Entebbe: Thirty Years Later
By Larry Domnitch
It was a day of triumph of good over evil. It was a day when the lives of the innocent were saved. It was a day when the terrorists were routed and their schemes thwarted. It was a day when the regime of Idi Amin Dada which gave full support to the terrorists suffered a crippling blow. It was a day of pride for the people of Israel and all who value freedom.
It began as a day of heightened anxiety for the world, and one of extreme danger for the hostages held in the terminal of the Entebbe airport. It was 11:30 pm Saturday night. The seventh night for the over 100 Israelis and the twelve member Air France crew who were in captivity since PFLP (Popular Front Liberation Palestine) terrorists and two west German supporters hijacked an Air France jet while on the ground in Athens, bound from Tel Aviv to Paris. The final deadline to meet the terrorists' demands and release forty terrorists held in Israel and thirteen in West Germany, Switzerland, France, and Kenya, was steadily approaching. Due to negotiations, the approaching July 1 deadline was delayed for three days. On July 1, those hostages who were not Israeli or Jewish were released by the terrorists. The Air France crew chose to remain with their passengers. On July 3, French diplomats negotiating stated that there was no hope for an agreement. The news naturally came to no surprise to Israel which was already preparing a rescue operation.
Releasing the terrorists would be a victory to those who hijacked planes and threatened the innocent in Israel and around the world. Not meeting the terrorists' demands could result in the murder of the hostages. Would the terrorists win? Would the hostages die? The situation was grim. The world anxiously waited.
That night, the weary hostages were sound asleep except for a group of five playing bridge. Within the building were also the PFLP terrorists and their two German cohorts. There were also Ugandan soldiers guarding the building.
Little did they all know that three Hercules personal transports with Israel's elite 'Sayeret Matkal' commandos along with medical teams had just landed. They were just a few hundred yards away. The commandos suddenly burst in and shouted in Hebrew and French, "On the floor." For the next 45 seconds, the terrified hostages heard bursts of gunfire. A minute later, the gunfire had ended. They were quickly escorted on board the Hercules transports which headed home to Israel via a brief refueling in Nairobi Kenya. The entire raid lasted fifty-three minutes.
The operation was so daring, the Israeli cabinet repeatedly deliberated, and only decided to proceed at the last minute, within hours of the deadline
The seven hijackers and approximately twenty Ugandan troops died. Three hostages also died during the gunfire exchange. Israeli Commando Surin Hershko was paralyzed when he was shot while on a diversionary tactic. One passenger Dora Bloch, a British citizen who was hospitalized for stomach pains was murdered by Ugandan soldiers. The rescue operation, originally named Operation thunderbolt, was renamed operation Yonatan in honor of the operation's commander Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu 30, who was killed by a Ugandan sentry from the control tower. Yonatan's father, Ben Zion had subsequently said about Yonatan, that he "thought his contributions as an expert soldier to the defense of his people could be of some value, and felt committed to give it." At the age of seventeen Yonatan wrote, "If it is necessary for me to lay down my life in attainment of an important goal, I will do so willingly."
On that day, one of Israel's greatest soldiers ever had fallen.
The same day Americans were celebrating their bi-centennial, and the principles of freedom for which the United States stands, forces that threaten freedom were routed by courage and daring. Many world leaders praised the rescue; in the UN General Assembly, some condemned and criticized. All words aside, heroic actions spoke on that triumphant day.
Thirty years later, as the threat of terrorism looms large, Entebbe stands as a model of victory and of how victory is achieved.
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine