Special Forces Unit 101 Is Formed Members of Unit 101 pictured in 1955. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

August 5, 1953

Unit 101, an independent special forces section of the Israel Defense Forces, is formed under the command of Ariel Sharon, hand-picked by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

Facing the constant threat of terrorist attacks and border infiltration, the IDF turned to special commando forces to provide a rapid, nimble response. The IDF created special subunits of existing forces, such as Unit 30, which was formed within the Southern Command in 1951 but was dissolved a year later because of its lack of success at deterring terrorism.

The IDF’s operations chief, Moshe Dayan, opposes the creation of a commando unit focused on retaliation for attacks on Israel, but he is overruled. Unit 101 is born as the first operationally independent special forces unit within the IDF to address the shortcomings of Unit 30. Unit 101 begins with about 20 soldiers who have experience in the IDF’s former special forces subunits. They train in navigation, close-quarters fighting and survival techniques at Camp Sataf in the hills near Jerusalem and begin developing Israel’s approach to counterterrorism.

But Unit 101 does not last long as an independent unit. After infiltrators kill a woman and her two children, Sharon leads a Unit 101 raid on the West Bank village of Qibya on Oct. 14, 1953. Unit 101, supported by paratroopers, captures the village during heavy fighting, then destroys 42 buildings, from a school and police station to homes, as retribution. The Israeli soldiers fail to clear the buildings first, however, and nearly 70 civilians are killed. The U.N. Security Council condemns the Israeli operation, and Ben-Gurion folds Unit 101 into the Paratroopers Brigade only five months after the unit’s creation.