In 1976 105 hostages were kidnapped in the airport of Entebbe following the hijacking of a French aircraft made by Palestinian and German terrorists. An operation by Israeli security forces managed to free all hostages.
It was 12:30 am on June 27, 1976. A plane of the Air France airline was in flight between Tel Aviv and Paris. It had 248 passengers on board. Many of the passengers were Israelis or Jews from other countries who had gone on a visit to Jerusalem.
The plane, an Airbus A300 with twelve crew members, had just taken off from Athens airport where it had made an intermediate stop. Four terrorists, two Palestinian members of the FLP and the two German of Revolutionare Zellen , which were on board confusion among passengers, hijacked the flight. Two of them entered in the cockpit and ordered the pilot to sail to Benghazi in Libya.
After a stop in Benghazi during which the plane is refueled and where terrorists freed a female passenger, the aircraft resumed the flight heading for the Uganda of the dictator Idi Amin Dada.
Idi Amin Dada had been in previous years a friend of the West from whom he had received aid and weapons, consolidating his dictatorship in the African country. Following the refusal of the United States and European countries to provide more sophisticated weapons, including modern combat aircraft, to support his war against Tanzania, he turned his policy toward the Soviet Union and Libya of Gaddafi.
The Air France A300 landed at Entebbe International Airport at 3 am on June 28th. The hijack of the plane and the kidnapping of the passengers, who evidently had been arranged with the help of Amin Dada and the complacent collaboration of the Libyan dictator, was completed with the arrival in Entebbe of four accomplices of the hijackers.
The terrorists asked the Israeli government to release 40 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and other 13 detained in prisons in various European countries, and also $ 5 million in exchange for the release of the hostages. Meanwhile other 140 hostages were freed by terrorists.
105 people from Israeli nationality or otherwise of the Jewish religion remained in the hands of the terrorist group led by German Wifred Bose. The aircraft commander and his crew refused to leave with the plane that had collected the freed passengers since, said the commander, he had no intention of abandoning the other detained passengers.
Israel began the negotiations for the release of the hostages. Meanwhile started the preparation of a blitz of the armed forces, in the case had presented a favorable occasion. The negotiations stagnated, even the intervention of the PLO, which it did his utmost to encourage the release of the hostages, was useless because its mediator was unable to contact the leader of the terrorists. Amin Dada apparently served as a interlocutor with the Israelis, while his role was full support for the terrorist group.
The Israelis managed to get an extension of ultimatum of three days, after which the terrorists threatened to kill the hostages who were held in Entebbe airport terminal. The extension was the favorable opportunity that the Israelis were waiting to activate the armed intervention.
Meanwhile the army of Israel prepared the raid to free the hostages. They came into possession of all of the buildings and maps of the slopes, taking advantage that the Entebbe airport had been built by an Israeli firm. Also they could count on the testimony of freed hostages, who collaborated with the envoys of the Mossad in Paris. They were able to provide information on the number and positions of the terrorists, their weapons, and on the support of the Ugandan military stationed at the airport, who were deployed in defense of the Palestinian FLP groups and RZ of German terrorists.
The military command organized a group made up of about 200 men to carry to Entebbe with three C-130 Hercules.
These soldiers made a quick training in a military camp where the terminal, in which the hostages were being held prisoners, had been rebuilt exactly. Israel asked and obtained the secret collaboration of the Government of Kenya who made available the Nairobi airport for the supply of C-130, for the medical basis and for the operation command basis that would be transported on two air force planes adapted for this purpose.
The operation seemed crazy, so it seemed hard to the success of the same. Unfortunately, the Israeli fighter jets could not provide cover to transport planes, given the long distance between Uganda and Israel. A couple of Ugandan fighter, as technologically backward, would have sufficed to break down the C-130 defenseless.
The head of the Israeli government gave its consent to the raid, called “Operation Lightning” later known as “Operation Yonatan“, at 6:30 pm on July 3. The news was communicated to the Council of Ministers only when the planes were already half way.
The command was given to Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister. 100 men of the Sayeret Matkan, a group of the army trained in special op, were transported on the three C-130. The first plane boarded a Mercedes similar to that used by Idi Amim Dada in his travels, two Land Rover, and the soldiers intended to eliminate the terrorists and free the hostages, the second C-130 was on board the group that had the task of knocking out the Ugandan soldiers at the airport. The third plane carrying the men who were to destroy all military aircraft present in Entebbe, to prevent a pursuit by Ugandan fighters. The planes carried even some armored vehicles.
The C-130 had the light of the Israeli fighters for a third of the way, then the Jets with the Star of David had to return for their limited range. C-130 Hercules aircraft were able to fly at very low altitude to avoid detection by radar, and to land in very short runway, even outside of paved airstrips. The air force was completed by two other planes. The first landed in Nairobi with inside emergency medical unit, to provide first aid to any injured. The second jet was the control unit that remained in flight during the whole operation.
To 11 pm the three C-130 arrived on the Entebbe airport, whose runways were lit. They dropped on the runway with the rear ramp already open and the lights off. The landing of the three planes was almost contemporary, and the race on the runway was as short as possible, the planes were spotted a short walk from the terminal where the hostages were prisoners.
It was made immediately off the black Mercedes, similar to the Mercedes of Amin Dada, and the two Land Rover. The three cars, followed by the army men protected by the darkness, pretended a sudden visit of Idi Amin Dada. Two Ugandan soldiers, guards at the terminal gate, realized the danger, since a few days before Amin had replaced the black Mercedes with a white car. The Israeli soldiers were forced to shoot, killing the two Ugandans.
Despite the shooting, the surprise had succeeded fully. The Israeli military burst into the terminal yelling in Hebrew to the hostages to lie down. At the same time they killed three terrorists who were guarding. A hostage, that perhaps not understood the warning in Hebrew, got closer to the military. He was mistaken for a hijacker and was killed. The military verified the terminal killing other terrorists who were in a near room.
During the boarding of the hostages on planes, Ugandan soldiers, guarding the airport, began firing on them and on the military command. They were immediately neutralized by Israeli fire.
There were three casualties among the hostages during the operation: one killed by friendly fire and two by the fire of the Ugandan soldiers. In addition, the commander of the expedition Yonatan Netanyahu was seriously wounded by a gunshot during boarding. There were also five wounded Israeli soldiers. They were calculated between 15 and 45 deaths among the Ugandan military, in addition to the six terrorists.
The third group of Israeli special forces took care to knock out military aircraft in the airport to prevent any reaction. The C-130, being transport aircraft, were more slow of Ugandan Mig 17 fighters, ready to take off. The fighters would have achieved in a short time the Hercules in the case of pursuit.
The three C-130 took off from Entebbe 53 minutes after landing, with 7 minutes ahead of schedule. The aircraft made a stop in Nairobi, where the commander col. Netanyahu arrived already dead without that he could receive medical aid from the medical unit at the airport.
The aircraft took off after refueling in the direction of Tel Aviv where they arrived the next morning. The hostages and the soldiers were greeted triumphantly in the enthusiasm of all Israelis.
75 year old Mrs. Dora Bloch, a hostage with dual British and Israeli citizenship was taken ill in the days before the blitz, she was hospitalized in the hospital of the Ugandan capital Kinshasa. She was never heard from again. Years later some Ugandan officers revealed that Dora Bloch was taken from the hospital by Amin’s men after the blitz and was killed.
The commander of airplane, Frenchman Michel Bacos, was punished by his airline for disobeying the order to leave. On the contrary, the French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing awarded him the Legion of Honor for heroic conduct at the hijacking.
Israelis preferred to give prominence to their special operations forces, rather than enter into negotiations for the release of hostages, on the occasion of terrorist incidents in which its citizens were involved, following the success of this operation that had an word echo.
(Top photo: C-130 Hercules della Israeli Air Force – TSgt.Ken Hammond USAF .U.S. Defenselmagery 1987)