A former senior IDF officer who played a role in Israel’s daring 1976 rescue of hostages at Entebbe airport slammed former president Shimon Peres, who passed away last week, as a “crook” and “liar” who inflated his role in the operation.
“I knew him for years as prime minister and as defense minister, and in general,” Amiram Levin, the former head of the IDF Northern Command who gathered intelligence ahead if Operation Entebbe, told Channel 10 television in an interview aired Friday.
Levin, a respected security official who later went on to serve as the deputy head of the Mossad, was interviewed before Peres’s death on September 30, and asked the station not to air the footage. The channel initially held the interview, but later decided to air it over Levin’s objections.
Peres was defense minister during the July 4, 1976 operation, which rescued the hostages taken captive on June 27, 1976 by Palestinian terrorists who hijacked an Air France jet from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was diverted to Uganda, where the hijackers were welcomed by dictator Idi Amin. The prime minister at the time was Peres’s Labour party rival Yitzhak Rabin.
“He was especially a liar and a crook,” Levin said, accusing Peres of using a “large industry” of people dedicated to casting the late statesman in a positive light by building up his achievements.
“The most famous affair is the story everyone is focusing on, his story with Yoni [Netanyahu],” Levin said, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s elder brother Yonatan Netanyahu, who was the sole Israeli soldier killed during the raid at the Ugandan airport.
“He never spoke to Yoni, he never met Yoni,” Levin said. “He accused Rabin of being against the operation and said he himself was for it. He is a crook who had no part whatsoever in the Entebbe raid.”
Levin continued: “As defense minister, he did nothing, but really nothing. The credit at the decision-making level should go to Rabin or Benny Peled, [then-]Air Force commander, and to everyone on the ground, including Yoni. Peres didn’t do anything, he just understood what was at stake and convened a [cabinet] meeting.”
Levin was at the time serving as head of the IDF special ops department, and was by chance picked up by Peres’s car when the latter was traveling to Jerusalem for the cabinet meeting, the former officer recalled.
He said that on the journey, he discussed with Peres a fledgling plan to release the hostages, which involved carrying out a raid on the airport and releasing the remaining hostages, who were all Jewish. The terrorists had released all non-Jewish captives immediately upon landing. The plan at that point was “just ideas, brainstorming,” Levin said.
Due to the circumstances, Levin sat in on the cabinet meeting at Peres’s invitation — an unusual event for a low-ranking officer. He was there “as a fly on the wall,” Levin told the interviewer.
“Rabin, who enjoyed tormenting Peres, asked him what the security forces had prepared,” Levin recalled. He said that Peres quickly responded that then-IDF chief Motta Gur would present the plan.
Gur then winged it, saying that the troops were ready. But according to Levin, Rabin — a decorated general with vast military experience — told Gur and Peres: “You have no plan because you are unprepared. Go draft a plan and if it’s a good one come back to me.”
Levin described Peres as “just a conduit when he was defense minister.”
Asked whom he considered crucial to the operation, Levin singled out Brigadier General Dan Shomron, who led the raid, and Major General Yekutiel Adam, who helped Shomron draft the plan. He also reserved special credit for Peled, whom he called “a real heavyweight.”
Peled was the one who ruled against a small-scale operation with a just few commandos who would infiltrate the airport, kill the terrorists and then bargain with Amin on sending the released captives to Israel. Instead, he opted for a large-scale operation with Hercules aircraft.
“We should not hope for a bargain with Idi Amin because he is a lunatic,” Levin quoted Peled as saying. Rabin agreed with Peled.
Levin himself flew to Paris to meet with some of the passengers released by the terrorists who did not realize they were Jewish, gleaning important intelligence from them on the structure of the airport, the terrorists’ identities and other details crucial to the operation’s success. The raid saw the rescue of 98 hostages. Four hostages were killed during the operation, along with Yonatan Netanyahu.
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