Unit 101 was an Israeli special operations unit founded and led by Ariel Sharon on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1953. It was created to retaliate against a spate of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians. According to Sharon, Gurion told him that "the Palestinians must learn that they will pay a high price for Israeli lives". Its commander was major Sharon, his deputy in command was Shlomo Baum. Unit 101 established small unit maneuvers, activation and insertion tactics that are utilized even today. Beside Sayeret MATKAL, Unit 101 is considered to be the unit with the most influence on the Israeli infantry oriented units including both special and conventional units.
Part from its tactical innovations, Unit 101 was also unique in two ways:
- It was the first time the IDF formed a brand new SF unit from scratch, rather then modify a previously exiting infantry oriented unit, like with the Golany brigade Special Reconnaissance Platoon.
- It was the first time the IDF formed a unit that received its orders directly from the IDF General Staff (the IDF High Command - MATKAL) and not by a lower sub-command.
Whatever the moral implications of its design, the tactic was remarkable effective politically because the terrorists simply could not keep up with the attrition. Thus attacks on Israel dropped off and the political objective of unit 101 was accomplished. After this point, the unit shifted to a more military focus and spent the remainder of its existence attacking harder targets. The unit came under harsh criticism after the Qibya massacre, which left 69 civilians dead.
Unit 101 was disbanded in late 1955.
- Direct action;
- Strategic reconnaissance;
- Unconventional warfare;
- Activities specified by Government.
Raised and Disbanded
- raised: August 1953;
- disbanded: 1955.
- Tel Aviv, Israel.
The background to the founding of Unit 101 was the Palestinian infiltration into the young state of Israel from its Arab neighbours during which hundreds of Israelis were murdered. Israel's initial responses did not manage to contain this phenomenon. Although Jordanian and initially Egyptian authorities tried to comply with the cease-fire agreements, the decision was almost never carried out by troops on the ground.
So in 1951 the IDF formed Unit 30 - a classified Unit that belonged to the IDF South command. Unit 30 was designed to execute retaliation missions while operating in small and well-trained teams. However, Unit 30 operatives lacked sufficient and proper SF training, and performed poorly, so in 1952 the Unit was disbanded.
After a series of unsuccessful raids, the Israeli government decided in summer 1953 on the creation of a special forces unit, Israel's first. Reservist Ariel Sharon was called back to duty, given the rank of major and chosen to command the company-sized unit. Unit 101 was composed of 20-25 men, most of them former T'zanhanim and Unit 30 personnel.
Immediately after the foundation of Unit 101 in 1953, it began a series of retaliatory operations targeting bases and villages which served as bases for the infiltrators. On one of its first missions, the unit attacked the refugee camp in El-Bureij in Gaza Strip. The mission was aimed at Col. Mustafa Hafez, the chief of Egyptian intelligence in the Gaza Strip (and according to some, the Strip's de-facto ruler) who stood behind many of the early violent infiltrations into Israel.
According to the local UN officer Vagn Bennike, hand grenades were thrown into houses while the inhabitants were sleeping, and those trying to escape were mowed down with machine guns.
Only two months later, in October, a heavy shadow was cast on the unit, following its raid into the village of Qibya, in the northern West Bank then a part of Jordan. Up to 70 innocent civilians were killed in this operation. The mode of operation was similar to that of El-Bureig, but on a larger scale.
The widely condemned attack on Qibya made the Israeli leadership forbid the IDF to directly target innocent civilians in the future. By January 1954, the unit was disbanded and merged into the Paratroopers Brigade, and unit commander Ariel Sharon became the commander of the merged brigade. The unit existed independently five months, and three more years as a core inside the paratrooper brigade, before being disbanded after the 1956 Suez War.
Beginning with 1954, the unit's activities were mostly confined to military targets. In particular, up to 20 such attacks were carried out in 1955-1956, culminating in the Kalkiliya Police raid of October 1956 - a battle by a position of the Arab Legion in one of the old British police forts, during which 18 Israeli soldiers and up to a hundred Legionnaires died.
Once disbanded, Unit 101 was merged with T'zanhanim company. After the merger the joint outfit turned into a brigade size unit, composed of two battalions - 869 Battalion (made out of the original T'zanhanim company personnel) and 101 Battalion (made out of former Unit 101 personnel).
With the increase in manpower, the T'zanhanim unit became an elite infantry brigade rather the elite infantry company as it was before. This merger was actually quite ironic since the T'zanhanim officers were originally the biggest opposition against the creation of Unit 101 as simply didn't wanted another competitor for prestigious retaliation missions that until the formation of Unit 101 where their own bread and butter.
With the much larger personnel, Arik Sharon, the former Commanding Officer (CO) of Unit 101 and then the new CO of the T'zanhanim infantry brigade, was able to launch full scale SF attacks against Arab terrorists, and the T'zanhanim infantry brigade pretty much ruled all the Israeli SF operations in the rest of 1950's.
In the late 1950's the IDF noticed that since the T'zanhanim Unit had turned into a infantry brigade rather then the SF unit it was before, it was lacking a small SF unit. So in 1958 Abraham Arnan formed Sayeret MAT'KAL, answering directly to the IDF High Command.