Op Entebbe: The Daring Israeli Mission Modi Recalled In His Speech
Israel PM ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu (L) ; The PM’s late brother Yoni (R).
Israel PM ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu (L) ; The PM’s late brother Yoni (R).(Photo: AP, Facebook Screengrab/Remembering Yoni/Altered by The Quint)

Op Entebbe: The Daring Israeli Mission Modi Recalled In His Speech

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Israel, where he was warmly received by his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. In his address, PM Modi recalled Netanyahu’s elder brother Yoni’s sacrifice in a war on this day, in 1976.

Forty-one years ago, current Israeli PM “Bibi”Netanyahu, then a student in the US, received a phone call from his younger brother, who informed him of their elder brother Yonatan or ‘Yoni’’s death.

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Israel PM Recalls News of His Brother’s Death

According to a report by The Guardian, the 30-year-old Yoni was then the newly appointed head of Israel’s exclusive ‘Sayeret Matkal’ commando unit. Hours before his untimely death, Yoni had led a blitzkrieg in an attempt to save over 100 Israeli hostages at Entebbe in Central Uganda. While Israelis the world over were celebrating the release of the hostages and the military operation’s success, the Netanyahu brothers mourned Yoni’s death – he had been killed in the onslaught.

Bibi, then 26 years old, was determined to break the grim news to his parents himself, and drove down to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where his father was a professor. The Guardian quoted him as saying, 40 years hence, sitting in the office of the Israeli PM:

I could see my father pacing back and forth. And all of a sudden he turned his head and saw me. He had a look of surprise, but he immediately understood and let out a sharp cry. [...] This was even harder than Yoni’s death: telling my father and mother.

Soon after, the Netanyahu family flew back to Israel for Yoni’s funeral, who had already been honoured as a military hero.

File photo of hostages being released during the 4 July 1976 operation.
File photo of hostages being released during the 4 July 1976 operation.
(Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

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The Build-Up to Operation Entebbe

On 27 June 1976, Air France Flight 139, carrying 247 passengers and 12 crew, travelling from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens, was hijacked by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a secular Palestinian Marxist-Leninist organisation founded in 1967) and two Germans from the Revolutionary Cells (a self-proclaimed “urban guerilla” organisation, active between 1973 and 1995).

The flight, diverted to Uganda, eventually landed at the Entebbe airport, where the passengers and crew were held hostage in the airport’s old terminal building. The notorious Ugandan President at the time, Idi Amin Dada, sided with the hijackers, preventing the captives from escaping.

According to a report by The Spectator, the militants demanded the release of approximately 40 pro-Palestinian militants jailed in five countries within 48 hours.

File photo of hostages being released on 4 July 1976.
File photo of hostages being released on 4 July 1976.
(Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

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A Historic Blitzkrieg

On 4 July 1976, Operation Entebbe, a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission by Yoni Netanyahu’s team of commandos from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was successfully executed at Entebbe Airport.

The Guardian report states that the IDF was prepared with four Hercules (a military transport aircraft) and two Boeing 707 jets, one of which would serve as a command post, and the other as a field hospital, as they anticipated many casualties.

That afternoon, a force of over 200 soldiers set off for Entebbe, flying for eight hours at the unusually low height of 35 ft off the ground in order to avoid radar.

The operation took place in the dead of night. According to a BBC report, 20 Ugandan soldiers were killed, along with all seven of the hijackers in the onslaught. In the 90-minute operation, 103 Jewish and Israeli hostages were released.

On Operation Entebbe’s (or ‘Thunderbolt’, as it was also called) 39th anniversary, the Israel Defense Forces shared some photos from the historic blitzkrieg:

(With inputs from The Spectator, BBC, The Guardian)

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