On June 27, 1976, four terrorists forced an Air France
Airbus to land in Uganda, in the heart of distant Africa. They quickly
demanded that Israel release 53 convicted terrorists. The hijackers
freed the French crew and nonJewish passengers, while retaining
105 Jewish and Israeli hostages. A 48hour deadline was set before
executions would begin.
Faced with little choice, the Israeli government announced that
it would enter into negotiations. This bought the precious time
needed to consolidate a seemingly impossible military option.
A new ultimatum was issued for 13:00 on Sunday, July 4.
The only airplane capable of a rescue operation was
the C130 Hercules. On July 1, the mission's overall commander,
Brig. General Dan Shomron (later to become the IDF ChiefofStaff),
presented his plan to the IDF Commander and Israel's Defense Minister.
The next day they all witnessed a fullscale dress rehearsal. The
incredible was deemed possible.
Shomron's plan was based on several advantages that
the Israelis had over the terrorists. The Entebbe airport at which the
hostages were being held was built by an Israeli construction firm,
which was able to provide Shomron with blueprints. Moreover, the released,
non-Jewish hostages were able to describe the terrorists, their arms,
and their positioning. As a result, the IDF decided to send in an overwhelmingly
powerful force: over 200 of the best soldiers the army had to offer
participated in the raid, all of them heavily armed.
Finally, the element of surprise was probably the biggest
edge that Israel held. According to Shomron: "You had more than
100 people sitting in a small room, surrounded by terrorists with their
fingers on the trigger. They could fire in a fraction of a second. we
had to fly seven hours, land safely, drive to the terminal area where
the hostages were being held, get inside, and eliminate all the terrorists
before any of them could fire." The fact that no one expected the
Israelis to take such risks was precisely the reason that they took
The aircraft took off at 13:20 on July 3 and headed south. Only
then was the plan revealed to the Israeli Cabinet, which decided
to let the operation continue. The lead Hercules carried the rescue
force, led by Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu. It also held two jeeps
and the now famous black Mercedes, a perfect copy of dictator
Idi Amin's personal car. Two additional Hercules carried reinforcements
and troops assigned to carry out special missions, such as destroying
the Migs parked nearby. A fourth Hercules was sent to evacuate
The air package also included two Boeing 707's. One acted as a
forward command post. The second, outfitted as an airborne hospital,
landed in nearby Nairobi, Kenya. The Hercules was escorted by
F4 Phantoms as far as possible-about onethird the distance.
Skirting thunderstorms over Lake Victoria, the Hercules transports
neared the end of the 7hour, 40minute flight. A surprise
awaited them: the runway lights were on! Despite this, they landed
undetected at 23:01 (local time), only one minute past their planned
The soldiers freed the hostages in a lightning attack,
killing all eight terrorists in the process. Tragically, force commander
Yoni Netanyahu was killed as he led the hostages toward the safety of
the aircraft; additionally, two hostages were killed in the crossfire
inside the airport. The other squads accomplished their missions in
virtually the same time as during the "dryrun." By 23:59
the planes were on their way home. The operation, which was predicted
to last one hour, in fact took only 58 minutes.
The mission struck a blow at international terrorism.
"It resonated far and wide," Shomron later commented. "It
showed that you could counter terrorism, and that it was worth cooperating
to do so." As America celebrated its Bicentennial, the world was
reminded that freedom is a value which must be fought for in every generation.
The mission was later renamed “Operation Jonathan” in honor of Yonatan Netanyahu.