Written by Jim Fletcher Monday, 04 July 2011 03:59
Benzion Netanyahu’s new book, The Founding Fathers of Zionism, will be available soon from Balfour Books—www.balfourstore.com)
I went to bed on the night of July 3, 1976 eager with anticipation. Like all Americans, for me the Bicentennial celebration was special; 200 years! All year we had anticipated it.
My father was a real patriot and loved the country. He also loved the Bible.
So it was that when I woke up on the morning of the 4th, a Sunday, I knew something unusual had happened. I could hear my parents talking and it wasn’t about America’s wonderful holiday and anniversary. We didn’t discuss it the rest of the day.
I heard Dad talking about something that had happened a long ways away. I heard him say, “The Israelis did it!”
I would go on of course to understand that he was talking about the daring hostage rescue at Entebbe, an obscure African town and airport inUganda. With the Bicentennial coming up, I was only vaguely aware that an Air France jetliner had been hijacked. As the kidnappers—the PLO and a couple German terrorists—made the unusual move of flying far away from Europe or Israel (where hijackings had taken place before), the world watched in fear.
This had all happened on the 27th of June. Chillingly, the kidnappers/terrorists separated the Jewish passengers from everyone else and let the gentiles go free. They kept 105 people at Entebbe, demanding that dozens of other terrorists be freed from prison.
No one had ever dealt with a hostage situation like this before. Oddly enough, Israel’s successful 1972 rescue of hijacked passengers near Tel Aviv probably gave the ’76 thugs the idea to move far away from any danger to themselves.
Israel’s public declaration never to negotiate with terrorists was under pressure now. Since they couldn’t personally intervene, and the international community had no intention of doing so, over 100 people were in grave danger.
Finally, Israel’s cabinet, led by Prime Minister Yitschak Rabin, agreed to negotiate. The terrorists extended the deadline to the morning of July 4.
The latter decision sealed their doom.
Publicly negotiating, the Israelis now began to formulate a plan to rescue the hostages. Incredible as it seems—2,500 miles from Israel—an elite team of planners and commandos were racing the clock.
It was decided to send four C-130 cargo planes, the country’s entire fleet, to Entebbe. One would serve as a mobile hospital, to treat the wounded;Israel’s cabinet calculated they would sustain 20 percent casualties in a best-case scenario. That meant that at least 40 of the IDF’s most elite soldiers would be wounded or killed.
At 4 p.m. on the 3rd, the planes took off after a refueling stop at the southern tip of the Sinai. The rescue team was en-route before the cabinet gave the final okay, the green-light.
They flew just off the surface of the Red Sea, to escape Saudi and Egyptian radar. They flew with no fighter escort—exposed. The mission was so secret, they couldn’t risk drawing more attention to themselves and for a time, the planes flew separate paths.
At five minutes to midnight, the planes were circling high over Entebbe. The hope was that the ground crews and tower would think these were commercial flights.
That’s exactly how it went.
Descending in the darkness, the lead plane held the members of Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s counter-terrorism unit. Commanding the 30 men was Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, eldest son of the pre-state Zionist leader, Benzion Netanyahu. At the time, all three sons in the Netanyahu family served in Sayeret Matkal; besides “Yoni,” Benjamin and Iddo also took part in operations, although for Entebbe, the latter two were on standby. The danger was so immense, no one was going to send brothers into the heart of Africa.
(By the way, I urge you to get two books: Entebbe, by Iddo Netanyahu, and The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, edited by his brothers. Not only will you not be disappointed, you will be inspired on a soul-touching level by the courage of the commander of Entebbe.)
As the lead plane touched down exactly at midnight, the door dropped and vehicles began making their way to the terminal; the plane taxied in the opposite direction. This kind of seamless coordination, a hallmark of the entire operation that night, makes for scintillating reading now, 35 years on.
The Israelis had decided to pose as Idi Amin’s “presidential guard,” and fool the ground crews into thinking this was another visit by the Ugandan strongman and dictator, who had been helping the terrorists.
Netanyahu’s car was a Mercedes, just like Amin’s except for one detail. The car they borrowed at the base was white, so the Israelis spray-painted the car black and affixed cardboard “Ugandan” license plates. The paint was still drying at Entebbe.
The ruse worked perfectly, literally.
Many readers of Israel Watch know that I’ve spent time with some of theEntebbe commandos. The lead commando told me once that the terrorists didn’t know what was happening until he was in the doorway! (As you read Entebbe, it will dawn on you that an operation this daring and this successful had to have some “help.” Many of us know Who that help was.)
The entire firefight lasted only seconds. At the end of it, all the terrorists had been eliminated and the hostages were secure. It took only 90 minutes to land, execute the plan to perfection, and get back in the air with 100 dazed hostages. Be sure and get a copy of Entebbe to read all the mind-boggling detail of “Operation Jonathan.”
Operation Jonathan. How poignant.
The calculated 20 percent casualties, in the end, amounted to only one dead Israeli. Yet “one dead” amounted to searing pain for Israel. Jonathan Netanyahu had been shot as the team made its way into the building. He had ordered his men not to stop for fallen comrades until the hostages were rescued. He died on the tarmac.
As a boy of 13, I understood little of the events that day. I only knew my father was in a state of exultation. The Israelis had done the unthinkable and the cowardly international community’s collective mind was blown.
Entebbe remains, at least for me, the most incredible operation of its kind. I have a suspicion that with each victory, Israel is more hated by her enemies. It was after the Six Day War and Entebbe that the political tide began to turn against the tiny Jewish state, such a monumental miracle in our world today.
My own father would have been amazed last month (he has been gone many years) when I took my son, Jonathan, to visit Benzion Netanyahu in his Jerusalem home. This great man, now 101, is a living proof of God’s majesty and grace. The return of the Jews in our lifetime, and their stunning victory after stunning victory, is the handiwork of One who is now extremely active in human history.
In the story of Entebbe, which I will remember on Monday with a fondness I can’t fully describe, we see the hand of God.
Israel and her friends are in a state of war with enemies so malevolent, it will take a miracle to win. A posting on Emergent leader Brian McLaren’s blog this week makes it clear that the viciousness of Israel’s enemies is breathtaking and ruthless. If McLaren and his friends could ever understand the true nature of modern Israel…well, I don’t know how to finish the sentence.
I only know that my aged friend in Jerusalem, whose son made the ultimate sacrifice for innocent lives, is still with us, and still strong.
As are his people.
Originally published in Rapture Ready, Israel Watch. July 4, 2011