How Entebbe Raid Changed Israel
Freed hostages arrive back in Israel after the daring raid
Forty years ago, Israel amazed the world with the daring Entebbe Raid. On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv, with 248 passengers on board, was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two German terrorists. The hijackers demanded the release of Palestinians prisoners held by Israel and of terrorists imprisoned in Europe. After stopovers in Athens and Benghazi, the plane landed in Entebbe, where the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, welcomed the hijackers warmly. The Israelis and non-Israeli Jews were separated from the others and held in an old terminal knowing they could die at any time.
Israel had its own plan. On July 3, at 11pm, four Israeli C-130 Hercules transport aircraft landed in Entebbe Airport and fighters from the elite units stormed the terminal and freed the hostages. Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, commander of the elite unit (Sayeret Matkal) was killed in action, and sometimes the raid is named after him, Operation Jonathan, rather than the original Operation Thunderbolt.
Entebbe gave rise to many myths. Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister at the time, was hailed as the father of this success, although he had been sceptical about it and even prepared a letter of resignation in case it failed. It was actually Shimon Peres, then Defence Minister, who pushed fervently for the operation. The mission commander was not Netanyahu, but rather Gen. Dan Shomron, later to become the Chief-of-Staff of the IDF. Netanyahu’s performance in the operation was controversial, and became a source of bitter feud between the Netanyahu family and Colonel Muky Betser, Netanyahu’s deputy, with each side fighting ruthlessly for the lion’s share of public memory, as if there was not enough glory to go round.
For Benjamin Netanyahu, the Entebbe raid was a momentous event. Apart from the obvious personal grief, the loss of his elder brother contributed to his positioning as a potential future leader of Israel. Not only did he know first-hand the consequences of government decision-making, but when he started establishing himself as a world expert on terror, the aura of his brother, the dead hero of Entebbe, contributed to his success.
The fact that there were two Germans among the hijackers and the selection they carried out between Israeli and Jewish passengers and the others, sparked memories from the dark days of the Holocaust. Indeed, Brigitte Kuhlmann, one of the German hijackers, abused the hostages with antisemitic slurs, but her partner, Wilfried Böse, seemed to be different. When one of the Israeli hostages, Yitzhak David, showed him the number tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz and said he had believed that there was a new Germany, Böse answered that he wasn’t a Nazi, he was just trying to help the Palestinians.
lt was as if there was not enough glory to go round
Another Holocaust survivor, Harry Klausner had a pivotal role to play. He was born in the German city of Wuppertal in 1936. During the Kristalnacht Pogrom of 1938 his home was looted and so were the stores of his wealthy father, who was also arrested. When his father was released, he left for Palestine and little Harry, his mother and his sister moved to the Netherlands, planning to follow him. In 1942 they were ordered to report to Westerbork transit camp, where Dutch Jews were assembled before being transported to the east. Instead, the three hid in the attic of a Dutch family’s farm. The single, small window was young Harry’s only contact with the outside world. Once he saw Allied bombers flying by, and later a British pilot who had bailed out was brought to the farm by the Dutch Underground. “One day,” vowed Klausner, “I will be a pilot like him.”
And he was indeed. In 1956, Klausner, now Lt. Arie Oz, stood proudly in an Israeli Air Force base and received his pilot wings. Later he became a squadron leader and in July 1976, he was the captain of one of the four C-130 aircraft that participated in the Entebbe raid.
Commemorating Operation Thunderbolt, even after forty years, still invokes in us deep feelings. The daring operation sent a clear message that unlike the days of the Holocaust, Jews were not helpless, because now they had a state of their own, which could save them.
The daring raid also won Israel and the IDF huge respect globally, both for not yielding to terrorist extortion and for the impressive execution of the operation.
In the forty years that have passed since, Israel and the IDF have travelled through many paths, some more favourable than others. Still, the Entebbe Raid is a shining example of Israel at its best. There is no harm in such reminders, once in a while.
Netanyahu Speaks at Site of Historic Entebbe Hostage Rescue for 40th Anniversary Event
‘The campaign against terrorism continues to this very day,’ prime minister says at the start of a five nation African tour.
Attending a memorial marking 40 years since Israel’s legendary hostage rescue in Entebbe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he was “excited” to visit a site “that has brought endless pride to our fighters, the IDF and our people.”
Attending a memorial marking 40 years since Israel’s legendary hostage rescue in Entebbe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said e was “exited” to visit a site “that has brought endless pride to our fighters, the IDF and our people.”
“The airplane hijacking touched an open nerve of the Israeli people, how 31 years after the Holocaust Jews were once again undergoing selection by those who sought our demise,” Netanyahu said, referring to how the hijackers had divided up the passengers, separating Israelis and other Jews from the others at the terminal.
“The campaign against terrorism continues to this very day. Grief continues to cruelly engulf many families in Israel even today,” Netanyahu said.
Referring to the personal price his own family paid, with his brother Yoni, a special commando officer, killed in the raid, Netanyahu said for “families of the hostages whose loved ones were killed, the price was terrible, the same for my family, and for me, as well.”
“When Yoni was killed our world was destroyed. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what would have happened ‘if.'”
In Uganda, Netanyahu meets with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Netanyahu also visits Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia on his five-day trip, and returns to Israel after 5 days visit.
En route to Uganda, Netanyahu posted a video to his Facebook page, praising the importance of his “historic visit” to Africa. “All of Africa is excited and I am also excited,” he said.
The prime minister said that leaders of seven African nations will attend a summit with him and Israeli business leaders. “They are coming especially to open Africa up to Israel,” Netanyahu said in the video.
The IDF delegation at Entebbe is headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and includes representatives of units that took part in the 1976 rescue. Some of the soldiers involved in the raid were also there, in addition to relatives of commanders who have since passed away.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was careful to invite a range of those who participated in the operation, including a number of officers who later became political rivals of Netanyahu.
Eisenkot has said told the army that part of what made the operation special was the quality of those who participated in it, including three soldiers who later became IDF chiefs of staff: Dan Shomron, Shaul Mofaz and Gabi Ashkenazi; seven other participants became major generals.
The IDF has reverted to using the mission’s original name, Operation Thunderbolt. It was later renamed Operation Yonatan, after Yoni Netanyahu – the prime minister’s brother – who commanded the operation at Entebbe but died during the raid.
After the event, Netanyahu and his civilian delegation are scheduled to travel to the nearby presidential palace.
In Uganda, Netanyahu met with the presidents of Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Zambia, as well as the prime minister of Ethiopia and foreign minister of Tanzania.
Netanyahu spent the first two nights in Nairobi, and the next two in Addis Ababa. After that, he is set to visit the mausoleum of the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, where he will be accompanied by Uhuru Kenyatta, Jomo’s son and the current Kenyan president.
Netanyahu will also met Kenyan students who are set to study in Israel, and lso meet local evangelical Christians who are supporters of Israel.
Netanyahu also met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the Rwandan Kigali, and visit a memorial site for the victims of the Rwandan genocide. He also met the prime minister of Ethiopia, and gave a speech in parliament
Some 80 Israeli businessmen are accompanied Netanyahu on the trip, in order to “create business connections with African countries and companies. They held business seminars in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The Israeli government approved a 50-million-shekel ($13 million) plan recently for strengthening economic links and cooperation with African nations.
The PMO went out of its way to describe the visit as “historic,” but Netanyahu’s absence from Israel for five days has a political aspect, too.
The cabinet was originally supposed to approve Yisrael Katz – the transportation, and intelligence and atomic energy minister – as acting prime minister during Netanyahu’s absence. However, after Katz mentioned the fact in an article that appeared in Haaretz over the weekend, the idea was dropped and Katz’s Likud rival, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, will serve as acting prime minister instead.