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.
During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel routed Syria, Jordan and Egypt and occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank in order to provide a buffer against further Arab attacks. Six years later the humiliated Arab states were seething for revenge. On 6 October 1973, Arab armies, mostly from Egypt and Syria, launched Operation Badr, an attack on Israel while most of the Israeli Defense Force was on leave for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The attack was a complete surprise to Israel.
To make matters worse, the Arabs were well equipped with new Soviet equipment including tanks, planes, infrared night vision, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-tank guided missiles (which were making their first appearance on the modern battlefield). The Israeli Defense Force’s initial losses were devastating. Egypt ingeniously penetrated the Israeli defenses along the Suez Canal by using high pressure water to “cut” through Israeli sand berms and then quickly pursued Israeli troops into the Sinai. Moreover, Syrian armour nearly broke out of the Golan Heights. Had it not been for determined and near-fanatical resistance, hard decisions on the use of reserves, and ad hoc counterattacks, the Syrians would have penetrated into the hills of Galilee and the cities of Israel’s northern coastal plain beyond. For the next 19 days, the largest air and armored battles since the Battle of Kursk during the Second World War took place.
Israel’s initial counterattacks were disastrous, but they did buy time for reserves to mobilize. The fighting was so bad that Israel seriously considered using its then-secret small nuclear arsenal to stop the advancing Arab nations, especially Egypt. However, a combination of hard fighting, Israeli airpower, Arab mistakes and their unwillingness to move beyond their static SAM belts allowed Israel to blunt the offensive and counterattack. Eventually, the Egyptians in the Sinai were surrounded and Cairo was threatened. The Syrian Army was broken and only the Iraqi and Jordanian armies prevented Israel from seizing Damascus. The war ended with a ceasefire on 25 October.
The Israelis however had suffered horrendous losses and the Arab armies acquitted themselves well. Israel found itself a new respect for the Arab armies, in particular Egypt’s and would eventually sign a peace accord as military equals. In the United States, military leaders still reeling from a decade of war in Vietnam, saw the Yom Kippur War as a validation of tank and artillery-centric conventional war. This perception was reinforced in 1975, when North Vietnam overran South Vietnam, not through a popular insurgency, but from a conventional attack with massed tanks, infantry, artillery and airpower. For the next 33 years after the Yom Kippur War, future American doctrine would completely disregard the counter-insurgency lessons of Vietnam and focus on the conventional warfare exemplified by the Yom Kippur War.