Ali Hassan Salameh, born into a religious family, rose to prominence as a key figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at a young age. His life unfolded against the backdrop of political turmoil, espionage, and the tragic events of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Known as the “Red Prince,” Salameh played a dual role as a secret agent for both Palestine and the United States, leaving behind a legacy marked by contradiction and controversy.
The 1972 Munich Olympics were intended to convey a message of unity and peace, in stark contrast to the 1936 Berlin Olympics used for Hitler’s propaganda. However, the games took a dark turn when the Black September group attacked the Israeli contingent, leading to the tragic deaths of 11 athletes and coaches. Ali Hassan Salameh’s involvement in planning the attack made him a prime target for the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
Despite his involvement in terrorist activities, Salameh’s life was filled with paradoxes. While his father, Sheikh Hassan Salameh, was a simple and religious man who died as a martyr in the Arab-Israeli War, Ali lived a lavish lifestyle. Often seen driving sports cars through Beirut, adorned with sunglasses and gold watches, he married Miss Universe 1971, Georgina Rizk, and chose Hawaii and Disneyland for his honeymoon.
In a surprising turn of events, shortly after orchestrating the Munich attack, Salameh was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His education in Germany and military training in Cairo and Moscow, coupled with his role as the head of security for the PLO’s largest faction, Fatah, made him a valuable asset for the CIA. Despite his involvement in terrorist acts, he struck a secretive deal with CIA agent Robert Ames, ensuring the safety of American diplomats in Lebanon.
Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. Secretary of State, played a pivotal role in maintaining Salameh as a covert CIA asset. Despite Israel’s prioritization of Salameh as a top assassination target, Kissinger contacted Yasser Arafat to negotiate a deal that positioned the “Red Prince” as a clandestine CIA asset.
Following the Munich massacre, Golda Meir, the Israeli Prime Minister, expressed anger not only towards Black September but also towards the German authorities. The inadequacy of German forces in handling the crisis prompted Mossad to activate its secret assassination unit, Kidon, to eliminate those involved in the Munich attack.
It took five years for Mossad to track down and eliminate Ali Hassan Salameh. A bomb planted in his car in Beirut on January 22, 1979, claimed his life along with that of four bodyguards and three pedestrians. Mossad’s pursuit of Salameh was a complex and protracted operation, leaving a trail of controversy and speculation.
Ali Hassan Salameh’s life was a tapestry of contradictions, from his religious upbringing to his flamboyant lifestyle and involvement in terrorist activities. His collaboration with the CIA and his complex relationship with key political figures add layers of intrigue to his story. Salameh’s demise marked the end of a chapter in the turbulent history of the Middle East, leaving behind questions about the intersection of politics, espionage, and personal choices.