In a sequel to Friday’s blog “Remembering Three Giants…”, tonight marks the anniversary of the death of Lt. Col. Yoni (Jonathan) Netanyahu z”l, another Giant whose heroism in the rescue of the hostages in Entebbe will rank as one of the greatest military rescue operations of all times.
In the book The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, the famed author Herman Wouk writes a forward that describes the background for the Entebbe operations:
“Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Force, led the storming party that in July 1976 rescued from Entebbe Airport in Uganda a hundred and three Jewish hostages, threatened by pro-Palestinian terrorists with execution. The exploit stunned the world. Its fame does not dim. In the continuing struggle of civilized men against the mounting global crime of terrorism, Entebbe shines, a beacon in dense gloom. Jonathan Netanyahu was shot to death by a Ugandan soldier, when the rescue had been virtually accomplished and the withdrawal of the hostages was about to begin; for the government of Uganda was conniving with criminals. He was the only member of the rescue force to die. This was in the high tradition of the Israeli army. The motto of their officers is, “After me.”
By every account, Yoni engineered the planning of the rescue and was involved in every detail of its complex mission. Despite the fact that he had only days to plan the operation, his confidence inspired the troops under his command that the impossible was possible:
In the book Yoni’s Last Battle, The Rescue at Entebbe, 1976, Yoni is quoted as making brief remarks which touched the heart of the soldiers under his command by stating that “it was crucial not to compromise with the terrorists. Israel, and the IDF had an obligation not to give in to blackmail in such situations, even if that now meant that they had to go far from the country’s borders to fight back. This was a mission of the first importance. Everything was up to them; the entire nation was depending on them.
What is remarkable about the about the life of Yoni Netanyahu z”l to me is that he personified those whose passion for defending Eretz Yisrael meant that he sacrificed his own life literally. Even the letters that comprise the book reflect almost a melancholy and that the weight of the country’s survival was on his shoulders.
On a personal note, last summer I had a burning desire to visit the grave of Yoni Netanyahu as a way of expressing my gratitude to him for his courage and sacrifice. While I was visiting the grave, a group of teenagers from an Israeli high school came as part of a “tour” to visit the gravesite. And clearly they were born after Yoni’s death; but I felt comforted knowing that they could visit this hero and learn about his contributions to the State and hopefully be inspired to emulate the values exhibited by Yoni.
Coming full circle back to the other giants who were the subject of my prior blog, the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l made passionate remarks on the rescue and the heroic actions in particular of the rescue selflessness.
The link below is to a fascinating short Rescue at Entebbe film which includes the Rebbe’s comments about the operation:
Entebbe will always be a symbol of the extent that we as a nation have to put aside our differences and become one in our commitment to preserve our heritage. For the hostages, their ordeal was unimaginable – but for the soldiers who risked their own lives for the rescue – they deserve our undying gratitude and to their fearless commander – his memory should be a torch for remembering what makes us the light unto the nations.
 Netanyahu, Jonathan. The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu: The Commander of the Entebbe Rescue Force . Gefen Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
 Iddo Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle (Geffen Publishing, Israel, 2013) p.151