Waves lapped in gentle rolls against the Tunisian shoreline on this night of April 15, 1988. The lookouts on the beaches only heard the engines in the final seconds before they rode the dying breaker to broach the wet sand.

There were three of them, powered rubber dinghies being dragged up to the dunes by twenty dark clad figures slung with silenced automatic weapons. The lookouts joined them in securing their craft and led them to three vehicles ready to drive them to their destination. Once inside, the masked men offered greetings in a language alien and despised by this part of the world… Hebrew. Yet, as they drove into the darkness, the only thought crossing their minds was the tired hours spent rehearsing for the coming moment with the briefings, and mockups, which now placed them on a road heading into the capital of Tunis toward a residential neighborhood.

They belonged to the Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s finest Special Forces unit. Their mission tonight involved killing a man who was a founding member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and responsible for the deaths of multitudes of innocent Israeli citizens. His name was Khalil Al Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad (“Father of the Holy War”).

Over the years, Jihad more than proved himself a dangerous thorn in Israel’s side due to his military and diplomatic abilities. Born in 1935, he rose to become a star of the PLO and served as its deputy commander under Yasser Arafat, and likely his successor. As a peace broker, one of his specialties, Abu Jihad played a central role in unifying the different factions of the group after their eviction from Lebanon in 1983. More recent and more public was his organizing of the nationalist and youth movements in Gaza and the West Bank, which resulted in the Intifada, the bloody uprising against Israeli control.

Abu Jihad

However, it was another specialty, a career as a ruthless terrorist mastermind, which ultimately sealed his fate. Prominent among these was his planning of a 1978 bus attack along a coastal highway in Israel that killed thirty-seven Jews and nine Palestinians. A 1979 attack in Nahariyah in which a terrorist bashed a four-year-old girl to death while her mother hid in a closet only to accidentally suffocate a young baby she was holding. Others included attempting to land terrorists on a beach near Tel Aviv and numerous other strikes in which the victims were most often women and children. It could be said Abu Jihad was responsible for more Israeli deaths than any other terrorist. He was to them what bin Laden became to America. And, just like bin Laden, his death sentence would come in the form of a bullet fired from a silenced weapon.

Jihad’s final act against Israel occurred on March 7, 1988, when three terrorists hijacked a passenger bus transporting employees to what is believed to be the nuclear weapons installation at Dimona in the Negev desert. The bus was later assaulted, and the three hijackers killed, but three Israeli’s also perished. This event caused embarrassment throughout an already demoralized country and resulted in a decision by the Likud Cabinet to recommend his death. They created and sent a document approving of the action to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who agreed and signed it on April 13th, bringing ‘Operation Show Of Force’ to life.

Intelligence already knew he resided in an opulent two-story villa within an upscale residential neighborhood in Tunis, Tunisia. For some time, the capital city had served as the location of PLO headquarters and home of several of its prominent leaders, all of home moved about with little fear of attack. Shamir’s signature set in motion the event to shatter that reality.