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Unit 101

Unit 101 was an Israeli special operations unit founded and led by Ariel Sharon on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1953. It has drawn much criticism due to deaths of innocent civilians, in particular the Qibya operation, which left almost 70 civilians dead. However, its decisive style of action developed in its later attacks against heavily-guarded military objectives became one of the fundamental cornerstones in the development of the Israel Defence Forces.


Immediately after the foundation of Unit 101 in 1953, it began a series of routine operations, which at first included attacks upon civilians in Jordanian and Egyptian-controlled areas. On one of its first missions, the unit attacked the refugee camp in El-Bureij in Gaza Strip. The mission was aimed at Col. Mustafa Hafez, the chief of Egyptian intelligence in the Gaza Strip (and according to some, the Strip's de-facto ruler) who stood behind many of the early violent infiltrations into Israel.

According to the local UN officer Vagn Bennike, hand grenades were thrown into houses while the inhabitants were sleeping, and those trying to escape were mowed down with machine guns.

Only two months later, in October, a heavy shade was cast on the unit, following its raid into the village of Qibya, in the northern West Bank then a part of Jordan. The unit had received explicit orders to maximize casualties and up to 70 innocent civilians were killed. The mode of operation was similar to that of El-Bureig, but on a larger scale.

The widely condemned attack on Qibya made the Israeli leadership forbid the IDF to directly target innocent civilians in the future. By January 1954, the unit was disbanded and merged into the 202nd Paratroop Brigade. The unit existed independently five months, and three more years as a core inside the paratrooper brigade, before being disbanded after the 1956 Suez War.

Beginning with 1954, the unit's activities were mostly confined to military targets. In particular, up to 20 such attacks were carried out in 1955-1956, culminating in the Kalkiliya Police raid of October 1956 - a battle by a position of the Arab Legion in one of the old British police forts, during which 18 Israeli soldiers died and up to a hundred Legioneers.

Background and organization

The background to the founding of Unit 101 was the Palestinian infiltration into the young state of Israel from its Arab neighbors. Although most of the infiltrators were refugees, looking after their own property they had been forced to abandon during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, some chose to rob and kill Israelis. Israel's initial responses did not manage to contain this phenomenon. Although Jordanian and initially Egyptian authorities tried to comply with the cease-fire agreements, the decision was almost never carried out by troops on the ground.

As early as 1953, the Egyptian military intelligence was sending infiltrators into Israel; by 1955 this has become an open policy leading to the establishment of a fedayeen battalion. In spite of defensive arrangements, Israel was not able to block the infiltrations using such measures alone, but the IDF did not perform well in offensive operations.

After a series of unsuccessful raids, the Israeli government decided in summer 1953 on the creation of a special forces unit, Israel's first. Reservist Ariel Sharon was called back to duty, given the rank of major and chosen to command the company-sized unit. 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.