Yoni Netanyahu’s heroism was related to his emotional distress, researchers say

Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother, a special forces commander killed in Entebbe, defined himself as a savior in letters, also expressed his loneliness and inner turmoil

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

The late Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, a commander in the Israel Defense Force’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit who was the older brother of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suffered from anxiety, loneliness, and severe mental distress, according to new research.

The elder Netanyahu was killed 45 years ago during the famous Operation Entebbe to rescue Israeli hostages kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists to Uganda.

Golan Shahar, Raz Bauminger and Shai Itamar, psychology researchers at Beersheba’s Ben Gurion University, have been studying heroism and its connection to an individual’s mental distress.

Applying their theory to Netanyahu, the trio said they believed there was a close connection between the heroism of the former prime minister’s brother, his noble and altruistic character, and his psychological difficulties.

Yoni commanded the special forces spearheading the renowned operation in Entebbe, during which Israeli commandos rescued over 100 hostages.

Netanyahu was the only military fatality in the operation, which has been dubbed by some as Operation Yonatan, after the fallen officer.

Following Netanyahu’s death, a number of his personal letters were made public, which allowed the researchers a glimpse into his inner life.

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

They found that Netanyahu’s “powerful, heroic self-representations” also caused him distress, according to his personal letters.

The researchers stated that Netanyahu’s emotional distress was masked by his “superb functioning,” and found that he had a tendency to see himself as a savior and conqueror.

“Yoni expresses his reflections on belongingness and loneliness, self-fulfillment and estrangement, and love of family, friends, women and country,” the researchers wrote.

“Alongside Yoni’s heroism, decorum, and outstanding personality, there are also very clear indications that he dealt with inner turmoil throughout his life,” they added.

The study stated that no clear characteristics of clinically defined depression were found.

The full study can be read here.

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