Israeli Raid on Entebbe Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In an audacious operation that stunned the world, Israeli commandos flew into the heart of Africa to rescue more than one hundred Israeli citizens held by Palestinian terrorists at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. The assault reinforced Israel’s determination to fight terrorism directed toward its citizens and to demonstrate its military might to its Arab foes.

Summary of Event

In a brazen act of terrorism, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv, Israel, bound for Paris on June 27, 1976. The terrorists, two Palestinians and two Germans, seized control of the plane and ordered the pilot, Captain Michael Bacos, Bacos, Michael to divert the flight to Benghazi, Libya. After refueling, the terrorists forced Bacos to fly the plane, with 247 hostages aboard, to the remote airport at Entebbe, Uganda, where they were joined by four additional terrorists. Terrorist acts Operation Entebbe Entebbe, Israeli raid [kw]Israeli Raid on Entebbe (July 4, 1976) [kw]Raid on Entebbe, Israeli (July 4, 1976) [kw]Entebbe, Israeli Raid on (July 4, 1976) Terrorist acts Operation Entebbe Entebbe, Israeli raid [g]Africa;July 4, 1976: Israeli Raid on Entebbe[02430] [g]Uganda;July 4, 1976: Israeli Raid on Entebbe[02430] [c]Military history;July 4, 1976: Israeli Raid on Entebbe[02430] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;July 4, 1976: Israeli Raid on Entebbe[02430] Amin, Idi Netanyahu, Jonathan Rabin, Yitzhak

At Entebbe, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin welcomed the terrorists with open arms. A sociopath with a flair for the dramatic, Amin wished to promote himself on the world stage, and involving Uganda in the volatile politics of the Middle East was a way to do just that. In 1975, Amin had expelled the Israeli ambassador and offered the empty embassy to the Palestine Liberation Organization as its headquarters. Given Amin’s well-known sympathies toward the Palestinian cause, no one was surprised when the hijacked airliner arrived in Entebbe on June 28. Amin visited the hostages several times during their ordeal, posturing like a man who thought he controlled the situation. With the assistance of Ugandan military forces, the terrorists removed the hostages from the aircraft and housed them in the airport’s old terminal building. Entebbe was primarily a military airfield; most commercial air traffic flew out of a new airport in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

The hijackers demanded the release of fifty-three Palestinian and German terrorists being held in jails in Israel and Europe, or they would begin killing the hostages on July 1. On June 29, the terrorists attempted to ameliorate hostility toward their actions by releasing the airline crew and all hostages who were not Israeli citizens and not Jewish. While the 101 European hostages left, Captain Bacos and his flight crew, asserting that the safe arrival of all passengers was their responsibility, refused to leave; they remained with the 105 Israeli/Jewish hostages.

With the July 1 deadline looming, the Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, debated what to do. Several members of Rabin’s cabinet pressed for a military solution, but other members were wary. Fresh in their minds was the disastrous failure to rescue Israeli athletes who were held hostage at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany; the Israeli cabinet did not want to have to explain again why large numbers of Israeli citizens had died. The cabinet was only able to reach a compromise position. The Israeli government agreed to negotiate with the terrorists to release the demanded prisoners, and the terrorists’ deadline was delayed until July 4. At the same time, however, the Israeli military continued to fine-tune a plan to rescue the hostages.

Fortunately for the Israelis, they had some advantages. An Israeli construction firm had built the terminal building at Entebbe, and the company provided the military with detailed blueprints. Israeli commandos quickly constructed a makeshift structure similar in layout to the terminal building and began rehearsing their assault plan. At the same time, Israeli pilots began practicing night landings without navigational aids, a situation similar to the one they would encounter at Entebbe. Negotiations with the terrorists broke down when the Israeli cabinet refused to meet the hijackers’ demands to release prisoners. By the evening of July 3, with the Israeli assault force, commanded by Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu, already in the air bound for Entebbe, the Israeli cabinet voted to approve the rescue operation.

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Two hundred Israeli commandos flew in four C-130 transport planes, supported by two 707 jetliners, one outfitted as a flying command post and the other as a medical plane. The 707’s flew to Nairobi, Kenya, with the approval of the Kenyan government, which was hostile to Amin’s regime. At 11:00 p.m., after flying nearly twenty-two hundred miles, the first C-130 touched down at Entebbe.

In an attempt to convince the Ugandan guards that Amin was visiting the hostages, the first C-130 unloaded a black Mercedes-Benz automobile similar to the one favored by Amin. As the commandos approached the outskirts of the airport in the car, they killed the unsuspecting Ugandan guards and sped toward the terminal. The assault group then stormed the terminal, killing three of the terrorists in the main room where the hostages were kept. One hostage died in the crossfire with the terrorists. The Israelis also killed three other terrorists in a side room adjacent to the main terminal room. At the same time, the other three C-130’s landed, and the commandos aboard began their tasks. Some, equipped with M113 armored personnel carriers, formed a perimeter in case of an attack by the Ugandan army. Others began to refuel the four aircraft from fuel stocks at the airport, while still others planted explosive charges to destroy the Ugandan air force fighter planes based at Entebbe, to keep them from attacking the departing Israeli aircraft. The refueling operation took nearly an hour.

When the commandos began to load the hostages onto the C-130’s, Ugandan soldiers who had been hiding in the airport opened fire, killing two of the hostages. The rest boarded the aircraft, and the C-130’s flew to Kenya without further incident. After refueling again in Kenya, the Israeli aircraft returned to Israel. Six of the hijackers and forty-five Ugandan soldiers died in the attack (some reports stated that seven hijackers had died, leading to unconfirmed claims that the Israelis took some of the hijackers alive). Three hostages were killed at Entebbe, and another hostage, Dora Bloch, Bloch, Dora was murdered by Amin after the rescue. The Ugandans had moved Bloch to a hospital in Kampala for medical care, and she was not in the terminal at the time of the Israeli assault. Humiliated by the rescue of the hostages, Amin ordered Bloch murdered in her hospital bed. Her remains were turned over to Israeli authorities in 1979.

Colonel Netanyahu, the leader of the assault team, was the only Israeli soldier killed in the rescue, and the circumstances of his death were the subject of some debate. According to official reports, Netanyahu was killed by a Ugandan sniper as the operation wrapped up. Netanyahu’s family, however, claimed that his body had wounds in the chest, supporting unofficial reports that Netanyahu was killed leading the charge into the terminal building.

Significance

In Israel, the successful operation at Entebbe triggered an outpouring of national celebration. Countering the memory of the horrible events in Munich in 1972, the rescue mission reinforced Israel’s determination to resist the attacks of terrorists sponsored by its Arab neighbors. In Uganda, the rescue mission was a severe blow to the prestige of the Amin regime. Amin pressed the United Nations for a resolution condemning Israel for taking military action, but the Security Council declined to take up the matter. After years of barbaric rule that included the mass torture of his own citizens, Amin was finally deposed in 1979. He fled into exile in Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003.

On the international stage, it took some time for the drama of the Entebbe rescue to reveal itself. As the Israelis touched down in Israel on July 4, 1976, the United States was commemorating its bicentennial, and news of the rescue appeared only briefly in the American media. By the end of the year, however, the first American-made television motion picture about the rescue, Victory at Entebbe, had aired on American television; this was followed in January, 1977, by another, Raid on Entebbe. Terrorist acts Operation Entebbe Entebbe, Israeli raid

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Netanyahu, Iddo. Entebbe: A Defining Moment in the War on Terror—The Jonathan Netanyahu Story. Translated by Yoram Hazoni. Green Forest, Ark.: Balfour Books, 2003. An updated retelling of the Entebbe operation by Jonathan Netanyahu’s brother. Structured so as to place the raid in the context of the world after the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001. Includes photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Yoni’s Last Battle: The Rescue at Entebbe, 1976. Translated by Yoram Hazoni. Hewlett, N.Y.: Gefen Books, 2001. Account of the operation at Entebbe by Jonathan Netanyahu’s brother, who questions the official version of how Jonathan died. Includes photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stevenson, William. Ninety Minutes at Entebbe. New York: Bantam Books, 1976. The first significant book written on the raid. Stevenson, a journalist who covered the Middle East, provides insight into the political arguments for and against military action.

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