The Raid on Entebbe

On 27 June 1976, two terrorists from the German Bader-Meinhof Gang and two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked Air France 139 from Athens to Paris. They flew to Benghazi, Libya to refuel but Libya’s dictator, Muammar Qaddaffi, told them they had to move on. They went on to Entebbe airport in Uganda, where dictator Idi Amin welcomed them and put the Ugandan military at their disposal. There they met six more PFLP terrorists. They demanded the release of 54 imprisoned comrades and $5 million dollars. On 29 June, the terrorists separated the Jewish passengers and released the rest. The crew of the plane bravely stayed with the Jewish passengers.

The Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, immediately interviewed the released hostages and based on their information, and information from a few agents in Kenya and on the ground, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered an operation. But Entebbe was 2500 miles away and Uganda’s relatively professional military occupied the airport. Initially, the operation was a combined invasion to overthrow Amin and hostage rescue to secure the passengers, but Rabin didn’t want to further destabilize East Africa.

The Israelis devised a daring plan of flying four C-130 cargo planes 12 hours to Entebbe and assault the base under the noses of the Ugandan military. The first plane would fly right on the tail of a scheduled British airways flight to mask the radar signature. They were loaded with 100 paratroopers, two land rovers and an expensive Mercedes Benz that most corrupt African bureaucrats favored. The assault team would use the vehicles to surprise and overwhelm the Ugandan security, and get close enough to storm the old terminal building where the hostages were held, without getting them all killed. The rest of the paratroopers would destroy the Ugandan air force planes on the base and block any counterattack from a nearby army post while the C130s refueled. It worked almost perfectly.

After two days of rehearsals, Operation Thunderbolt launched from Israel on 3 July 1976. In the early morning hours of 4 July, the Israelis landed, killed the terrorists, secured the hostages, and crippled the Ugandan military in the area. Only the assault team commander, LtCol Yonatan Netanyahu (older brother of the current Israeli prime minister) was killed, and one hostage, Dora Bloch. The elderly Mrs Bloch was taken to a nearby hospital after becoming ill on 2 July. She was murdered by Ugandan army officers after the raid, along with her doctor, several nurses, and an orderly who tried to intervene.

Based on the operation, most countries organized dedicated Counterterrorism units to perform similar missions.

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