You’ve all heard of Bibi Netanyahu, but did you know about his famous older brother?
Operation Entebbe is one of Israel’s shining moments of heroism, and the site of Yoni Netanyahu’s death during a very real, and very precarious hostage situation in Entebbe, Uganda. We’ll take you through this important event in Israeli history.
12:30 PM Sunday, the 27th of June, 1976: The Hijacking
The story begins with an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. We were scheduled for a layover in Athens to pick up additional passengers. We took off at 12:30 PM not knowing how our lives would be turned upside down only moments after takeoff. Four of the new passengers from Athens were two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two members of the German Revolutionary Cells. They boarded with the intent to hijack our aircraft.
Their objective: 5 million dollars and to free Palestinian prisoners and other affiliate militants in exchange for the hostages.
3:15 PM Sunday, the 27th of June, 1976: The Destination
Soon after takeoff the hijackers took control of the plane and forced our pilot to divert the plane to Benghazi, Libya to refuel. We finished refueling and left Benghazi at 3:15 PM for Entebbe Airport in Uganda. At Entebbe, the hijackers were joined by the forces of Uganda's President, Idi Amin, and all of us were transferred to a disused terminal hall in the airport.
Tuesday, the 29th of June, 1976: The Separation
On June 29th, was the first separation, the hijackers separated the Israeli passengers, from the other passengers. The next day, June 30th, we saw the hijackers releasing some of the non-Israeli passengers, and they were flown to Paris. On July 1st, almost all of the non-Israeli passengers were flown to Paris except for the pilot, Michel Bacos, who told the hijackers that he and his flight crew would not leave us (even though they were free to leave) and chose to stay with us.
6:30 PM Saturday, the 3rd of July, 1976: The Rescue Plan Approved
At 6:30 PM on July 3rd a rescue plan was approved by the Israeli government. The Mossad was able to build a pretty accurate picture of the whereabouts of the hostages and the number of hijackers including the involvement of the Ugandan troops from the released hostages in Paris. Additionally, an Israeli construction company had built the very terminal the hostages were held in and the civilians that helped build the terminal also helped build a partial replica to plan the rescue.
11:00 PM Saturday, the 3rd of July, 1976: The Rescue
The rescue operation was given a green light by Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and other government officials. Four transport aircraft were used in the mission. Unbeknownst to us, at 11:00 PM on July 3rd the first aircraft touched down at Entebbe airport, housing two jeeps and a black Mercedes, almost identical to the car of the then-Ugandan president Idi Amin. The group of soldiers impersonating the President and his soldiers was commanded by Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu. Their mission was to reach the terminal where we were held and take the hijackers by surprise. The second and third aircrafts arrived after Lt. Col. Netanyahu, carrying reinforcements and troops to help fight the Ugandan forces surrounding the airport.
The fourth aircraft arrived empty, the only aircraft with enough gas to fly to Entebbe and back to Israel without refueling. They wanted us to get home as quickly as possible so this aircraft was used to evacuate the passengers and take us home!
11:53 PM Saturday, the 3rd of July, 1976: The Return
Within 20 minutes of their arrival, the IDF soldiers took control of the terminal and began evacuating passengers to the fourth aircraft. Less than an hour after arriving, Israeli aircraft were back in the air and we were heading home to Israel. During the operation Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu was killed along with three of the hostages (the fourth, who had been taken to a hospital in Uganda and missed the rescue, was ordered to be shot by the President of Uganda after the successful rescue operation became known).
Sunday, the 4th of July, 1976: Welcome Home
On the morning of July 4, 1976, we finally landed safely with our rescuers in Israel to a crowd of elated Israelis welcoming us home.
Operation Entebbe was one of Israel's finest moments of heroic actions and it was renamed Operation Yonatan in memory of Yonatan Netanyahu.