Rabin on the Rescue at Entebbe

(July 4, 1976)


On 27 June 1976, an Air France airliner on a flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris, was, after making a stop at Athens, hijacked and flown to Entebbe. Israel was initially willing to negotiate with the terrorists, who belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, while at the same time exploring the military possibilities. On 4 July, the Israeli army, in a daring operation, rescued the hijacked passengers from Entebbe and returned them to Israel. The operation electrified the world and dealt a major blow to Arab terror. The Prime Minister, in a special session of the Knesset, explained Israel's reasons for the rescue mission. Text:


Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

In a bold, resourceful and sophisticated effort, the Israel Defence Forces have succeeded in carrying out the decision of the government of Israel to save and liberate from captivity the passengers of the Air France plane, who were hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and kept prisoners in Uganda, with their lives in danger. In the battle of liberation, three of the Israeli civilian passengers of the plane were killed and one officer fell in the fight.

The Israel Defence Forces have achieved one of their most exemplary victories from both the human and moral and the military-operational points of view, a remarkable manifestation of Jewish fraternity and Israeli valour.

Together with the families who have lost their dear ones, we mourn our dead, uniformed and civilians, victims of the vile Arab terrorism, and send to the wounded our best wishes for their recovery.

Members of the Knesset,

This operation of redemption of captives is worthy of Jewish and Israeli pride And of worldwide acclaim. The decision for this operation of redemption was taken by the government of Israel, and on its sole responsibility. We did not consult any other government in advance, nor shall we lay responsibility on any other country or government.

Anti-Israel terrorism has become a phenomenon of international import, and we do not exempt any government from the duty of fighting for the eradication of terrorism - but above all, we shall persist in this struggle, even though we be alone.

Members of the Knesset,

The Air France plane that left from Israel en route to France was hijacked a week ago after a stopover in Athens. The hijackers compelled the French pilots to land first at Benghazi, in Libya, and afterwards at the Entebbe airport in Uganda.

The government of Israel took steps to do everything possible - while urging on the governments of the other countries whose citizens were in the plane - to save the hijacked passengers.

Since the hijacked plane was owned by the French national airline, it was natural to regard the French government as bearing the immediate principal responsibility to do everything required for the release of all the plane's passengers. We immediately consulted on the subject with the government of France, which accepted this responsibility. In addition, we urged various political factors to do what they could to ensure that no harm befall the hijacked passengers and to expedite their release.

The terrorists transmitted their ultimative demands to the governments of Israel, France, Germany, Kenya and Switzerland - but it became clearer and clearer that the attack against the Israeli and Jewish passengers was the principal objective of the operation. The demands were accompanied by the threat that the hijacked passengers would be killed if the governments did not carry out the terrorists' demands for the freeing of murderers, terrorists and accessories to terrorism who had been apprehended and imprisoned in retribution for their crimes.

Members of the Knesset,

Self-defence against the attacks of the terrorist organizations and the war against the terrorists have been part of our daily bread for years, within our own borders and at a distance, in complex and unusual circumstances and by variegated methods. When the terrorist organizations found themselves unable to operate on our territory they tried to attack us on foreign soil, and under conditions that place inestimable difficulties in the way of protection, extrication and reaction. There are instances when the terrorist organizations operate against us in countries where we enjoy the cooperation of the authorities, but the conditions for our activities are particularly difficult in countries which we are forbidden to enter, because of hostility, the absence of diplomatic relations, or even governmental cooperation with the Palestinian terrorist organizations. On more than one occasion, we have found ourselves faced with appalling dilemmas, each alternative being more difficult than the other, with our dear ones held captive far away, isolated and without any possibility of our speeding aid or acting for their release.

In the hijacking of the Air France plane to Entebbe, all indications showed that the Uganda ruler was collaborating with the terrorists, while using deceit and false pretences. This was the situation on the eve of 1 July 1976: The time of expiry of the ultimatum drew increasingly closer. The release of non-Israeli passengers more and more exposed the malicious conspiracy against Israeli citizens. The political efforts bore no fruit. The sand in the hour-glass was about to run out, leaving no possibility for an independent rescue effort. Under these conditions, the government of Israel decided unanimously to take the only way left to rescue our people and to announce its willingness to release detained terrorists. Close upon the cabinet's resolution, we accordingly informed the French government, through whom the negotiations were conducted with the terrorists. We were prepared to adopt even this alternative - in default of any other - to rescue our people.

Members of the Knesset,

This was not a time-saving tactic, and had only this choice been left - we would have stood by our decision, as a last resort.

Throughout the entire time since the capture of the plane, we sought ways and means to foil the terrorists' scheme by our own devices. The I.D.F. and the intelligence community lost not a single hour required for thinking planning and preparation. When the opportune moment arrived, the plan was submitted for the cabinet's consideration. The cabinet approved the operation unanimously.

Members of the Knesset,

The rescue of the hijacked passengers is not a matter for distinction between government and opposition. We deemed it vital to act out of a united national approach, unifying all sections of the people. Therefore, in the course of the discussions and consideration of our measures for the rescue of the hijacked passengers - before we adopted decisions we were in close contact of information and consultation with the Knesset's Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, and particularly with Mr. Yitzhak Navon, Chairman of the Committee, and the leaders of the main opposition party, Messrs. Menahem Begin and Elimelech Rimalt. I wish to express great appreciation for their understanding and support for the methods of rescuing the hijacked passengers -in the initial stage, when we decided on readiness to release detainees, in default of any way of independent action, and in the final stage, when we decided on the rescue operation, when the possibility was created. The unity thus revealed is of inestimable value in a time of struggle and stress.

This rescue operation is an achievement of great value in our struggle against terrorism. This is Israel's contribution to humanity's struggle against terrorism as an international manifestation - but it should not be viewed as an epilogue. This achievement will help us in the continuation of our efforts - but the struggle is not over, and new efforts, new methods and unremitting sophistication will be required. Terrorism will not find us static, nor adhering to routine.

Members of the Knesset,

The operation that rescued our dear ones from captivity will be a subject for research, for song and for legend, and it will be written about in the annals of the nation. I know the Israel Defence Forces, I know its qualities and achievements. Yet, all the same, this time I feel a personal need to express special thanks and appreciation to the I.D.F., the Chief of Staff, the General Staff, the arms of the forces, and those who personally participated in the operation - for risking their fives in the fulfilment of their duty as Jews and human beings, and for being an example and a source of pride to us all.


Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry