Returning From Entebbe “Operation Thunderbolt”, amongst the most daring operations the IAF has executed throughout the years. The Prime Minister at the time was Yitzhak Rabin. To commemorate the upcoming 16th memorial day of his murder, a look into the chain of thoughts and events that took place behind the scenes
The story of “Operation Thunderbolt” (“Operation Entebbe”) is known worldwide: On June 27th 1976, four terrorists hijacked an “Air France” plane on its way from Israel to Paris.
The hijacked plane landed in Entebbe, Uganda and its non-Jewish passengers were then released. The terrorists announced their demands and set an ultimatum: The State of Israel must pay them ransom and release terrorists, no later than July 1st. Officials in Israel, following deliberations, decided to embark on a military operation.
Four “Hercules” planes took off from an IAF airbase holding paratrooper brigades, the “Golani” brigade and the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (“Sayeret Matkal”). At 11:00 PM they landed in Entebbe, sliding complete silence and darkness. IDF powers were able to break in but Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, Commander of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, was killed during the battle. Within several minutes the fighters had released the prisoners and returned to Israel.
The operation might have reached mythical status in Israel, but despite the great publicity it has won, few know the chain of events that occurred behind the scenes: the nervous days following the kidnapping, the difficult arguments and finally, the decision: to embark on “Operation Thunderbolt”.
The Clock Ticks On
At first, no one knew if the decision to execute a military operation was a smart one or a dangerous act doomed for failure. Then Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, pondered lengthily whether to choose the diplomatic way or the military way. On the evening of the operation, he instructed Amos Eran, the CEO of the Prime Minister Office and the Political Consultant, to prepare a letter of resignation for him, in case the operation fails.
“As a military man, a commander, I have instructed people to embark on tens and hundreds of military actions. And with the joy of winning and the grief of bereavement, I’ll always remember the moment after making the decision to take action, the silence, my executive officer friends or the government ministers slowly getting up from their chairs after that drop of fate, their backs edging away, the slam of the door and the silence within which I stayed alone”, said Rabin years later, while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
“That’s the moment that you know that as a result of the decision made just then people will walk today, tomorrow to their deaths-my people, as well as other nations’ people-and they don’t know it yet”.
“Right now they’re laughing and crying, making plans, dreaming of love, of building a home. And they don’t know these are their last hours. Which of them are sentenced to death? Who will not live tomorrow by dawn? Which mother will cry tomorrow-our mother? Their mother? Who’s picture will be published in tomorrow’s paper framed in black? Who’s house will break down tomorrow under the weight of the devastation? As a former military man, I will also always remember the moment before, as the clock ticks on and the time runs out, another hour and another minute until inferno ensues. Through the great pressure and nervousness before the finger pulls the trigger, before the fuse burns, there’s still time to ponder alone: Did we have to take action? Was there no other way?”