Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of Operation Spring of Youth, which has become synonymous with the IDF’s daring fighters.

On April 9, 1973, General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) forces, Paratroopers and Shayetet 13 naval commandos reached the Lebanon shore in Israel Navy missile boats and raided five terrorist buildings in Beirut. The operation was in response to the numerous terrorist attacks carried out by Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The IDF took out 100 terrorists, among them high-level PLO leaders who were killed in their homes, at close range. Terrorist headquarters, office buildings, rocket and mine factories were destroyed. One of the five targets was a seven-story building in Beirut. Avida Shor and Haggai Maayan were killed, the only IDF casualties in the Spring of Youth operation.

Maj. Rafi Eyal spoke at the commemoration ceremony for Shor and Maayan this week: “Our job was to blow up the PFLP headquarters in Beirut. We underwent intense training so that we could carry out a ‘quiet’ operation using guns, silencers, a significant amount of explosives and civilian clothing.

“When the day of the operation arrived, we boarded missile boats, mentally and physically prepared.

We knew that we had the backing of our friends, our teachers and our parents. Jerusalem, the State of Israel, our people – they were all behind us.

“While still in Israel, Avida questioned whether the amount of explosives to be used was excessive, that it would probably cause the death of innocent civilians. His suggestion to use less was accepted and instead of 200 kg., which would have brought down neighboring buildings, only 120 kg. was used,” Eyal said.

“Another dilemma arose; the Israeli forces were to be transported in Mercedes cars rented and driven by Mossad agents. The question of what they would do if the Lebanese police were to stop them on their way to or from the operation, was brought up.

“The answer was: Silencers. ‘But why do we need to kill them?’ someone asked. Following a debate, it was agreed that tear gas, cable ties and tape for their mouths would be used instead.

“Before we left, we studied pictures of the guards of the building we would enter. We boarded the boats with the phrase, ‘Why kill unnecessarily?’ going through our heads. This dissonance is our essence. It is our real weapon. It is part of the history of the Jewish people. It can both raise and lower us morally. I want to know for sure that the question, ‘Why kill unnecessarily?’ will continue to be asked at future briefings on the nights before operations are to be carried out,” Eyal said.

“Finally we reached the beach and met up with the courageous Mossad agents who were waiting for us, their cars loaded with the explosives. We are aware that from this moment on, every mistake was critical. We could be exposed at any moment. The action had begun.

“When we were close to our target, we continued by foot, disguised as civilians, in small groups. At the end of the street, we recognized the building we saw in the pictures. Suddenly, we heard the sound of a silenced pistol, shouting in Arabic, and then we were sprayed with bursts from a machine gun mounted on a jeep. I drew my Uzi and began to shoot. Unfortunately, Avida was hit and killed,” Eyal said.

“Zachi and Menachem planted explosive fuses on the building, just as they had done in the practice drill, only this time bullets were whizzing by and every so often a terrorist appeared in front of us. We all jumped into the Mercedes and sped away, as bullets rained down on us from above.

“About 20 seconds later, we heard an explosion that took down their headquarters with about 80 terrorists inside. At this point we also learned that Haggai had been killed. We boarded the boat, this group of young fighters, together, yet each one alone. Quietly sailing home. Returning home, but with two missing.

“The years pass by. Everyone has fought for the justice of our cause and for the deep need to preserve our humanity and our morality,” Eyal said.

“May their memory be for a blessing.”

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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