Operation Entebbe

The rescue of the hostages of Air France Flight 139.

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The Rescue

On that date, four Israeli transport planes and a Boeing 707 set out at 3:00 in the afternoon from Sharm el-Sheikh, in the Sinai. The planes flew along the coast to avoid being detected. The flight lasted seven hours, and they arrived in Entebbe after dark.

The first transport plane to land carried out the riskiest part of the operation. It coordinated its landing at the Entebbe airport to be at the exact same time as a scheduled British transport plane, in order to avoid showing up on the airport's radar. Upon landing, also to avoid detection, the Israeli tactical unit left the plane in two Land Rovers and a Mercedes, the very same entourage that was used by Idi Amin.

When the team arrived safely at the building holding the hostages, they surprised the PFLP members and were able to kill all the terrorists with little resistance. Three hostages were killed in the crossfire, and a fourth victim, being held at a Ugandan hospital, was later killed by Ugandan soldiers.

In the meantime, the other three transport planes landed, carrying more tactical unit members. All four transport planes were able to coordinate themselves through radio command in the hovering Boeing plane. The extra Israeli units were able to take out the Ugandan soldiers who were guarding the airport, and ensure safe exit for the hostages. From the time the first plane landed to the time the last plane left, with all the hostages on it, less than two hours had passed.

The World Reacts

The world reaction to the operation was mixed. Idi Amin tried to get the UN Security Council to condemn the operation, claiming that Israel had intruded into Uganda's sovereignty. The request was eventually rejected, but only after UN Chief Kurt Waldheim called Israel's action "a serious violation of the national sovereignty of a United Nations member state."

The only Israeli military officer to die in the attack was Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan  (Yoni) Netanyahu, the brother of future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yoni, the leading commander in the operation, was shot in the chest in the gun battle to take over the building holding the hostages.

Netanyahu's death entered him into Israeli folklore as a military hero. In the movie Victory at Entebbe, released only six months after the operation itself, Netanyahu, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, was the title character.

In his personal diary, Shimon Peres described his reaction when he heard about Yoni's death: "At four in the morning, Motta Gur (then IDF Chief of Staff) came into my office, and I could tell he was very upset. 'Shimon, Yoni's gone. A bullet hit him in the heart.' This is the first time this whole crazy week that I cannot hold back the tears."

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Jeremy Moses

Jeremy Moses is the Editorial Fellow at MyJewishLearning.com. He has a BA in American History and Modern Jewish Studies from McGill University. He served as the advisor for United Synagogue Youth in Montreal. He spent two summers working as a Unit Head at Camp Ramah in Canada.