Israel Remembers Entebbe, Netanyahu, Peres In Gaza Shadow

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency

Jerusalem ----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.

Israel 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 by terrorism.

Entebbe 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.

The 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."

Israel's 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.

Every 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 non-Jew.

My 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.

Nothing 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 of history.

There were many heroes involved in this real life Hollywood adventure.

According 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.

At 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 newcomers.

At 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.

At 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 units.

Meanwhile, 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.

Whichever 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.

All 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.

Former 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.

The 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.”

The 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 way.

The 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 slip.

At 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.

Shortly 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.

They 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.

Despite 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.

The 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.

In 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.

A 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.

On 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.

Some 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 in Entebbe.

In 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.

The 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 screens.

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.

Shortly 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.

The 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.

After 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.

Across 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Yoni's 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.

The 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.

In 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!"

The 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.

The 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.

It 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.

Their 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.

Without 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Early 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."

Of the heroes who must be mentioned are French airplane Captain Michel Bacos.
Upon 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.

The 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.

But 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 border.

And 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.

But 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 Shalit.

Evidently, 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.

Israel's 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.

Israel 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.


With IDF Maj. (Res.) Louis Williams


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