Over the summer months, Jewish campers can be exposed to many Jewish and Israel experiences. It is also an opportunity to create special focus events, with this year being the 30th anniversary of the IDF's Operation Jonathan, Israel's rescue on 4th July 1976 of the Jewish hostages skyjacked by the PFLP and held at Entebbe airport, in Uganda.
We bring some general information about the operation, together with photos and key links, as well as answering questions about its consequences and the historical context of air piracy against Israel.
About Mivtza Yonatan
A combined Palestinian and German terrorist operation hijacked (skyjacked) an Air France flight originating in Israel after the Athens stopover on 27th June 1976. The terrorists were 4 members of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and 2 from a German "revolutionary" group, and they forced the pilot to fly the 260 passengers and crew to Benghazi Airport, Libya, where it waited in the intense heat of the late afternoon on the tarmac to refuel, evidently with the foreknowledge or at least compliance of Libya's anti-western dictator President Ghaddafi. From there the hijacked plane continued late that night to Idi Amin Aiport, Entebbe, in Uganda, named for Uganda's savage military dictator, as part of a planned and coordinated operation.
On 28th June, the terrorists demanded that the West and Israel release 40 Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel and 13 in other countries, but Israel was not prepared to negotiate. The hijackers then freed all but the 105 Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish passengers, including British and French citizens, threatening their execution. The Air France captain, his co-pilot and crew all vowed to remain with the hostages, who were held in the old air terminal building at Entebbe Airport, which the terrorists had packed with explosives, presumably provided by Idi Amin's cooperative terrorist team on the ground. Dora Bloch, an elderly British woman, had been taken ill and evacuated to hospital, but in reality she was killed there on Idi Amin's orders; another British woman had been safely evacuated overseas after she claimed to be miscarrying in early pregnancy.
The terrorists were resolute and prepared to kill the hostages if their demands were not satisfied, and there was always the risk that they would kill them anyway. The hostages were held under a punitive regime with minimal food, water, and facilities, in the main hall, which was a terrifying experience for all of them, and they realized their chances of survival were slim.
The 48 hour deadline was extended to July 4th, and the Israeli government agreed to negotiate. There was a great deal of public pressure in Israel to do so, but it also gave the IDF and the Israeli Intelligence Services time to assess various options and hammer out all the logistics for / the potential risks of an operation to rescue the hostages. Issues included: Israel's prior knowledge of the airport; intelligence about explosives laid in the airport, the terrorists and Idi Amin's patrols; how to conduct the operation with minimum risk and take out any potential pursuers on the ground; training routines and the time required to hone them; weapons and other hardware like the Mercedes; provision for refuelling during the 2,000 mile trajectory, coping with international air space regulations, air silence, an emergency landing option in Kenya.
The rescue operation was authorized and the multi-purpose commando team arrived at Entebbe airport with the advantage of total surprise and excellent camouflage techniques that gained them vital minutes on the ground. The team continued to take out ground-based obstacles and Ugandan forces while a sub-contingent moved rapidly into the air terminal, still unheralded and ordered the hostages to lie down while they targeted the terrorists. It was almost completely successful, but 3 hostages were tragically killed, with Pasco Cohen dying by friendly fire when he raised his head or moved towards the Israeli commandos, in search of his daughter, from whom he had been separated. The only Israeli casualty was Yonatan Netanyahu, who was seriously wounded but saw the operation through for the most before succumbing to his injuries; several Israelis were seriously wounded and one remains a paraplegic.
The entire operation took about 30 minutes. However, the Israeli forces and released hostages had to take off for Israel (via Nairobi, Kenya) without Dora Bloch. Only in 1979 was the truth of her murder, long suspected, released and her body was reinterred in Israel.
Figures associated with this operation were: Shimon Peres, Yigal Allon, IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Shomron, and Matan Vilnai.
Most of the hostages were released safe and sound.
The operation was perceived as a heroic act and a statement about Israel's zero tolerance policy on terrorism and willingness to do all it could to rescue Israelis and Jews, although few other countries followed suit. There were other hostage rescues around the world.
This was the last major Palestinian skyjack for 9 years, certainly on an Israeli route - although there was another major cycle in the mid-1980s demanding the release of terrorists.
The operation was contested as an infringement of sovereignty in the UN, to which Chaim Herzog, Israel's Ambassador, responded convincingly; a resolution of condemnation was thrown out by the UN Security Council.
The hostages eventually won a compensation claim against Air France.
Entebbe Rescue: Key Resources & Links- file for download [English, Hebrew, Russian]