Munich: Dirty Hands…Who? Where?

December 11, 2011

Dirty Hands


It was more than an ordinary fall day, it was extraordinary, it was the Olympics!  Early in the morning, on September 5th, 1972 in the home of the Summer Olympics–Munich, Germany–eight men representing the Black September organization stormed into the Israeli athletes’ and coaches’ quarters taking them all hostage. In what turned out to be a fatal chain of ensuing events for the hostages, Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir ordered the execution of “Operation Wrath of God” in which she demanded that all whom were even somewhat connected to the massacre at Munich to be killed. As a result, the Mossad assembled an invisible team, a group of five off the record individuals of various backgrounds and trades. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, Munich, tactically depicts the events involved in Operation Wrath of God. The team was on their own, they were not officially employed and had no order to carry out any sort of assassinations, at least for the record; they were independent assassin contractors. All intelligence, safety, and other intrinsic components in military success were their responsibility to arrange. They only source of assistance or guidance they received was funding which was stealthily wired to them by Israel, through a Swiss bank.

This is a current image of the building the Israelis were residing in. It remains largely unchanged since the 1972 Olympics.

Over the course of the operation, the team payed top dollar for information which lured them across Europe hunting Arab leaders, terrorists, and any and all tied to the Munich massacre. In the process, Avner, the team leader, lost three out of the five of his men and was left in fairly unstable psychologic condition upon his return to his wife and newly born daughter now in Brooklyn, New York. In addition, the team executed nine out of their original eleven targets along with a handful of politically and militarily irrelevant security guards and cronies along the way. Yet this brings me to my question: Is it fair to consider these lives irrelevant for the sake of the greater goal of assassinating these corrupt terrorists? And even more importantly, how about the lives of three of Israel’s own citizens and soldiers? Moreover, how about the lives of the nine targets (though they were involved in the murdering of countless others)?

Does Golda Meir hereby have herself a case of dirty hands? As defined by Martin Hollis, dirty hands speaks to an immoral act committed for the good of the people (Hollis 394). Does Meir do her people any good by inducing the murder of three of her own men, more than half of the team assigned to Operation Wrath of God, for the cause of murdering nine out of eleven targeted terrorists along with numerous of their affiliates?

I say yes. Meir responded firmly with an eye for an eye ideology. Yet, how can one expect her to do otherwise? Israel is a country that lives everyday based on insecurities about security. As the one green apple in a pile or red apples, Golda Meir knows that she is surrounded on all sides by an Arab majority. As a result, when attacked on such a grand stage as the Olympics, a retaliation of such means was necessary for the ensured safety of her people.

Moreover, let us consider a Machiavellian approach. According to Machiavelli, the Prince has a different set of responsibilities than the private person and as a result, the idea of dirty hands is innate (The Prince, Chapter 18). Of course the Prince, in this case Golda Meir, is going to dirty her hands. As the leader of a nation in duress, decisions need to be made in which her civil responsibility will clash with her political responsibility to protect the best interest and safety of her state. In turn, as long as the end justifies the means, Meir’s actions are appropriate. To make the situation even trickier, the individuals who executed the chain of assassinations were not even real. Who were they? Who did they work for? The answer is unknown. It was all off the record and therefore, nobody is left to blame–officially. So as a result, “who has dirty hands here?” is a question that would linger until the true strategizing behind the operation would be released. Yet, these are details that would not be released until years after the operation was completed and are not featured in the film.

Hollis, Martin. “Dirty Hands.” British Journal of Political Science 12.4 (1982): 385-98. JSTOR. ITHAKA.      Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/193668&gt;.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. “18.” The Prince. Ed. Harvey Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago,                    1985. Print.

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2 Comments on “Munich: Dirty Hands…Who? Where?”

  1. kelseymlee Says:

    I agree with you that Meir definitely engaged in dirty hands in this case, and it was completely necessary. I do not think that the lives of anybody involved in this operation were really considered “irrelevant” though. Meir recognized that was something she had to do to protect the people of Israel. Meir could not risk allowing those responsible for the tragedy in Munich to live, for they could easily wreak more havoc and violence upon the nation. As for the three Israeli citizens and soldiers who died, there is no way their lives can be seen as irrelevant. I think Israel will be eternally grateful to them for sacrificing their lives to benefit the greater good and preserve safety for the country. It’s unfortunate they had to die, but Meir had to make a tough decision to benefit her people.

    Israel is surrounded by many hateful countries, which is why Israel always has to be aggressive and relentless when dealing with foreign and homeland security issues. Nearly every country surrounding Israel wants to obliterate Israel, which is why Israel has to have a very low tolerance for any situation that could grow into a major threat. The fact that Israel even exists angers many of these countries, and is the reason why forceful and unforgiving operations such as “Operation Wrath of God” have to be created and enacted.

  2. rschles92 Says:

    I think the idea of dirty hands is easy to see in this example, however the true questions is not whether or not killing those involved in Operation Wrath of God is justified.
    The question is should Israel have had the foresight to understand the cycle of Arab terrorist leaders. Did they knowingly cause bloodshed for no reason? Israel’s intelligence is almost on the level of the US. They understand the way these terrorist groups work like they know the back of their hand. Israel knows that when you kill one terrorist leader another one just moves up in his place. As is the cycle of terrorism.
    In my mind, there is no debate on whether or not the Munich terrorists should have been killed. However the attack on the entire infrastructure of the terrorist organization was basically useless.
    Israel had to respond in a way that sent a message. But terrorists are irrational and do not respond to those types of actions. The danger of terrorists is they are the only people who fight with no regard for their own life.
    Also the specifics in Munich are mostly fictional. There is no Avner and most of the characters in the movie are made up.
    Another thing to look at is the inexperience of the people Israel used to carry out the assassinations. They couldn’t use their own trained men because there could be no tie to Israel.

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