Forty-one years ago this month, in April 1973, in one of the IDF's boldest operations ever, a young Ehud Barak dressed himself as a woman, entered Beirut with a group of soldiers from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and assassinated several key players from the Palestinian Liberation Organization in retribution for the Munich massacre at the Summer Olympics in 1972.
Among those killed in the what is called "Operation Fountain of Youth" were PLO leaders, including Yassar Arafat's unofficial deputy.
The raid began on the night of April 9 when Israeli Navy ships brought the combat soldiers to the coast just off of Beirut, where commando boats were waiting them and ferryed them to the shore. When they reached the shore, the soldiers, disguised as civilians, entered vehicles driven by Mossad agents who then took them to their different targets.
Among the dozens of terrorists the group killed were Abu Yusuf, Arafat's deputy, Kamal Adwan, who was responsible for sabotage operations against Israel and the West, and Kamal Nasser, Fatah's official spokesman.
While off the coast of Beirut, Barak changed clothes, disguising himself as a brunette while his deputy Muki Betser dressed as a blonde woman. Once on land, Barak led his troops into the buildings where their targets were located.
Since the operation Barak went on to become the IDF's chief of staff and prime minister (Photo: Emil Salman)
Some of the Israeli forces reached the official headquarters of Palestinian terror group the Democratic People's Front, which was located on a crowded central Beirut street and was occupied by dozens of terrorist targets.
A difficult gun fight ensued, and dozens of kilograms of explosives were passed to the Israeli forces inside. Squared off against a larger force, the Israeli soldiers detonated the explosives and a large portion of the building collapsed.
A Lebanese army officer described the scene, saying: "Wherever there was an Israeli, you could see fire, probably from burning buildings and fire bombs."
In the following morning the Lebanese army spokesman said: "The Israelis came by sea and air in helicopters. They then escaped just as they came, by sea and air." The spokesman admitted that there had been considerable damage and many casualties.
The blueprints to Abu Yusuf's apartment in Beirut
Beirut Radio reported that two PLO leaders were killed by Israeli commando units and a third was missing. Later it was revealed that he had also died in the attack.
Abu Yusuf, who served as chairman of the Palestinians in Beirut, an umbrella organization consolidating of all the Palestinian terrorist movements in Lebanon, was killed near the Metropol hotel. Yusuf was also head of the political department of the PLO's Executive Committee.
Arafat confirmed that his deputy had been killed in the conflict, and one of his aides acknowledged that the Israeli forces had blown up several houses where terrorists were stationed.
"When I heard the first shots I thought that it was a domestic incident of some sort," said Yusuf's neighbor.
"I looked out the window and saw three men dressed as civilians standing next to three Mercedes. These people knew exactly where they were going. After the shooting started, a police car arrived on the scene with its siren turned on. The Israelis fired at the vehicle and killed two police officers who were sitting inside."
Blueprints of Kamal Nasser's house
It turned out that Abu Yusuf was in his bed when the explosives blew the door to his house open. The squad that broke into the apartment found Yusuf's five children awake. His oldest son Yusuf, who was 16-years-old at the time, stood before the uninvited guests in surprise.
"Where is your father?" they asked him in Arabic. Yusuf panicked and ran and then his father woke up. Abu Yusuf told his wife to bring him his pistol. His wife tried to protect him and managed to say, "cowards," before being shot to death.
The Israeli forces, who were spread out in several different locations in Beirut, returned to Israeli territory in the early morning hours and were received by the then-chief of staff David Elazar and other senior IDF officers.
Then-prime minister Golda Meir had been receiving regular updates on the course of the attack.
The chief of staff visited the soldiers who had been wounded by terrorist gun fire and had been transferred to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Only after his morning visit, did he travel to Jerusalem to report to government ministers on the military operation itself.
The day after the attack, PLO leadership in Beirut decided to end their activities in the city and the heads of terror organizations ordered their men to scatter across the country.
This decision was made after members of Fatah entered the organization's offices in Beirut and discovered that many important documents were missing that could expose terrorist cells in Israel and the West.
Fatah's broadcasting station broadcast an urgent call to members of the organization on the "Western Front". They were ordered to spread out and take any and all precautionary measures including following the movements of Israeli security forces.
However, Fatah Radio asked their men not to panic saying that, "Israel just seeks to create a psychological war."
Twenty-one hours after the IDF attack in Beirut, then-Lebanese prime minister Saeb Salam submitted his resignation. He did this after the president delayed his demands to sack some senior Lebanese officers for incompetence in their failure to repel the Israeli raid.
Barak's ex-wife Noah Barak told the story of the return home of a man who went on to become the IDF chief of staff and later elected prime minister.
"Ehud arrived and we had a very emotional meeting. And then suddenly I looked at him and saw that he was wearing makeup. I said to him, 'Ehud, why do you have blue makeup on your eyes?' At first he didn't really want to explain. He wanted to go to sleep for a few hours since he was exhausted, but when he opened his suitcase to take something out, suddenly a woman's jacket popped out."
"I asked him: 'Ehud, where have you been? What is this weird jacket?' Then he told me that he played the part of a woman in this operation. Every time I saw what these guys were capable of doing, it seemed to me that they were going one more step beyond what the human imagination can conceive," said Barak's ex-wife.