July 4th, 1976, there occurred a raid in Entebbe, Uganda by Israeli’s elite Defense force commandos. The raid was led by the late (Yoni) Jonathan Netanyahu brother to current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A week earlier, on June 27th, 1976, an Air France plane took off from Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel headed to Paris with a stopover in Athens. Onboard the airplane were 228 passengers of different nationalities including Israeli and French. Israelites comprised the majority. Security at Lod airport was top-notch and everything went as planned without a breach. However, in Athens, there was a slight laxity in the security protocols. Four hijackers found their way into the Paris-bound plane, carrying huge black bags containing guns and hand grenades. The hijackers took over the plane and compelled the pilot to divert to Entebbe Airport, on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda. The hijackers were comprised of two German left-wing terrorists, a man and a woman with linkages to the Baader-Meinhof gang. Together with them were two other members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were vehemently opposed to the leadership in Israel at the time. It was a get-back mission to the Government of Israel.
Uganda at the time was under the leadership of IdiAmin Dada Oumee, popularly known as the Butcher of Uganda. He is considered one of the cruelest despots in the history of the world. The decision by the hijackers in Athens to redirect the plane to Entebbe was no mere coincidence as Idi Amin was cognizant of the ordeal. Amin and the hijackers shared camaraderie of cruelty, human rights abuses, and swindling natures.
Amin himself kept visiting Entebbe, making speeches to the hostages with basically two themes:
“We must hope that your home governments are sensible about your predicament and will accede to the hijackers’ demands; and we want to make sure that you, though hostages, are as comfortable as possible in a concrete airport building.” Mattresses and food were provided by local tourist hotels.
The agreement between him and the hijackers was that he was to get a lump sum cut from the 5 million dollars (an equivalent of $20 million today) ransom they were to obtain from the government of Israel.
The hijacked plane landed in Entebbe. Uganda’s military offered full protection to the plane and the hostages thereof on the direct orders of the commander in chief of the defense forces, Idi Amin. A phone call was made to Israel demanding ransom. The urgency of the matter was accentuated. A spanner was thrown into the works. 48 hours was the defined timeline by the terrorists.
The conversation ensued.
Shimon Peres (Minister of Defense, Israel): Do we give in to the hijackers’ demand for ransom in exchange for our hostages?
Yitzhak Rabin (Prime Minister, Israel): Of course not! Never have we ever negotiated with terrorists, Peres. These are people with a history of Jewish blood on their hands. These are notorious culprits of previous attacks.
Shimon Peres (Minister of Defense, Israel): You are right sir. I suggest we initiate a rapid and daring operation that will bring back the hostages and capture the terrorists dead or alive.
Yitzhak Rabin (Minister, Prime Israel): What are the odds of a win-win for Israel, Peres? We could be in for a disastrous failure.
Shimon Peres (Minister of Defense, Israel): Sir, we will have Yoni Netanyahu spearhead the operation. You well know his ability. You know the ability of Israel’s military rescue team. Sir, give your team a chance to prove themselves. Let this go down in history as the most successful audacious hostage rescue mission.
Yitzhak Rabin (Minister, Prime Israel): Very well, Peres. It is a go for Operation Thunderbolt. Rescue the hostages and bring to book the terrorists.
Shimon Peres (Minister of Defense, Israel): Sir! Yes Sir!
Operation Thunderbolt was planned with such military expertise and precision that there was zero room for error or fatalities or failure. Part of the plan involved Kenya’s founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
One morning, President Kenyatta received a phone call from Idi Amin.
‘President Kenyatta, I have deeply reflected and thought of the existing boundary between Kenya and Uganda. I am not pleased with the size of my country. I am persuaded that the borders of my country should begin in Naivasha, Kenya. I am not requesting that you grant me the rights to the border. I am informing you that in the next two or three days, I’ll begin the process of remarking the boundary.’
President Kenyatta flipped his jewel-handled fly whisk gently and summoned the head of the military.
‘Idi Amin wants to grab part of Kenya’s land to be his. Deploy the best of the best to Uganda and demonstrate to him non-verbally that one does not play with a country such as Kenya’
Kenya’s military invaded Uganda heavily. The thrashing and domination that took place were sufficient enough that to date, Naivasha is within the confines of Kenya.
With this backdrop of enmity between Idi Amin and Kenyatta, Israel took advantage of the situation and requested President Kenyatta to provide for landing ground and fueling bays for the planes to be used by Israel in the operation. He gladly obliged.
Part of Operation Thunderbolt was also the camouflaging of Idi Amin’s black Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman.
The operation began with the landing of a military plane at Entebbe airport. The rear ramp was opened and the identical version of Idi Amin’s black Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman drove down. Its tinted windows were rolled up. In it, was 5 Israeli’s tact team that was to commence the rescue mission. Uganda’s military, on seeing that it was Idi Amin’s car, put their guard down and saluted to their commander-in-chief. Little did they know that hell was about to be let loose. The vehicle drove slowly to where the first army officer stood. The car windows rolled down simultaneously and fire was opened. Not less than 30 military men lay down in a pool of their blood. From the plane, in which the camouflaged vehicle came from, emerged several other Israeli military vehicles and war broke in Uganda. Not a single military officer in the plain field guarding the plane with hostages lived to see another day.
Yoni Netanyahu the tactical leader, led another team into the closed door to the hanger. Bursting open the entrance, he was unfortunately met with two chest bullets that instantly killed him. No sooner had that happened than the team behind him invaded the hanger and killed every one of the remaining men. The loss of Yoni Netanyahu breached the zero room for fatalities laid down in Israel at the time of planning but it was an unprecedented occurrence. Coordinated efforts ensured that every hostage was safely transferred into Israel’s military plane and it took off. The terrorists were gunned down to the last one of them.
Just as the plane with rescued hostages was in the air, the rescue tact team got to know that there was one old grandmother who had been transferred to hospital before the rescue mission due to a complication she had. It was one regrettable moment. Idi Amin, after getting wind of what had happened, ordered that the old woman be killed as a retaliatory measure to Israel.
In total, Israelis lost at most three people but managed to rescue the whole lot of 227 hostages. The world not only applauded Israel but also respected him (Israel will typically be referred to as ‘he’).