Operation "Tshura"

December 28th 1968

On July 22nd 1968, and Israeli civilian aircraft owned by El-Al was kidnapped on its way to Rome, and forced to land in Aljeer.   Four months later, shots were fired at an El-Al plane parked in Athens. One Israeli was killed, a stewardess injured, and heavy damage caused to the plane.

The provocative actions were in fact a prelude to a new front against Israel. Terrorists aimed under the belt this time: attacking hard to defend targets. In response to these hostilities, which threatened Israeli civilian air transportation, it was decided to deploy Operation “Tshura”.

The operation aimed to hit Arab airplanes at the International Airport of Beirut, and by doing so to send a deterring message to the terrorists, who worked from Lebanese soil.

Planning commenced after an El-Al plane was kidnapped to Aljeer. Originally, the plan included kidnapping civilian air craft by Israeli teams, and then a military takeover of the airport. The plan changed after the attack on El-Al plane in Athens, with the main mission focused on destroying aircraft, not kidnapping it. The mission was assigned to elite commando forces, led by Colonel Rafael Eitan (Raful), a top officer, who will become the Chief of General Staff years later.

On the day of the operation, the commando forces headed to Beirut in three “Super Perlon” helicopters, escorted by two Bell-250 helicopters. The escorting helicopters were assigned to monitor, patrol, and secure the target area.

It was a 45 minute flight. As soon as the first helicopter touched ground, the commando forces went ahead. While maintaining optimal silence and timing the operation to be less than 30 minutes long, the forces, armed with explosives, began sabotaging Arab aircraft.

The forces came across people as expected, most of them civilians who were kindly asked to leave the airport immediately. For those who wondered what is the reason for that, the explosions a few minutes later left no room for doubt as to what is going on.

Minutes before the force touched ground, one of the Bell-205 helicopters blocked the main road to the airport. Flying around the airport, the other helicopter dropped some 95 smoke bombs, and 20 smoke candles, which create a thick smoke wall on the east and north sides of the airport. Then, the helicopter dropped jelly and nails on the road leading to the airport. By doing all that, the helicopters completely isolated the airport. Only one military truck galloping towards the forces was fired at and destroyed.

14 Arab Jets were destroyed, owned by three Lebanese companies: “Middle East Airlines”, “Lebanese International Airways”, and “Trans-Mediterranean Airlines”. The aircraft were estimated to be worth between $22 and $44 Million Dollars.

The operation was widely publicised around the globe. Many countries condemned the operation. France’s president De Gaulle was furious at the attack as France traditionally supports Lebanon. The operation later forced the French president to impose an embargo on French military assistance to Israel.

Many legends were created around the operation. One legend tells how in the midst of the operation, the force commander, Rafael Eitan, walked in to a coffee shop at the Lebanese terminal, ordered a cup of coffee, drank it, paid with Israeli money and walked away into the night.