Monday, July 4 was the 40th anniversary of the daring rescue by the Israeli Defense Force of 102 hostages being held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group. In my opinion, considering the extremely low number of injuries and fatalities of hostages and rescuers and the complicated nature of the operation this was one of, if not the, most successful hostage rescue operations. Contrast it with other notable botched rescue attempts, such as the Olympics hostages in 1972 and the FBI at Waco. It is hard to believe that 40 years have passed.
To refresh our memories as well as to edify those who are too young to have lived through it, the situation was as follows:
The raid was a huge success on many levels, although not without casualties. Taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh the task force flew under the radar of potentially hostile countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and arrived undetected. The commandos surprised the hijackers and managed to kill them all. However, unfortunately, three of the hostages were killed in the cross-fire, and Netanyahu, the commander was also killed. The entire operation took only 90 minutes – 30 of which was the assault, itself. In addition to the hijackers, 45 Ugandan soldiers and several Ugandan air force fighters were destroyed on the ground (precluding their being able to pursue the Israelis on their return flight). The Israelis refueled in Nairobi, Kenya on their return flight to Israel.
On July 4 the world awoke to the pleasant and uplifting surprise of the successful raid and rescue. Personally, I remember feeling extremely gratified the Israelis had taken such a bold and decisive action and that the terrorists had “gotten theirs.” I remember many of my friends had felt similarly. We were all sick and tired of governments’ indecisiveness and incompetence in dealing with these terrorist situations.
The world’s post-raid reaction was typical and predictable.
- The Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (whatever that was) condemned the raid as an “act of aggression.”
- UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim (he of the suspected Nazi background in WWII) characterized the raid as “a serious violation of the sovereignty of a Member State of the UN” (blah, blah, blah).
- The Ugandan UN representative claimed that a peaceful, political resolution had been near, implying that the raid was premature and unnecessary. The Israeli representative denied that assertion and denoted that Uganda had been “directly complicit” in the hijacking in the first place.
- The UN Security Council convened to discuss these complaints and others, but Western nations, such as the US, UK, France and West Germany were supportive and blocked any official UN action. Their support was not surprising, but even the Iranians praised the Israelis for their success and extended condolences for the “loss and martyrdom” of Netanyahu.
There have been various books and movies chronicling this raid. I think the best one was the 1977 movie, Raid on Entebbe, starring Peter Finch and Charles Bronson.
The major takeaway from the successful rescue was that Israel would be bullied and intimidated by terrorists. It would be ready and willing to take swift and decisive action to remedy the situation. Don’t ask permission. Act and apologize afterwards (if necessary). Too bad, the rest of the world has not learned that critical lesson, even to this day.