That Israel would try to avenge the deaths of 11 of its Olympians was a certainty. Three separate passages in the Torah refer to the principle of lex talionis, or "exact retaliation"—that no crime shall go unpunished. Yet even as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir told the Knesset that "we will smite them wherever they may be," she struggled with exactly whom to target and how to go after them. It took another event to lead her to unleash in all its fury Wrath of God, a revenge operation of extraordinary scope, breathtaking ingenuity and dubious legality.
In the aftermath of the Munich attack, Black September threatened to target Lufthansa planes as long as the three surviving Olympic terrorists remained in German custody. According to Abu Daoud, whose account is not disputed by several highly placed German sources, West German officials responded by offering $9 million, plus a proposal for a staged hijacking to provide a pretext for returning the captives. Indeed, on Oct. 29, 1972, two terrorists commandeered a Lufthansa jet as it left Beirut for Frankfurt with only 11 passengers, none of them women or children. West Germany promptly acceded to the hijackers' demands, sending the three surviving Munich terrorists to Libya so quickly that they were virtually on the ground in Tripoli before Israel knew the swap had been consummated.
The Germans' swift capitulation led Meir to become "literally physically sickened," as she put it in her memoir. She gave free rein to the Mossad, the Israeli secret police, whose hit teams over the next six years tracked down and killed at least 20 Palestinians, in Rome, Paris, Athens and Nicosia, Cyprus, as well as in the Arab world. Two of the three freshly released Munich terrorists, Adnan Al-Gashey and Mohammed Safady, were among those to die. Eventually agents assassinated the charismatic patrician whom Yasir Arafat regarded as a possible successor, Ali Hassan Salameh, who had helped orchestrate the Munich attack and joined mastermind Abu Daoud and the eight fedayeen for dinner at the train station on the eve of the operation. But most targets were highly ranked Palestinians whom Israel wanted eliminated for broader strategic reasons.
In the most legendary action, in April 1973, future Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, dressed in drag and carrying grenades in his brassiere, led three teams of Sayeret Matkal special forces into Beirut under cover of darkness. After coming ashore in inflatable rafts, the commandos pulled off three assassinations in three apartment buildings, then returned to getaway speedboats, all within 30 minutes. Three months later in Norway—in the future Olympic city of Lillehammer—the Mossad committed a shameful blunder. Two agents mistook a Moroccan immigrant waiter for Salameh, gunning him down in the street while his pregnant wife looked on. That disaster led to a suspension of Wrath of God for five years, with 15 or so names still on Israel's list.
Today Jamal Al-Gashey, the lone surviving Munich terrorist, is believed to be living in North Africa. As for Abu Daoud (page 65), in 1981 in a hotel lobby in Warsaw he took five bullets yet survived what had likely been a joint assassination effort of the Mossad and a breakaway Palestinian faction. Though he tries to conceal his whereabouts, Abu Daoud says he still feels as though the Mossad is following him all the time.