Victory Entebbe (Miami)

July 11, 2024

לע”נ יונתן בן בן-ציון נתניהו הי”ד

With the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, Yonatan Netanyahu, an already seasoned and celebrated IDF deputy commander, immediately returned to his old unit, Sayeret Matkal, and was put in charge of a force that fought on the Golan Heights.

Shortly after the war, Yoni, as he was affectionately known, joined the armored brigade. He graduated from armor school with honors, and was stationed as company commander in the heavily bombarded “Syrian enclave.” Less than two months later he was given charge of a brigade – the “Reshef” brigade – that had been decimated during the war. Within months, his brigade came to be considered the number one armored unit on the Golan.

In June 1975, Yoni left his armored brigade to become commander of Sayeret Matkal (known simply as “The Unit”). During his year of command there, he was in charge of many operations. Of these, all but one remain secret – the raid on Entebbe.

In the early hours of the 6th of Tammuz, 5736 (July 4, 1976), Israeli commandos executed a daring and precise rescue mission at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The following is a brief summary of the harrowing events as they unfolded….

June 27, 1976: Air France Flight 139, en route from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens, is hijacked over Europe by Arab and German gunmen.

June 28, 1976: The hijacked plane lands at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where it is met by additional terrorists and is under the protection of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

June 30, 1976: The hostages are separated into groups: Israeli and non-Israeli passengers. Non-Israeli passengers are released, while 94 passengers and the 12-member Air France crew are kept hostage at the Old Terminal of the Entebbe International Airport, held under guard by the terrorists and by a contingent of Ugandan soldiers. The terrorists warned that if their demands to release more than fifty terrorists from jail were not met, the hostages would be killed.

July 1-3, 1976: Israel conducts diplomatic efforts and starts planning a military rescue operation after intelligence is gathered – including information from released hostages and a mock-up of the terminal.

On July 1, Yoni Netanyahu receives orders to plan and prepare his unit for the mission to Entebbe. His unit’s part in the raid was to take over the Old Terminal complex – namely to kill the terrorists, free the hostages, fight the Ugandan soldiers stationed there, and prevent any Ugandan reinforcements from reaching the area while the hostages and other troops were being flown out.

Yoni quickly sits down with a few of his officers and draws up a preliminary plan. Within hours a fake “terminal” is built from canvas, and the unit starts preparing and rehearsing for the raid. As new information comes in, Yoni makes some revisions in his plan. During the following hectic day of further planning and preparations, Yoni meets with Defense Minister Shimon Peres, who summoned him to his office for a face-to-face meeting to ask him what he thought were the chances of success. Yoni answers with a firm affirmative, and explains why he thought so.

By the following night, the unit is ready for a “grand rehearsal,” which is conducted before the Chief of Staff. Following this, the Chief of Staff holds a closed-door talk – primarily with Yoni, but also with some other officers of the Israeli force – in order to hear what they thought were the chances of success. By the end of the discussion, the Chief of Staff informs them that he has decided to give the go-ahead.

At noon the following day, Shabbos, July 3, the Israeli government under Yitzchak Rabin meet in an emergency session. After hearing the Chief of Staff’s presentation, the ministers engage in a long debate and finally, by unanimous vote, approve the mission.

The Raid on Entebbe – Codename: Operation Thunderbolt (retroactively codenamed Operation Yonatan in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu z”l)

July 3, 1976:
20:00-21:00: Israeli forces board four C-130 Hercules transport planes at Sharm El Sheikh, at the southern tip of the Sinai Desert. The Unit’s force was flown in three of these planes, with the lead plane carrying Yoni and his initial assault party of 29 men.
23:00: The planes take off, flying 2,500 miles (4,000 km) to Entebbe, Uganda.

July 4, 1976:
23:00-00:30: Israeli planes fly at low altitude to avoid radar detection. Onboard, final preparations and briefings occur.
00:40: The first C-130 lands at Entebbe Airport. A black Mercedes and Land Rovers (mimicking Amin’s motorcade) disembark.
00:42-01:40: The Israeli commandos quickly approach the old terminal building. The tension is palpable as they move with precision and stealth. The group is split into teams, each with specific objectives.

The black Mercedes, used as a decoy to resemble Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s vehicle, and the accompanying Land Rovers come to a halt near the terminal. The element of surprise is crucial. The commandos exit the vehicles swiftly and quietly, their weapons at the ready.

As they approach the terminal, the commandos encounter two Ugandan sentries. The sentries, initially confused by the sight of the familiar-looking Mercedes, soon realize something is amiss. Before they can raise the alarm, the Israeli soldiers open fire with silenced weapons, neutralizing the sentries silently and efficiently.

The main assault team, led by Netanyahu, moves towards the main entrance of the terminal. They know that the element of surprise is their greatest advantage. The commandos, wearing combat gear and equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry, prepare for the breach.

With a coordinated signal, the team breaches the terminal entrance. The sound of the door being forced open echoes through the building. The commandos move in swiftly, their movements choreographed and practiced. They shout in both Hebrew and English, commanding the hostages to stay down and identifying themselves as Israeli soldiers.

Inside the terminal, chaos ensues. The terrorists, caught off guard, scramble to react. The commandos, having trained for this exact scenario, maintain their composure. They identify the terrorists quickly, distinguishing them from the hostages. Gunfire erupts as the commandos engage the terrorists, ensuring precise and lethal shots.

In the initial burst of gunfire, several terrorists are killed instantly. The hostages, initially terrified by the sudden violence, begin to understand that a rescue operation is underway. The commandos continue to advance through the terminal, room by room, ensuring that no terrorist remains a threat.

In the midst of the operation, Yonatan Netanyahu, their commanding officer, is struck by enemy fire. Hit in the chest as he ran forward, he now lay critically wounded outside the main hall where the hostages were being held. Despite his injury, the commandos continue the mission, determined to complete the rescue. Netanyahu’s leadership and bravery inspire his team to push forward with unwavering resolve.

The commandos methodically clear the terminal, confirming the elimination of all terrorists. They gather the hostages, providing reassurances and instructions. The commandos remain vigilant, aware that time is of the essence.

The hostages, guided by the commandos, are rushed out of the terminal and towards the waiting transport planes. The commandos cover all exits, ensuring a secure path for the hostages. The sense of urgency is immense, as the soldiers know they must evacuate before any Ugandan military response can be mounted.

The efforts of the medical team to revive Yoni were of no avail, and he died at the entrance to the evacuation plane, as the hostages were being herded inside. Yoni was the only man of the rescue force to die. (Three out of the 106 hostages were killed during the exchange of fire and a fourth, Dora Bloch, was later murdered by Idi Amin’s men.)

The hostages, now free, are hurriedly escorted to the planes, their expressions a mix of relief and disbelief. Only a few of them may have realized that the fallen soldier lying at the front of their plane was the commander of the force responsible for the execution of the operation.

As the last of the hostages board the planes, the commandos perform a final sweep of the terminal. They ensure that no one is left behind and that the area is secure. Meanwhile, another team destroys Ugandan MiG fighter jets to prevent pursuit. The entire squad then retreats to the planes, ready for the next phase of the mission: the safe return to Israel.

01:40: The commandos and hostages are on board the transport planes, which prepare for takeoff. The sound of the engines roaring to life signifies the successful conclusion of the terminal assault. The planes ascend into the night sky, leaving Entebbe behind and heading towards freedom and safety.
03:00: The planes land in Nairobi, Kenya. Quick refueling and medical treatment are provided.
05:00: The planes take off from Nairobi, heading back to Israel.
11:00: Planes land at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel marking a miraculous and heroic victory. Hostages and commandos are welcomed as heroes.

Inspired by the incredible heroism and precision of the Entebbe raid, Yerachmiel Begun and his newly formed “Miami Choir Boys” released “Victory Entebbe,” the title track of their 1977 debut record.

“It is with great pride and joy that I dedicate this album to the miraculous “Victory at Entebbe.” A miracle that will forever inspire and strengthen the faith of the Jewish people in Hashem. I fervently hope that these songs too, will become an inspiration to help strengthen our beliefs.

– Yerachmiel

This iconic track commemorates the open miracle that took place on this day, as well as the courage, bravery and triumph of the Israeli commandos who undertook one of the most remarkable rescue missions in history. Through its symphonic sound, the song captures the spirit of this extraordinary event, celebrating the supernatural sequence of events that brought the hostages home safely.

Related Musical Minutiae
“Eretz Tzvi” (composed by Dov (Dubi) Seltzer, lyrics by Talma Alyagon Roz, sung by Yehoram Gaon) became the theme song for the 1977 motion picture Operation Thunderbolt (Mivtza Yonatan). The tune became widely recognized and was eventually adapted and adopted for the “Mi Shebeirach L’Chayalei Tzahal” that was authored in 1956 by former Chief Rabbi of the IDF, R’ Shlomo Goren (Goronchick) while Israeli troops were fighting in the Sinai Campaign. The emotional and uplifting nature of Eretz Tzvi made it an ideal choice for the Mi Shebeirach, its melody’s organic adaptation provided an emotional and fitting accompaniment to the heartfelt supplication for the safety and success of our brothers and sisters in the Israel Defense Forces.

May we merit once again to witness Hashem’s revealed Hand in a miracle of בימים ההם proportions, immediately, בזמן הזה.

Israeli commandos with a Mercedes-Benz 600 resembling the one owned by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, used by Sayeret Matkal to deceive Ugandan troops during the raid
Last known photo of Netanyahu, taken shortly before his death in Operation Entebbe
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