Remembers Entebbe, Netanyahu, Peres In Gaza Shadow
Israel News Agency
----July 3......It's difficult to imagine that 30 years has passed since the miraculous
rescue of Jews by Israel in a remote African airport called Entebbe.
has suffered greatly since. It is still suffering today with Islam suicide bombers
and Kassam rockets from Gaza, Katushas from Lebanon and a nuclear threat by Iran.
But as a Jewish nation, as a democratic state which has been in the forefront
of fighting Islam terrorism, Israel must celebrate this day. Israel must remind
her enemies in the most vivid of terms that we are capable of reaching into any
corner of the world to rescue Jews and any other nationality which is threatened
was a defining moment in the history of the Jewish people. It also served as a
warning to every democracy from England and Spain to Turkey and France that they,
that no democratic state was safe from terrorism.
Israel Defense Forces raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda freed more than 100 Jewish
hostages being held by Arab and German terrorists. The rescue mission consisted
of a team of Israel commandos led by Yonatan Netanyahu which secretly flew more
than 2,000 miles, landing at Entebbe and taking the terrorists and the Ugandan
soldiers guarding the airfield by surprise. "Once again, Israel's lightning-swift
sword had cut down an enemy," reported Newsweek a few days later, "and
its display of military precision, courage, and sheer chutzpah won the applause
and admiration of most of the world."
enemies were once more reminded that while the Jewish state might be tiny, it
was indomitable. Those who called for its destruction were wasting their breath,
and any attack on its people would bring painful retaliation.
Jew around the world had closely followed the events as they unfolded. The hijacking
of an airplane from Israel whose captors had divided in Nazi fashion, Jew from
father, Bernard Leyden, was a Zionist who raised millions of dollars for the United
Jewish Appeal. He worked with Israel's Ministry of Defense in helping to transport
weapons to Israel. He also secured two tickets for me to view the Bicentenial
Operation Sail celebration in New York Harbor. Not from his doomed offices
in New York's World Trade Center, but from a freighter dock on the Hudson River.
It was a day of hot dogs, hamburgers and American flags. A parade of foreign civilian
and military boats showing off their flags and colors in front of the Statue of
Liberty honoring the 4th of July. It was as I was watching this magnificent show,
that I heard someone say that the Jews were rescued by the Israelis. We forgot
about the 4th of July and rushed off the dock to find the nearest TV.
could ever overshadow the Bicentenial 4th of July. But the Israel Entebbe rescue
or as it was known then as Operation Thunderbolt was the topic of news on every
TV and radio station. A special edition of the New
York Times was published on July 4 1976 to illustrate this glorious piece
were many heroes involved in this real life Hollywood adventure.
to the IDF at 6:45 on the morning of June 27, 1976, Singapore Airlines flight
763 landed at Athens Airport en route from Bahrain via Kuwait. Of the five disembarking
passengers, four headed for the transit area to check in for Air France 139 to
Paris, then settled down to a long wait in the transit lounge.
8:59 on the same morning, Captain Michel Bacos, at the controls of Air France
139, took off from Ben Gurion Airport on what promised to be a routine flight
to Paris via Athens. As the Airbus made its final approach to Athens, the boarding
passengers, 58 in all, were being processed through passport and customs formalities.
Nobody was on duty at the metal detector in the passenger corridor and the policeman
at the fluoroscope was paying little attention to the screen at his side. In the
line passing through to the bus that would take them across the tarmac to flight
139, were a twenty-five year old woman traveling on an Ecuadorian passport in
the name of Ortega and, a few places behind her, a young blond-haired man whose
Peruvian passport identified him as A. Garcia. Further back in the line were two
dark-skinned youngsters with Bahraini and Kuwaiti travel documents. The Airbus
completed its approach to flight path "Red 19" and touched down at 11:30, to taxi
to its parking spot, disgorge its 38 Athens-bound passengers and take on its 58
12:20 the flight was airborne and climbing steadily to its cruising height of
31,000 feet. The stewards and stewardesses were already busy in the galleys preparing
lunch for the 246 passengers. Eight minutes after takeoff, "Ortega" and "Garcia"
and their two Arab companions made their move. The young woman left her first-class
seat and took up station at the front of the cabin; in the tourist compartment,
the youngsters were already on their feet with guns in their hands. The blond
youngster, a revolver in one hand and a grenade in the other, burst through the
unlocked cockpit door. Within minutes of the takeover of flight 139, Ben Gurion
Airport management and the Air France station manager were aware that radio contact
with Captain Bacos had been lost. The news was passed on to the Prime Minister,
the Minister of Transport and the Defense Minister all of whom were at the regular
Sunday Cabinet session.
13:27, IDF Operations Branch put into motion the pre-planned procedures for coping
with possible emergencies at Ben Gurion Airport. IDF Central Command promptly
moved to establish a command post at the airport, and to alert the necessary army
in Jerusalem, Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin passed a note to the Cabinet
Secretary to convene, in his office after the Cabinet session, a small team of
ministers: Defense Minister Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Allon, Transport Minister
Yaakobi, Justice Minister Zadok and Minister without portfolio Galilee.
way the Air France 139 episode would develop, these were the men who would have
to take the decisions.
The meeting, which convened at 16:05, decided very quickly on a number of immediate
measures. Yigal Allon was to contact his French counterpart and demand that the
French government do everything in its power to obtain the release of the passengers;
139 was after all an Air France plane. Gad Yaakobi would approach the international
civil aviation authorities with a similar request, and would establish liaison
with the families of the hostages and the communications media.
the arms of Israel security would take all the necessary steps in the eventuality
that the plane was destined for Israel. After a long wait on the deserted runway
at Benghazi, the Airbus, having taken on 42 tons of fuel, started its engines,
gathered speed and, at 21:50 on the evening of June 27, was airborne. At Ben Gurion
Airport, where it was now known that 77 Israeli nationals were on board the plane,
IDF Chief-of-Staff Mordechai ("Motta") Gur phoned Shimon Peres, who decided to
come to the airport himself. It was slowly becoming clear that the aircraft, with
its range of 2500 miles, was heading away from the Middle East in a southerly
direction. Nevertheless, all the security preparations were kept in force. With
only a few minutes fuel left in its tanks, Air France 139 landed at Entebbe, in
Uganda, at 03:15 local time on the morning of June 28. The units at Ben Gurion
Airport were ordered back to their bases, and the command post disbanded.
Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Deputy Head of IDF Intelligence Branch,
had two meetings scheduled during the early hours of Wednesday, June 30. At 01:00
he met with senior Air Force officers who had spent time in Uganda, to find out
everything they could tell him about Entebbe Airport, other airbases in Uganda,
Idi Amin's air force and anything else that came to mind. At 04:00 hours, he chaired
a meeting of the planners to survey progress. There were ideas, but nothing concrete
so far; in fact, both meetings were more concerned with listing the gray areas
where information was needed, and with compiling checklist of possible sources.
Among the officers now present in the meetings was Muki Betser a young paratroop
major, who had been called in that night; his assignment would be to consider
all the possibilities of seizing the Old Terminal and eliminating the terrorists.
Israel Mossad was called into action to take aerial photos of the Entebbe Airport.
Betser revealed for the first time in an interview with Ynet, the details of an
aerial photo shoot that preceded the Entebbe Operation. The job in this case was
done by the Mossad operatives. “On our team, there was a Mossad official called
Shlomo Gal,” says Betser. “I asked him: Shlomo, can you get a plane over there
to take some photos? And he tells me - yes.”
defense establishment was getting ready to carry out an “operation inside an operation”.
Betser recounts: “We took a Mossad operative, a pilot, whose job was to carry
out different photo shoots for them in all kinds of places. He flew from London
to Nairobi in Kenya. At Nairobi, he rented a light airplane, flew to Entebbe –
and then informed the control tower he had a technical malfunction and had to
perform some aerial roundabouts in the air.” The Ugandans did not suspect a thing,
despite the hijack drama that was unfolding at the airport. “The Mossad operative
made a couple of rounds and photographed the old terminal. Afterwards he told
the control tower that he could not land, went back to Nairobi and sent the photos
to Israel,” says Betser. Eventually, the photos arrived at the last minute, on
Saturday afternoon, only a few hours before the Matkal fighters were on their
strangest meeting of all to take place during that day was in Shimon Peres office,
where the Defense Minister was picking the brains of a handful of air force and
army officers who were personally acquainted and even friendly with Idi Amin.
Slowly but surely, Peres was putting together a psychological profile of the African
dictator - including details like Amin ambition to be awarded the Nobel prize
for Peace, and his mothers appearance to him in a dream to warn him against ever
harming the Jews. As a direct outcome of this session, a retired IDF colonel,
Burka Bar-Lev, was led into a nearby room to wait while an international call
was placed to Kampala. In the ensuing conversation with Idi Amin, and others that
followed over the next few days, Bar-Lev was instructed to play heavily on Amin's
ego and their personal friendship to extract every bit of useful information and
gain as much time as possible. Through most of the conversations, Peres listened
in on an extension phone, taking note of everything of importance that Amin let
01:00, on the early morning of Saturday, July 3, Motta Gur phoned Shimon Peres
and reported that a rescue mission to Entebbe was ready. The news throughout the
day had not been promising: the Israel Embassy in Paris was relaying messages
that indicated no progress, and no obvious desire for progress, on the diplomatic
front. Now there was at least a ray of light. Throughout the night, IDF mechanics
labored on the engine of an aging Mercedes which would serve as a fake presidential
car carrying Amin to the airport. Yoni Netanyahu and Muki Betser spent the remaining
hours of darkness reviewing every aspect of the assault and devising answers eventualities.
after dawn, the combat units loaded their equipment, and drove on deserted road
to a nearby airbase, where ground crews stood ready to lash their vehicles securely
in the bellies of the waiting aircraft. Alongside a runway, Dan Michaeli's doctors
and medical orderlies made a last check of the equipment to be loaded on board
the "hospital" Boeing. The IDF Medical Corps had quietly called in reservist doctors,
with no explanations offered for the unusual summons. It was a sunny morning in
Israel, the plight of the Entebbe hostages overshadowed the normal Sabbath joys.
There were no indications of progress in the negotiations for their release, and
indeed it seemed that terrorists were only interested in forcing Israel to its
knees in a humiliating capitulation. Via France, Israel had insisted that the
exchange must take place at a neutral venue, preferably Paris, but the answer
had been an outright refusal. There was little certainty in anybody's mind that
trading convicted terrorists would save the lives of 105 men, women and children
in the Entebbe Old Terminal. Shortly after 11:00, the small ministerial team convened,
for the last time, in the Prime Minister's Tel Aviv office.
listened in silence to General Gur's detailed presentation of Operation Thunderbolt.
It was not a total surprise, since Shimon Peres had already told three of the
ministers that a military option had opened up. Perhaps to retain a sense of the
gravity of the situation, Yitzhak Rabin reviewed the risks involved and the implications
of failure. The meeting concluded with a question to Motta Gur: "When do the planes
have to go". The answer was: "Shortly after 1 p.m. from central Israel." Most
of the ministers who gathered for the full Cabinet session, immediately after
the team meeting, were expecting the agenda to contain just one item: a decision
to accede to the hijackers' demands before tomorrow's deadline.
the holiness of the Sabbath, all the Cabinet members were present; one religious
minister who lived in Jerusalem had received a hint from his colleague, Transport
Minister Yaakobi - at midday on Friday - that he would not regret taking his family
to Tel Aviv for the weekend. The gloomy atmosphere and long faces gave way to
growing astonishment as the Chief-of-Staff spread maps, sketches and photographs
across the table, and began yet another detailed briefing. While General Gur was
speaking, the heavy doors of five Hercules aircraft slammed shut, and the planes
began to gather speed on the runway. At 13:20, they were airborne and southbound
for Ophir at the tip of the Sinai peninsula.
flight plan envisaged a last staging point as far south as possible, for reasons
of both timing and range. But normal flight paths would have taken the aircraft
westward over crowded Tel Aviv beaches, before making the turn south. And there
was no way that so many aircraft in the Sabbath skies could have passed overhead
without arousing speculation. So each of the five planes took a separate route
across the heartland of Israel. Over the Negev and Sinai deserts, the upcurrents
of hot air made it a very rough flight. The soldiers on board the transports had
been issued airsickness pills, but the turbulence was so bad that they were glad
to set foot on solid ground at Ophir.
the Cabinet Room in Tel Aviv, Motta Gur concluded his briefing and the ministers
were asking questions. Time was now short, but no attempt was made to stop the
discussion: the decision was too important to rush the Government of Israel into
it. At Ophir, four heavily laden transports (their payloads as much as 20,000
pounds over normal rated capacity) lumbered through the thin desert air and, after
using up the whole length of the runway, were airborne. Watching them go were
a very airsick paratrooper - and a very frustrated pilot of the reserve Hercules.
The prevailing winds and weather forced the four planes to take off northwards,
then bank slowly - five degrees at time - back to their southerly course, making
part of their turn over the empty desert wastes of Saudi Arabia.
note passed across the table from Yitzhak Rabin to Shimon Peres suggesting that
the planes should go: they could always be recalled. From Peres' smile, the Prime
minister could understand that "Operation Thunderball" was already on its way.
As if they had all the time in the world, Rabin summed up the debate, then called
for a vote. It was unanimous: the IDF was going to Entebbe. Fifteen minutes after
the last Hercules was airborne out of Ophir, the second Boeing was on its way
south from an airbase in central Israel. It would also land at Ophir, then follow
the transports - three hours behind to allow for its higher speed.
board were Israel Major General Kuti Adam, another senior officer, and a team
of communications operators. In the cockpits of the four transport planes, which
were now flying low over the Gulf of Suez, beneath the height of hostile radar
surveillance, the pilots were studying a batch of aerial photographs of Entebbe
Airport. taken by an amateur, at an angle, from Kenyan airspace over Lake Victoria,
and shoved into the pilots' hands seconds before takeoff. They held the answers
to the remaining questions. In the bellies of the aircraft, the soldiers of the
assault teams, and the doctors and corpsmen who were to land with them, sprawled
alongside their vehicles getting whatever sleep they could.
of the officers were studying their maps and orders again, making sure that everything
was committed to memory. Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres went home for a few hours
to try and relax before the long night ahead. Peres was expecting dinner guests,
and there was no way to postpone without arousing speculation. Rabin had spent
the last few minutes before leaving his office on the phone to France, doing his
best to invent plausible reasons for delaying the negotiations, yet unable to
tell General Zeevi in Paris what was actually happening. Around the dinner table
in Peres' home, the talk quite naturally turned to the plight of the hostages
the hope of keeping up pretenses before his American VIP guest of honor, the Minister
of Defense turned to another of his guests, the publisher of a Tel Aviv daily
who was known for his dovish attitudes, and asked him what he would do under the
circumstances. Fully expecting an ardent plea for unconditional capitulation to
the terrorists' demands, Shimon Peres was astonished by the publishers answer:
"Send the IDF!" Fortunately, General Gazit, the head of the Intelligence Branch,
was able to help his host explain just how impossible that idea was.
generals, like the cabinet ministers that same morning, were convinced that they
had been summoned to hear details of an exchange of convicted terrorists for hostages,
and were surprised at the at the conspicuous absence of Kuti Adam until Gur began
to speak! Turning westward, the four Hercules headed into the African continent
over Ethiopia. The weather was stormy, forcing the pilots to divert northwards
close to the Sudanese frontier. However, there were no fears of detection. Firstly,
it was doubtful that any alert radar operators would be able to identify the planes
as Israeli and secondly, the storm would wreak havoc with incoming signals on
the approaches to Lake Victoria, they hit storm clouds towering in a solid mass
from ground level to 40,000 feet. There was no time to go around, and no way to
go above-so they ploughed on through. Conditions were so bad that the cockpit
windows were blue with the flashes of static electricity. Lt.Col. S. held the
lead plane straight on course; his cargo of 86 officers and men and Dan Shomron's
forward command post with their vehicles and equipment had to be on the ground
according to a precise timetable. The other pilots had no choice but to circle
inside the storm for a few extra minutes. Yitzhak Rabin and some of the other
ministers joined Shimon Peres in his office, and waited tensely for a sign of
life from the radio link-up on his desk.
before 23:00 hours, they heard a terse "over 'Jordan'" from Kuti Adam, confirming
that the planes had reached Lake Victoria. Lt. Col. S. held course southward,
then banked sharply to line up on Entebbe main runway from the southwest. In the
distance he could see that the runway lights were on. Behind him in the cargo
compartment, Yoni Netanyahu's men were piling into the Mercedes and the two Landrovers.
The car engines were already running, and members of the aircrew were standing
by to release the restraining cables. At 23:01, only 30 seconds behind the preplanned
schedule, Lt. Col.S. brought the aircraft in to touch down at Entebbe.
rear ramp of the plane was already open, and the vehicles were on the ground and
moving away before the Hercules rolled to a stop. A handful of paratroopers had
already dropped off the plane to place emergency beacons next to the runway lights,
in case the control tower shot them down. Lt. Col. S. switches on his radio for
a second:"I am on 'Shoshana'." The Mercedes, and its escorts, moved down the connecting
road to Old Terminal as fast as they could, consistent with the appearance of
a senior officer's entourage. On the approaches to the tarmac apron in front of
the building, two Ugandan sentries faced the oncoming vehicles, aimed their carbines,
and shouted an order to stop. There was no choice, and no time to argue. The first
shots from the Mercedes were from pistols. One Ugandan fell and the other ran
in the direction of the old control tower. The Ugandan on the ground was groping
for his carbine. A paratrooper responded immediately with a burst. Muki and his
team jumped from the car and ran the last 40 yards to the walkway in front of
the building. The first entrance had been blocked off; without a second's pause,
the paratroopers raced on to the second door.
a searching debate with Yoni, Muki had decided to break a cardinal rule of the
IDF. Junior officers usually lead the first wave of an assault, but Muki felt
it important to be up front in case there was need to make decisions about changes
in plans. Tearing along the walkway, he was fired on by a Ugandan. Muki responded,
killing him. A terrorist stepped out the main door of the Old Terminal to see
what the fuss was about, and rapidly returned the way he had come. Muki then discovered
that the magazine of his carbine was empty. The normal procedure would have been
to step aside and let someone else take the lead. He decided against, and groped
to change magazines on the run. The young officer behind him, realizing what was
happening, came up alongside. The two of them, and one other trooper, reached
the doorway together - Amnon, the young lieutenant, on the left, Muki in the center
and the trooper on the right. The terrorist who had ventured out was now standing
to the left of the door. Amnon fired, followed by Muki.
the room, a terrorist rose to his feet and fired at the hostages sprawled around
him, most of whom had been trying to sleep. Muki took care of him with two shots.
Over to the right, a fourth member of the hijackers' team managed to loose off
a burst at the intruders, but his bullets were high, hitting a window and showering
glass into the room. The trooper aimed and fired.
Amnon identified the girl terrorist to the left of the doorway and fired. In the
background, a bullhorn was booming in Hebrew and English: "This is the IDF! Stay
down!" From a nearby mattress, a young man launched himself at the trio in the
doorway, and was cut down by a carbine burst. The man was a bewildered hostage.
Muki's troopers fanned out through the room and into the corridor to the washroom
beyond - but all resistance was over. The second assault team had meanwhile raced
through another doorway into a hall where the off- duty terrorist spent their
spare time.Two men in civilian clothes walked calmly towards them. Assuming that
these could be hostages, the soldiers held their fire. Suddenly one of the men
raised his hand and threw a grenade. The troopers dropped to the ground. A machine-gun
burst eliminated their adversaries. The grenade exploded harmlessly.
third team from the Landrovers moved to silence any opposition from the Ugandan
soldiers stationed near the windows on the floor above. On the way up the stairs,
they met two soldiers, one of whom was fast on the trigger. The troopers killed
them. While his men circulated through the hall, calming the shocked hostages
and tending the wounded, Muki was called out to the tarmac. There he found a doctor
kneeling over Lt. Col. Yoni Netanyahu. Yoni had remained outside the building
to supervise all three assault teams. A bullet from the top of the old control
tower had hit him in the back. While the troopers silenced the fire from above,
Yoni was dragged into the shelter of the overhanging wall by the walkway.
assault on Old Terminal was completed within three minutes after the lead plane
landed. Now in rapid succession, its three companions came into touch down at
Entebbe. By 23:08 hours, all of Thunderball Force was on the ground. The runway
lights shut down as the third plane came in to land, but it didn't matter, but
it didn't matter - the beacons did the job well enough. With clockwork precision,
armored personnel carriers roared off the ramp of the second transport to take
up position to the front and rear of Old Terminal, while infantrymen from the
first and third plane ran to secure all access to roads to the airport and to
take over New Terminal and the control tower; the tower was vital for safe evacuation
of the hostages and their rescuers.
a brief clash at the New Terminal, Sergeant Hershko Surin, who was due for demobilization
from the army in twelve hours time fell wounded. The fourth plane taxied to a
holding position near Old Terminal, ready to take on hostages. All the engines
were left running. A team of Air Force technicians were already hard at work offloading
heavy fuel pumps - hastily acquired by an inspired quartermaster one day earlier
- and setting up to transfer Idi Amin's precious aviation fluid into the thirsty
tanks of the lead transport - a process that would take well over an hour. In
Peres' crowded room in Tel Aviv, Kuti Adam's terse "Everything's okay" only served
to heighten the tension. Motta Gur decided to contact Dan Shomron directly, but
was little more enlightened by laconic "It's alright - I'm busy right now!"
Medical Corps' Boeing had landed at Nairobi, in Kenya, at 22:25. General Peled
was now able to tell Lt. Col. S. that it was possible to refuel at Nairobi. Unable
momentarily, to raise Shomron on the operational radio, and uncomfortable with
the situation on the ground - the Ugandans were firing tracers at random, while
the aircraft with engines running were vulnerable at the fuel tanks - Lt. Col.
S. decided to take up the option now available. Muki radioed Dan Shomron to report
that the building and surroundings were secure - and to inform him that Yoni had
been hit. Though they were ahead of schedule, there was no point in waiting (possibly
allowing the Ugandans to bring up reinforcements), particularly since Shomron
now knew that refueling the aircraft in Nairobi was possible.
fourth Hercules was ordered to move up closer to Old Terminal. Muki's men and
the other soldiers around the building formed two lines from the doorway to the
ramp of the plane; no chances would be taken that a bewildered hostage could wander
off into the night - or blunder into the aircraft's engines. As the hostages straggled
out, heads of families were stopped at the ramp and asked to check that all their
kin were present. Captain Bacos was quietly requested to performed the same task
for his "family"- the crew of Air France139. Behind them, Old Terminal was empty
but for the bodies of six terrorists, among them a young European girl and a blond-haired
German called Wilfried Boese.
took seven minutes to load the precious cargo of humanity, while a pick-up truck
- brought 2,200 miles specially for this purpose - ferried out the dead and wounded,
including Yoni. The paratroops made a last check of the building, then signalled
the aircrew to close up and go. At 23:52 hours, the craft was airborne and on
its way to Nairobi, while doctors worked over seven wounded hostages, and the
aircrew distributed sheets of aluminium foil to make up for an inadequate supply
of blankets. It was cold, and the were exhausted and still in shock at the rapid
change in their fortunes - and dimly aware that two of their number were dead,
and that they were leaving behind an old lady, Mrs. Dora Bloch. She had been taken
to a hospital in Kampala where she was subsequently murdered on Amin's orders.
At the other end of the airfield, an infantry team fired machinegun bursts into
seven Ugandan Air Force Migs. The decision to destroy the planes had just been
relayed from Kuti Adams Boeing. There was no point in tempting Ugandan pilots
into pursuit. The paratroops reloaded their vehicles and equipment.
job done, they were airborne at 00:12. Behind them, their comarades completed
their tasks and checked that nothing was left behind - except the fuel pumps which
were too much trouble to manhandle back on board a Hercules. The intention had
been to leave the pick-up truck as a present for Idi Amin, but a soldier convinced
one of the pilots too load that too. At 00:40, the last of Thunderball Force left
Entebbe. Thirty minutes later, the second Boeinig and the first Hercules landed
at Nairobi, and taxied to the fuel tanks in a quiet corner of the airport. Though
the pilots could not know it, Prime Minister Rabin had made a decision, on Friday
morning, not to inform the Government of Kenya. Firstly there was security to
consider and, secondly, he did not want to embarrass the Kenyans, who had enough
troubles of their own with Idi Amin.
any fuss, fuel tankers moved into position by the planes and began the refueling,
while the drivers presented the paperwork to their pilots for signature - just
as they would to any commercial flight. No questions were asked and no information
volunteered. Sergeant Hershko who was seriously wounded, was transferred to the
hospital Boeing. Two hostages whose wounds needed immediate care in a fully equipped
hospital, were loaded into a waiting station wagon and taken into Nairobi, where
one of them died. At four minutes past two on Sunday morning, the remaining passengers
and aircrew of Air France 139 were airborne on the lastleg of their long journey
home. Long after midnight, the Spokesman of the Defense Ministry made a phone
call to a sleeping household in Tel Aviv.
relatives of the hostages had elected a committee to pressure the Government,
and the committee in turn had chosen a chairman who had met throughout the week
with Rabin, Peres, Yaakobi and anyone else who would listen. This time, it was
the chairman who was listening - though it took some moments for the news to jolt
him awake. The flight home was long, easy and uneventful - except for one nasty
jolt! At 03:00, a Hercules pilot was twiddling the controls hoping for some music,
when he heard the Israel Army Network announce: "IDF forces tonight rescued."
Why would they announce it before the planes reached home? He could not know that
the Agence France Presse in Kampala had filed a wire story of shots heard
in Entebbe, and it was already a headline on Paris radio and the BBC. There was
no mood of celebration on the transports.
hostages, huddled together against the cold, and aware now that their rescue had
cost the life of a soldier, were thankful to be among their own again, but in
no mood to join in the singsong that someone halfheartedly tried to start. They
still needed time to absorb it all - to shake off the nightmare of Entebbe. In
Lt. Col. S.'s plane, the paratroops were sunk in their own private thoughts. Despite
all efforts of the doctors,Yoni was dead. The mission was later renamed "Operation
Jonathan" in his memory.
in the morning of Sunday, July 4, 1976 - as friends and I were still sleeping
and preparing to enjoy a 4th of July in New York City - the lead Hercules flew
low over Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel. The New York Times had just
enough hours to change the headlines on her front-page. Yes, the 4th of July was
still on top but in the lower left hand corner was the headline: HOSTAGES FREED
AS ISRAELIS RAID UGANDA AIRPORT; Commandos in 3 Planes Rescue 105-Casualties
Unknown Israelis Raid Uganda Airport And Free Hijackers' Hostages."
the heroes who must be mentioned are French airplane Captain Michel Bacos.
the announcement by the terrorists that the airline crew and non-Israeli/non-Jewish
passengers would be released and put on another Air France plane that had been
brought to Entebbe for that purpose, Flight 139's Captain Michel Bacos announced
to the hijackers that all passengers, including the remaining ones, were his responsibility,
and that he would not leave them behind.
Bacos' entire crew, down to the most
junior flight attendant, followed suit. A French nun also refused to leave, and
insisted that one of the remaining hostages take her place, but was forced into
the awaiting Air France plane by Ugandan soldiers.
tired Israel airmen in the cockpit were astonished to see people in the streets
of Eilat below waving and clapping. The plane landed at an air force Base in central
Israel. The hostages were fed and given a chance to shake off the trauma. The
wounded were taken off to hospital, and psychologists circulated among the others,
giving help where it was needed. In a remote corner of the same airfield, the
three combat teams unloaded their vehicles and equipment. They would return to
their bases, hardly aware of the excitement in Israel, and throughout the free
world, over what they had done this night. It was a midmorning when a Hercules
transport of the Israel Air Force touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport,
rolled to a stop and opened its rear ramp to release its cargo of men, women and
children into the the outstretched arms of their relatives and friends and of
a crowd of thousands. The ordeal was over.
that was 1976. The trauma of Entebbe was soon to be overshadowed by the Lebanon
War in March 1978 when PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel. After murdering an American
tourist walking near an Israel beach, they hijacked a civilian bus. The terrorists
shot through the windows as the bus traveled down the highway. When Israeli troops
intercepted the bus, the terrorists opened fire. A total of 34 hostages died in
the attack. In response, Israel forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist
bases in the southern part of that country, pushing the terrorists away from the
in much of Israel society Entebbe has relegated to history by the hundreds of
terror attacks taking place within Israel - from the Passover Massacre to bombings
of buses, restaurants and shopping centers. As Israel responds as she did with
Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and today with Operation Summer Rain in Gaza,
a new generation of Israelis are put to the test in protecting Israel from terrorism.
not all is internal. Israel faces enemies in Iran and in Syria. Iran which openly
declares to "wipe Israel off the map" while it attempts to produce nuclear
weapons. And Syria which directs terror attacks within Israel. Recently, the Israel
Air Force made a flyover over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's palace in the
city of Latakia in northwestern Syria. The IDF said the flyover, carried out by
four planes flying in a low-altitude pattern, was a part of an overall IDF operation
aimed at pressuring the Syrian leadership to expel Hamas Politburo chief Khaled
Mashaal from Damascus. According to Israel, Mashaal has been calling the shots
out of the Syrian capital and orchestrated the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad
Assad had forgotten the word Entebbe. As Assad and Israel's other enemies had
forgotten Osirak. How Israel swooped down and destroyed the Osirak nuclear plant
near the Iraq capital for fear it too was creating atomic bombs.
operational ability to hit hard within Israel or thousands of miles away has been
proven. What is needed today is a potent information campaign in Arabic to remind
the Islamic world of the words Entebbe and Osirak. To remind Hamas, Islamic Jihad,
Hezbollah and al Qaeda that after countless terror suicide bombing attacks Israelis
are not running away to Europe or North America. Rather, with calculated intelligence
and patience, Israel is destroying her enemies by creating a solid infrastructure
for commerce and trade with those Arabs who desire peace over bullets.
should never forget Entebbe. But far more important, Israel's enemies should be
reminded of both the word and the people who produced this historic military action.
(Res.) Louis Williams