Hostages saved with Mercedes and Kalishnikovs, 'not Rolexes'

Entebbe rescue squad blasts Netanyahu for ‘sacrificing country for own interests’

Veterans cite leadership of PM’s brother, killed during operation, while calling out premier for ‘divide and rule’ tactics, blast him for comparing demonstrators to Huwara rioters

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Entebbe hostages come home, July 4, 1976. (IDF archives)
Entebbe hostages come home, July 4, 1976. (IDF archives)

The elite commando squad that rescued hostages in Entebbe in 1976 published a letter on Saturday slamming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “sacrificing the State of Israel and the people of Israel for your own interests.”

The premier’s brother Yoni Netanyahu was killed while leading the Sayeret Matkal force in the operation.

“We were privileged to be among the handful of fighters to break into Entebbe, under our cool-headed and brave commander Yoni Netanyahu, who consciously and with open eyes sacrificed himself for the State of Israel and the people of Israel,” the veterans wrote.

“It’s sad, but you, Bibi, are consciously and with open eyes sacrificing the State of Israel and the people of Israel for your own interests,” they charged, using Netanyahu’s nickname in an apparent reference to his ongoing trial, which some say is a factor in the coalition’s full-steam-ahead approach to the overhaul.

The July 4, 1976, operation saw the rescue of 98 hostages taken captive on June 27, 1976, by Palestinian and German terrorists, who hijacked an Air France jet flying from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was diverted to Uganda, where the hijackers were welcomed by dictator Idi Amin.

Four hostages were killed during the operation, along with Yoni Netanyahu.

The veterans also slammed the premier and his allies for their efforts to disparage anti-judicial overhaul protesters as anarchists and terrorists.

“Deliberately, for years, you have been practicing ‘divide and rule,’ separating and pitting us Israelis against each other. The Israeli public that does not support you has become ‘small,’ ‘weak,’ ‘traitors,’ and ‘anarchists.’

“You compared us to those who carried out the pogrom in Huwara, and your son, who has not held a rifle in his life, calls us ‘terrorists,’” they wrote.

Yoni Netanyahu, in a photograph taken shortly before his death at Entebbe in 1976. (GPO, Wikimedia)

The senior Netanyahu walked back his comments on Thursday, saying that he only meant that the rampaging settler riot last week and the blocking of roads in Tel Aviv during protests on Wednesday were both examples of lawbreaking.

Harking back to a fiery speech by Likud MK David Amsalem in which protesters were depicted as privileged people wearing Rolex watches and driving Mercedes, the veterans referenced the use of the high-end German cars in the operation to rescue hostages.

“Yes, [we carried out the rescue] with a Mercedes [to look like Amin’s car]. Four thousand kilometers from home. We did not have Rolexes, we had Kalashnikovs. And no protective vests, because we needed to dress like Ugandan soldiers. But we took the risk upon ourselves because we had a goal — to rescue 105 Jews. Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, secular, and religious — everyone part of our nation and country,” they wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns rival Naftali Bennett’s newly declared bid to build a unity government with Yair Lapid that would end his 12 years as prime minister, May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP)

The veterans compared the success of various elements of the security establishment to the unity seen among diverse elements of society in the protests: “Like today, everyone is together in the demonstrations.”

“You called us ‘conditional Zionists.’ You, whose father, left Israel in 1939 and returned only in 1949 when the Independence War ended. And then a second time left the country in 1962 and returned after his son fell [in Entebbe]. Together with our brothers-in-arms and many more wonderful Israelis, we will continue to protest and struggle for the Israel of the Declaration of Independence and against dictatorship,” they wrote.

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against plans by the government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 4, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

For the ninth straight week on Saturday night, hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrated nationwide against the government’s proposals to curtail the country’s judiciary, which are being sped through the Knesset.

Critics say the proposed overhaul will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist High Court.

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