mainly on the committee's implied conclusion that in fact, the relevant government ministries were responsible for the failure of security in Munich. During the discussion Golda indicated her willingness to accept personal responsibility, and stated frankly that it was not possible that a minister should not know what was going on in his ministry, especially on such a subject. The chain of responsibility should have ended with the minister responsible for the special services, i.e., with the prime minister herself. This should, therefore, have led to her resignation, "And if I were just a regular minister – I wouldn't ask anyone and I wouldn't consult with anyone (about my resignation)". But she could not do so, as her resignation would have led to the fall of the government and a political crisis. In her words: "it is a sad and bitter business, that I am in a situation in which my resignation would drag the government into a crisis, as it would seem, over the killing of eleven men; I feel bad, I feel very bad…".

Minister of Education and Culture Yigal Allon, whose ministry was responsible for the delegation, also attacked the report's conclusion regarding ministerial responsibility, and proposed that the prime minister state in her statement that she had studied the matter "and there is no doubt that the responsibility for security abroad does not fall on the ministries". Minister Bar-Lev stated that the conclusions of the committee were unequivocal regarding the GSS's failure, "and if I were the head of the GSS, after a report such as this – I would (with great pain) leave my post". He also demanded that government ministries should not be found responsible. Yisrael Galili also argued that the head of the GSS, Yosef Harmelin, should resign. He added that the committee had gone beyond its mandate in the scope of its investigation and proposed that the government reject the report, and the prime minister publish her own conclusions, of which the Koppel Report would be a part. It was decided to appoint another team to produce a proposal for a report to be presented by Golda to the government and the Knesset, based on the Koppel Report and other documents (Document 33).

The new team wrote a document for the prime minister, summarizing the information on the security arrangements of the Olympic delegations in Munich. On 7 October, the day before the government was due to discuss the matter, a second ministerial consultation was held on  the presentation of the two documents – the Koppel Report and the prime minister's concluding report – to the government and to the Knesset. An argument ensued as to how much of the material on security matters in the Koppel Report could be revealed, and the issue of responsibility was raised again. The ministers demanded that matters that were not clear in the Koppel committee report should be discussed in the prime minister's report. Shimon Peres complained "that the Germans set up an enquiry commission and said that everything on their part was fine…and now the Israelis come and say that they are guilty. We must explain that Israel could not have conducted security matters in Germany". Otherl speakers repeated this, among them Minister of Justice Shapira, who said: "In Germany no-one was fired, and a paper was accepted unanimously by the Interior Committee of the Bundestag; whereas here… three people [the GSS head of security, the security officer at the Bonn embassy and the director of security at the Foreign Ministry] should be fired". Others, such as Yigal Allon, continued to attack the Koppel Committee, and demanded that the issue of responsibility for the security of Israelis abroad be made clear (Document 34).

H. "We must change them from hunters to prey": discussions of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on the Koppel report and the war against terrorist organizations
At a meeting of the government in its capacity of the Ministerial Committee for Security Matters on 8 October, Golda Meir presented the report prepared by her aides and finalized at the two meetings given above (The complete text of the report is in Document 35). The cabinet confirmed her proposals regarding demands for individual resignations.

The following day the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee discussed the Koppel Report and the prime minister’s report that followed it, which was based on the Koppel Report and the report of the West German government investigation. She rejected the findings of the German report regarding the security arrangements for the delegation, and stated that “the terrorists succeeded in infiltrating and taking control of the building and the people in it, because the German authorities did not take appropriate security measures”. As for the Israeli bodies, Golda Meir declared that there was no case for legal proceedings against any of those involved; however, the GSS head of security and the security officer in Bonn would be asked to hand in their resignations. The director of the security department at the Foreign Ministry, who had been seconded from the GSS, had already done so. As for the problematic issue of authority, the prime minister declared, as the ministers wanted, that the professional guidelines for security officers of government ministries, including security abroad, were under the authority and supervision of the GSS, thus releasing the ministries from any responsibility for the events in Munich.

Golda detailed the full extent of the problems in protecting Israelis and Israeli facilities abroad, and made it clear that there was no possibility of security for everyone, twenty four hours a day. As for the criticism on this matter, she said: “Demagogues can promise anything; it’s impossible to promise that, because it is simply not possible”. Some members of the committee expressed indignation that they had not received all the statements by the witnesses, or hinted that the disciplinary measures dealt with the lower ranks and not with the top officials, who bore the main responsibility, and above all – the head of the GSS.

At the meeting a discussion began on how to fight terrorism that continued during two more meetings. MK Ya’acov Hazan, of the Mapam party, argued that this was a difficult war like all wars, and therefore: “We must not only defend ourselves, but also attack. We must search for the terrorists and kill them. We must change them from hunters to prey”. The prime minister hinted that Israel was not inactive in the war on terror abroad, and that: “There are thoughts and there are plans”, and added: “There are friendly countries that say: You can’t do that here, here we're in charge. All this is not simple. That isn’t our country” (Document 35).

The discussion in the Knesset Committee on the war on terrorism, with the participation of the prime minister, continued on 24 October. This record was not released for publication. On 3 November it was resumed, on the background of the Lufthansa hijacking and the release of the Munich terrorists (see below). The meeting was held in a militant  atmosphere, and it was agreed that the time had come, as suggested by  Hazan, to change the role of the terrorists from hunters to hunted, and to do so in cooperation with local security forces; and if this was not possible, without them,. Menachem Begin proposed creating a special unit for the war on terror, and recruiting the best people who had dealt in covert operations in the past, such as Yitzhak Shamir, Isser Harel and others. “If, in fact, we do this, we can change the situation in a short time. It doesn’t require many years until we eliminate them, to a great extent”, he said. Lyova Eliav argued that Israel must hit not just terrorists in the refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, as was done in retaliation for the Munich massacre, but also the leaders. Binyamin Halevi criticized the Mossad, claiming that in all the recent major terrorist attacks (the Sabena  hijacking, the Lod  massacre by the Japanese Red Army and the Munich massacre), “we did not receive any prior information from Mossad”.

In her reply Golda Meir said that: “There are already Arab embassies in various places in the world, whose people are pretty nervous”. She explained how difficult it was to reach agreement on cooperation against terrorism even with friendly European countries. She justified the bombing of terrorist targets in Arab countries to prevent attacks, while emphasizing that Israel would make every effort to prevent harming the innocent. In conclusion, she rejected the proposals of several committee members to attack sites in Libya, which had accepted the terrorists released in Munich (Document 36).

I. Eban: "To some degree, it is as if the action passes a death sentence on other Israelis" – the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane and release of the Munich terrorists
In his report on 6 September to the team of ministers (see Document 15), Mossad chief Zamir said that he had asked his German counterpart what would happen now, since the terrorists could hijack a Lufthansa plane and force the Germans to release the surviving terrorists. The head of German intelligence replied that he could not promise this would not happen. The prime minister repeated this assessment at a government meeting on 11 September. The government discussed the possibility of requesting extradition of the three terrorists to Israel, but decided against it.

On 29 October those fears were realized. A Lufthansa plane on a flight from Beirut to Munich was hijacked at 8:00 in the morning by three terrorists. After refuelling in Nicosia and Zagreb, the hijackers announced their intention to fly to Munich and explode the plane, if the three terrorists involved in the attack on the Israeli delegation were not released. In the end, the plane returned to Zagreb and circled the airport, while the hijackers demanded that the three terrorists also be flown to that city; otherwise, they would explode the plane with all its passengers. In Israel, preliminary consultations were held with politicians and the intelligence community, and summarized by Yisrael Galili and Abba Eban in their own handwriting for the prime minister (Document 37). In these consultations, and at a government meeting convened as the Ministerial Committee for Security Matters, it was decided to urge the German government not to capitulate to any demands. "Releasing the terrorists will only add to the Munich disaster", the government declared. A telegram with the text of the decision was sent to the Israeli ambassador in Bonn. The Bonn government met in emergency session and Ambassador Ben-Horin presented it with the Israeli government's message, expressing complete opposition to the release of the terrorists, and saying that Israel's response this time would not be reasonable and restrained, as it was after the Munich disaster. Ambassador Ben-Horin reported on developments by telephone to the Foreign Ministry (Document 39). During all that time, it was not clear what the German government's decision was; however, at 15:00 p.m. it was discovered that the Germans had given in, and the three terrorists were released and flown to Zagreb. After negotiations, the Lufthansa plane finally took off with the three hijackers, the three released terrorists and the crew and passengers from Zagreb to Libya.

The release of the terrorists aroused outrage in Israel. The media carried extreme expressions against West Germany, and this time did not trouble to hide analogies between Germany's actions and her Nazi past. Organizations and institutions cancelled delegations to Germany. Following the German actions a diplomatic crisis arose between Israel and West Germany, which was among the most severe since diplomatic relations were established in 1965. The Israeli government did not disguise its great anger at the West German government. Foreign Minister Eban met with the German ambassador in Israel, and expressed this anger in no uncertain terms, saying: "The main result is that the three terrorists have been released, and they are now free to commit additional crimes and murder more Israelis. To some degree, it is as if the action passes a death sentence on other Israelis" (Document 40).

The following day the prime minister made a strong statement to the Knesset. The Knesset itself condemned the actions of the German government and the Israeli ambassador in West Germany was called home for consultations. On 5 November the government held a discussion about the release of the Munich murderers, with the participation of the ambassador, Ben-Horin. He presented a report on the events, his contacts with representatives of the German government, and reactions in Germany to the events and the severe criticism from Israel on the eve of the general elections. He reported that in Germany "there are expressions of feelings of shame, incompetence and failure", following the events in Munich and Zagreb. The ministers' statements this time included harsh criticism of Germany, and in view of the public atmosphere, all of them referred to the link between current events and Germany's Nazi past. Foreign Minister Eban described the German surprise at the severity of the reactions in Israel, and noted that though they recognize the great sensitivity there in all things related to Germany, "they don't accept the comments that this is in some way connected to the Holocaust or Nazism". The ministers expressed anger at the statement of the spokesman for the German government, that "It was not Germany that caused the dispute in the Middle East", and the comparison between this event and Israel's willingness to release terrorists when an El Al plane was hijacked to Algeria, in July 1968.

Minister Warhaftig protested that "the murder of six million Jews did have an influence on the state of affairs in the Middle East". He even argued that the public was wondering "if there wasn't a conspiracy here between the German authorities and the terrorists, in order to be rid swiftly of the murderers who weighed not on the German conscience, but on their peace and quiet and on their interests". A debate followed regarding the level of severity of the Israeli reaction: whether it should go so far as to damage relations with Germany, or whether it should preserve these relations, which were clearly in Israel's interest.

Golda Meir did not rule out the hints of Warhaftig and others regarding a possible conspiracy. "Everything happened so fast, they didn't even try to bargain with them. As if the helicopters were ready and waiting for the terrorists", she said. She strongly attacked the actions of the German government and its spokesmen, and their obsequious attitude to the Arabs. However, she said: "I wouldn't link what happened now with the Holocaust. We can't throw this at Brandt". She noted "Of course it would be foolish to act in a manner that would be harmful to us, but the Germans should feel that the issue is still open, and has not been resolved".

The government issued a statement denouncing the release of the terrorists and the statements in Germany, and noted: "The ambassador's report on the position and explanations of the government of the German Republic have not changed the government's position, and have not dispelled the anger that was expressed in the government's statement to the Knesset and on other occasions" (Stenogram of the meeting and the government statement in Document 43).

The harsh reaction in Israel, especially the comments comparing the German government's actions with the Nazi period, were received with anger in Germany and Willy Brandt, who had been a strong opponent of the Nazi party and active in the underground against it, felt personally insulted. He sent a personal message to Prime Minister Meir, explaining that the decision by the West German and Bavarian governments to release the terrorists resulted from lack of choice and a desire to prevent loss of life. It did not mean surrender to terror, and the Federal government would make every effort to fight terror relentlessly. He expressed his pain at the anti-German comments in Israel, and vehemently objected to the comparison with dark periods in Germany's history. He called for a joint effort to prevent harming relations between the two countries (Document 44 in English and German).

On 8 November the German ambassador in Israel presented the message to the prime minister. In light of the message from her friend, Willy Brandt, Golda Meir also took a conciliatory position. She explained that there had not been any intention to cause injury to the Chancellor in the official statements by Israeli spokesmen, and emphasized that "we know very well how to differentiate between what happened last week, and the terrible period of the Holocaust". She requested that he, for his part, understand the harsh reactions in Israel in light of the severe trauma of the murder of the athletes in Munich, and protested at statements by German leaders (Document 45).

Brandt's message and Golda's meeting with the German ambassador gave the signal to damp down the confrontation between Germany and Israel over the release of the Munich terrorists, and in the following weeks relations between the two countries began to return to their previous state.

See also: Documents 38, 41 and 42.

Historical editing
: Shlomo Mark, Hagai Tsoref
English translation: Shosh Orenstein (Quality Translations)
English editing: Louise Fischer
Internet content editing: Oranit Levi
Scanning: Shlomo Mark

A Special Joint Publication by the Israel State Archives and the Center for Educational Technology (CET)