Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Entebbe Raid (3–4 July 1976)

Successful Israeli hostage rescue resulting from a 1976 airliner hijacking. On 27 June 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris made its usual stop in Athens to refuel and pick up passengers. Lax airport security failed to detect four well-armed terrorists (three men and a woman) who boarded the flight. All claimed membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), although the woman and one of the men, Wilfried Boese, were former members of Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang.

Once airborne, the terrorists produced weapons and hijacked the plane and its 246 passengers and 12 crew members, ordering the pilot to Benghazi, Libya. Following refueling, the plane flew to Entebbe, Uganda, leaving behind 1 passenger who had feigned illness.

Six additional terrorists boarded the plane at Entebbe as Ugandan troops surrounded it. Ugandan dictator Idi Amin visited the hostages and announced his support for the PFLP. The terrorists released one hundred non-Jewish passengers on 1 July but threatened to kill the remainder unless Israel and other nations released fifty-three convicted terrorists.

While the Israeli government negotiated with the terrorists, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) planned a rescue. Spearheaded by members of Sayeret Matkal, Israel's elite counterterrorism force, the assault team commanded by Jonathan Netanyahu left Israel and flew to Entebbe in four C-130 Hercules aircraft on the night of 3–4 July. At Entebbe, the first C-130 cut its engines and glided to a quiet landing. Netanyahu and his team then raced to rescue the hostages in two land rovers and a black Mercedes, disguised to resemble those driven by Ugandan officials, with which they hoped to bluff their way past any guards. The other C-130s then landed with more soldiers who secured the airport, refueled the planes, and destroyed several Ugandan aircraft to prevent pursuit.

Netanyahu's ruse failed, however, and after sentries challenged them, the Israelis fought their way to the old terminal building where the terrorists were holding the hostages. In several intense firefights, the Israelis killed nearly forty Ugandan soldiers and six terrorists, including Boese as he attempted to murder the hostages. Netanyahu and two hostages were fatally wounded in the fighting, and a third hostage, Dora Bloch, remained behind in a hospital where the terrorists had moved her after she became ill. Amin later ordered her murdered. Ninety minutes after landing, the IDF soldiers and rescued hostages took to the air and flew to Israel after refueling in Nairobi, Kenya.

This daring mission, originally code-named Operation thunderbolt but renamed Operation jonathan in honor of Netanyahu, established the standard for long-range hostage rescue operations that other nations would seek to emulate.

Stephen K. Stein


Further Reading
Hastings, Max. Yoni, Hero of Entebbe. New York: Doubleday, 1979.; Netanyahu, Iddo. Yoni's Last Battle: An Inside Story of the Remarkable Rescue at Entebbe. New York: Gefen, 2001.; Stevenson, William. Ninety Minutes at Entebbe. New York: Bantam, 1976.
 

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