39 years after Entebbe, IDF releases operation log
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39 years after Entebbe, IDF releases operation log

Handwritten updates show exact time at which army headquarters learned that commander Yoni Netanyahu had been wounded

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin greet the freed hostages on July 4, 1976 (courtesy of IDF Archive)
Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin greet the freed hostages on July 4, 1976 (courtesy of IDF Archive)

The Israeli army archive released the hand-written operations log of the dramatic 1976 hostage rescue in Entebbe on Thursday, including the 1:55 a.m. note that the commander of the mission, Yoni Netanyahu, had been wounded.

“From the radio [communications] it’s become clear that there’s another wounded, name of Yoni (apparently the familiar one),” the soldier wrote in real time.

Netanyahu, the older brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was wounded on the tarmac on July 4, 1976 while leading troops into the terminal and died shortly thereafter.

An additional soldier was wounded and paralyzed and three Israeli hostages were killed during the initial exchange of fire. An elderly woman, Dora Bloch, had been evacuated to hospital earlier and was killed in revenge after the Israeli forces left Uganda.

The homecoming of the hostages on July 4, 1976 (Courtesy IDF Archive)
The homecoming of the hostages on July 4, 1976 (Courtesy IDF Archive)

Nonetheless, Israeli troops managed to liberate 101 people, held hostage by Palestinian and German terrorists, some 3,800 kilometers from Israel – an unprecedented feat that became a cornerstone of the Zionist ethos, particularly after it became known that the German terrorists, from the Baader-Meinhof gang, helped separate the Jews from the non-Jews.

“This operation will certainly be inscribed in the annals of military history, in legend and in national tradition,” prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said in the Knesset later that day.

The decision to send Israeli troops into Uganda had been an agonizing one, with defense minister Shimon Peres pushing for a military option and Rabin, the old general, cognizant of the fact that suggesting daring military plans and authorizing them were two entirely different matters.

Rabin, center, with Peres, directly to Rabin's right, speaking with what looks like one of the Air France crew members, who bravely stuck with the Israeli hostages (Courtesy IDF Archive)
Rabin, center, with Peres, directly to Rabin’s right, speaking with what looks like one of the Air France crew members, who bravely stuck with the Israeli hostages (Courtesy IDF Archive)

On July 2 Peres wrote to Rabin that “the final twist” in the plan was that the most forward squad would leave the plane in a flag-bedecked Mercedes, masquerading as the Ugandan strongman Idi Amin, who was due back from Mauritius. “I don’t know if it’s possible, but interesting,” Peres wrote in the note, published by the IDF Archive.

Rabin responded: “1. When is Idi Amin due back from Mauritius? 2. Why a Mercedes?”

He signed the note, “Yitzhak.”

The following day, according to the archival information, Peres wrote to Rabin: “How does an operation start? 1. They say it’s impossible 2. The timing is wrong 3. The government won’t authorize it. The only question I’ve seen, and still see, is ‘how will it end.'”

An Israeli crowd celebrating the successful mission, with what looks like future prime minister Menachem Begin (Courtesy IDF Archive)
An Israeli crowd celebrating the successful mission, with what looks like future prime minister Menachem Begin (Courtesy IDF Archive)

At 2:30 in the afternoon on July 3, Rabin told the security cabinet, for the first time since the hostage situation developed on June 27, that he was in favor of the military option. “Not out of an idealization, far from that, but with knowledge toward what we are heading, toward wounded, toward dead… nonetheless, I recommend that the government to authorize this,” he said, according to Michael Bar-Zohar’s account in “Peres: A Political Biography” (Hebrew).

Peres, later that evening, with the planes airborne, wrote, “The planes are on their way and with them the fate of Israel.”

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