The Israel Rescue mission at Entebbe known as Operation Thunderbolt was a hostage –rescue mission carried out by 103 Commandos from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976. At the end of the operation about 96 hostages were rescued within a timeframe of 90 minutes. The threat by the hijackers to kill the hostages if the demands they made were not met led to the Israel Defense Force to embark on this daring venture.
Build up to the hijack
On June 27, an air France airbus A300 with 248 passengers was hijacked by members of the PFLP and two members of the German Revolutionary Cells. The main purpose was to exchange these hostages with 53 fellow militants, 40 in Israel and 13 in four other countries. The flight which took off from Israel en route to France was diverted after a stopover in Athens by the hijackers to Entebbe in Uganda. They had earlier flown the plane to Benghazi, Libya for refueling before heading for Uganda its planned destination.
Idi Amin as Collaborator
This was with active support from the Ugandan dictator; Idi Amin had prior knowledge of the mission and facilitated its success. They were kept in the transit hall of the disused former airport terminal at Entebbe Airport Uganda. Israel opened a channel of negotiations via Idi Amin who was in cohorts with the hijackers for release of the passengers. After two days on 30 June 148 non-Israeli hostages were released while ninety four Israeli passengers along with the 12- member Air France crew, who voluntarily refused release, remained under hostage with threats of death.
Israel Approves Rescue Mission of Hostages
The hijackers made a demand of US$5 million and the release of fellow militants being held in Israel and other countries and threatened to kill hostages if the demands were not met.
Based on intelligence supplied by Mossad; the Israeli intelligence agency, regarding the layout of the Airport and situation, the IDF began preparations for a military-rescue operation.
Following the Government’s decision to back the plan proposed by the military intelligence, the Israeli Defense force set to plan a rescue mission at Entebbe. This was made possible after the hijackers agreed to an extension of deadline from July 1 to July 4; it gave the Israelis ample time to prepare a military solution if political negotiations failed.
As fate would have it, an Israeli construction company had built the terminal where the hostages were kept and thus gave vital information to the IDF. Also with information gathered from freed hostages the IDF was able to create an accurate picture of the airport layout and terminal where the hostages were kept.
Operation Thunderbolt: The Rescue Mission
After deciding that the use of aircrafts to land at the airport was the most feasible plan, the next problem was refueling the aircrafts before and after the rescue mission. Most of the surrounding nations within the region wished not to incur the wrath of Idi Amin or Palestinians if they rendered any sort of assistance. The Israeli government however secured permission from the Kenyan Government led by Jomo Kenyatta to use its airport which is today called Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
On 3 July four Israeli Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft left for Entebbe carrying over 200 commandos, landing at the airport without being detected from Entebbe air traffic control. Leaving nothing to chance a black Mercedes car, a replica of Idi Amin’s official car and land rovers were brought to use them as a decoy to bypass security checkpoints. The decoy was nonetheless observed by two sentries who noticed the contrast in color to the recent white-color Mercedes car Amin was now using. The sentries who noticed this were shot and killed after they tried to flag them down.
The commandos stormed the terminal shouting through a megaphone in Hebrew and English “Stay down! Stay down We are Israeli soldiers,” At the end of the shootout that ensued, all the hijackers were killed with few Israeli soldiers and hostages sustaining mere injuries.
The other three aircrafts landed with armored personnel carriers to provide defense for refueling. They also destroyed Ugandan MiG fighter planes to prevent them from pursing them.
Evacuation of the Hostages
As they prepared to evacuate they were fired at by Ugandan soldiers, after the brief exchange of firefight five commandos were injured and one killed while the Ugandans lost between 33 and 45 soldiers. The entire operation lasted 53 minutes- of which the assault at the terminal lasted only 30 minutes. Out of the 106 hostages, three were killed, while a 74 year-old woman Dora Bloch was left behind in a Ugandan hospital. She fell ill due to shock from the hostage operation and was taken to the hospital for treatment. She according to investigative commission instituted by the Ugandan Human Rights Commission carried out in 1987 revealed she was shot and killed by Ugandan officers.
Her body was retrieved from where it was dumped after Idi Amin was ousted from power during the Uganda-Tanzania War.
Through out the episode of the Israel Rescue mission at Entebbe, Israeli commandos had just five injured men while the unit commander Lt Col Yonatan Netanyahu was killed. Lt Col Yonatan Netanyahu was the elder brother to Benjamin Netanyahu; present Prime Minister of Israel.
In retaliation Idi Amin ordered the killing of Kenyans living in Uganda for their government’s assistance to the Israelis. About 245 Kenyans were killed while approximately 3000 fled the country.
This Israel rescue mission at Entebbe generated issues in the UN with a complaint by the Organization of African Union (OAU) and the Ugandan Government against Israel. They claimed the operation violated the sovereignty of a member state of the United Nations. Chairman of the Organization of African Union called it an “act of aggression”. Western powers however supported and praised the raid; West Germany called the raid “an act of self-defense” while some called it an “an impossible operation”.
The United Nations Security Council did not reach a resolution on the matter.
Coincidentally, in the United States it was noted that the hostages were freed on 4 July 1976, same day 200 years ago the US signed the declaration of Independence.
In August 2012, Uganda and Israel commemorated the raid at the tower of the Old Entebbe airport where Netanyahu was killed and restated their commitment to “fight terrorism and to work towards humanity
The success of this operation elevated the spirit of the Israelis and it improved the ratings and social standing of the IDF around the globe.
From your perspective would you have ordered the invasion of another territory under the same circumstances the Israelis were faced with if you had the power to do so?
Secondly, don’t you think Idi Amin should have been sanctioned for his role in this shameful and ignoble act as the president of a country?