Entebbe: Another reason to celebrate July 4

On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139, in route from Tel Aviv to Paris, had a layover in Athens.  There four terrorists, two from a German group and two from the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, hijacked the plane.  After a stop in Benghazi, Libya, the flight continued to the airport in Entebbe, Uganda.

One hundred forty-eight non-Israeli and non-Jewish passengers were separated in a process hauntingly familiar to the hostages and were released in two separate groups.  Ninety-four passengers and the 12 crew members remained.  The four hijackers were joined by three more, and demands were made for the release of 40 terrorists from Israeli prisons and 13 from other incarceration.

Israel's policy of non-negotiation with terrorists was well known, but understandably, the families of the Israeli hostages begged for Israel's leaders to comply with the hijackers' demands.

On July 3, four C-130 Hercules jumbo planes left Israel with 190 elite troops plus 20 non-combatants to execute the most daring rescue operation in modern history.  In six amazingly short days from the hijacking, the Israeli Defense Force assembled a crack team, collected intelligence from the released hostages and the Israeli construction firm that built the airport, quickly devised a complex plan, repeatedly rehearsed the rescue to precision, and argued the risks and mechanics of the rescue.  Israeli officials entered into negotiations with the terrorists to buy much needed time.

The first C-130 landed at 1:00 AM at the Entebbe airport.  Imitating Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who had visited the hostages, a black Mercedes with soldiers in blackface rolled out of the plane and toward the terminal with the hostages.  As they pulled up to the terminal, the soldiers burst in, yelling in Hebrew and English for the hostages to remain on the ground.  They quickly found and killed all of the hijackers and within six minutes were escorting the hostages out of the terminal to the additional planes that had just landed, precisely as planned.

Three hostages were killed in the crossfire: Jean Jacques Maimoni (19), Pasco Cohn (55), and Ida Borochovitch (56).  A fourth, Dora Bloch (75), had been taken to a hospital and was killed by Ugandan soldiers after the raid.  Ten hostages were wounded.

Soldiers from the additional planes engaged Ugandan soldiers, killing over thirty, and destroyed eleven Mig jets on the ground.  Five soldiers were wounded, and only one was killed by a sniper in the terminal tower: Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, brother of Israel's current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The planes took off with the soldiers and hostages 58 minutes after arrival.  In spite of the wounded and the losses, the rescue force was prepared for much worse, and the operation was considered a remarkable success.

They had arranged to land in Nairobi, Kenya for refueling.  Idi Amin took revenge on the Kenyans for assisting the Israelis, killing hundreds of Kenyans in Uganda and assassinating Kenyan agricultural minister Bruce McKenzie for his role by placing a bomb on his plane in 1978.  A forest is planted in McKenzie's name in Israel.

All four Hercules aircraft landed at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport with the survivors on the morning of July 4, 1976, the two-hundred-year anniversary of our momentous declaration.

The raid on Entebbe was bold, precise, professional, and lucky.  Any number of details could have gone wrong, with disastrous results.  This moment of audacious heroism reflected the resolve of a people who refuse to compromise their right to exist.  Entebbe served as an example that evil can be and must be confronted and defeated.

Happy Fourth of July.  

Henry Oliner blogs at www.rebelyid.com.