Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice - William H. McRaven (1996)
Chapter 9. Operation Jonathan: The Israeli Raid on Entebbe, 4 July 1976
On Sunday, 27 June 1976, at approximately 1230, Air France flight number AF 139 was hijacked en route from Lod Airport in Israel to Paris after an intermediate stop in Athens. Aboard the A300 airbus were 254 passengers, a third of whom were Israeli. The four terrorists who hijacked the plane included two Germans, who were members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and two Palestinians.
The Israeli government immediately placed the Sayeret Matkal Counterterrorist Unit, referred to as the Unit, on alert. (Sayeret Matkal literally means the reconnaissance unit of the General Headquarters of the Israeli Defense Force. The Unit was under the direct operational and administrative control of the General Headquarters.) It had been the habit of hijackers to return to Israel and make their demands on Israeli soil. In 1972, for example, Arab terrorists hijacked a Sabena airliner and landed at Lod Airport to make their demands to the international media. The Unit was always prepared to conduct a hostage rescue inside the confines of Lod Airport. But by the time the Unit’s personnel assembled at Lod, the airbus had landed in Benghazi, Libya. The Unit stood down temporarily and awaited further orders.
After a six-and-one-half-hour delay in Benghazi, the plane refueled and took off heading east. Again the Unit went on alert and prepared to receive the hijackers. After several discussions, the commander of the Unit, Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, recommended to his superiors that if the plane returned to Lod, the Unit should immediately mount an assault. By midnight, however, it was clear the airbus was heading to Africa. At 0300 the following morning, the plane touched down at Entebbe, Uganda, where three more Palestinians, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), joined the terrorists.*
The passengers were kept inside the airbus for nine hours after the plane landed at Entebbe. At noon on Monday, 28 June, the terrorists took the passengers from the plane to the main passenger lounge in the old terminal building. Later that day, Idi Amin, president of Uganda, arrived and told the hostages that he was working to negotiate their release and that Ugandan soldiers would remain at the terminal to ensure the passengers’ safety. Amin informed the passengers that Israel had already stated that their government would not negotiate with terrorists.
On Tuesday, 29 June, at approximately 1530, the terrorists, now under the command of a Palestinian Arab called the Peruvian, made their specific demands known. They wanted the release of fifty-three prisoners: thirteen Arab and German terrorists held in West Germany, France, Switzerland, and Kenya, and forty terrorists in Israeli prisons. One of those held in Israel was Kozo Okamoto of the Japanese Red Army, who was responsible for the murder of twenty-six people at Lod Airport in 1972.1 If these prisoners were not released, the terrorists announced that they would begin executing passengers at 1400 (Israeli time) on 1 July.
With the announcement, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin convened a group of cabinet members to discuss the alternatives. Prior to the meeting with Rabin, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Chief of Staff, Motta Gur, had telephoned his own staff and directed them to review military options. Although not part of Gur’s staff, Lt. Col. Joshua Shani, commander of the Air Force’s only C-130 squadron, had already conducted some rudimentary flight planning. He later said, “We did some private planning exercises and learned that the C-130 was the only airplane that could get to Entebbe and carry people and equipment. I was sitting with my staff, my two deputies, the chief flight engineer, and the chief navigator. We looked at range, fuel, payload, navigation, weather problems, things that take time to cover. We worked six hours or so … Tuesday I was at a wedding in Haifa and the commander of the Air Force called. He asked me some questions and I said yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.”2 Shani was convinced that his C-130s could make the flight from Israel to Entebbe and carry up to one thousand men if necessary. Refueling would be a problem, but there were several ways to work around it.
During the brief with Rabin, Gur presented his ideas, but for several reasons, military options were not seriously contemplated. First, Idi Amin was considered an impartial actor in the hijacking, and it was hoped that through negotiation the Ugandan dictator could secure the hostages’ release. Secondly, the majority of the passengers were non-Israeli, and because the airbus was French, the French government had the lead in the negotiation process. Thirdly, the distance from Israel to Uganda was 2,220 miles. The thought of conducting a raid to rescue hostages was, at first, almost inconceivable.
Later that evening, Maj. Gen. Yekutiel Adam, Deputy Chief of Staff, contacted Col. Ehud Barak, the former head of the Unit. Barak was asked to meet informally with the commando and paratrooper units and review possible military actions. By Wednesday morning, when the meeting with Barak ended, a plan had been proposed to parachute marine commandos and their rubber boats into Lake Victoria, which bordered Entebbe Airport. The marines would transit over water to the airport, rescue the hostages, and then turn themselves over to the Ugandan armed forces. There were several problems with the option, not the least of which was that parachuting rubber boats had never been tried before. Nevertheless, at the time it was believed to be the best alternative.
Throughout Wednesday some intelligence began to filter in slowly, although the bulk of information did not arrive until Thursday and Friday. Forty-seven of the non-Jewish hostages were released to the French ambassador in the afternoon. Immediately upon their arrival in Paris, these passengers were interviewed by French intelligence. Also, Brig. Gen. Baruch Bar-Lev, who had formerly been the Israeli attaché in Uganda, had two telephone conversations with Idi Amin. During these phone calls it became increasingly clear that Amin was not neutral and could actually be collaborating with the PFLP. If this was true, it would change the entire complexion of the operation: it meant that the negotiations were a sham and any chance of resolving the crisis in Israel’s favor was slim. Additionally, the plan for the marine commandos to rescue the hostages and then surrender to the Ugandans no longer seemed viable. The status of Amin, however, could not be immediately confirmed, and planning and preparation continued.
Early Thursday morning Shani conducted the first of two rubber boat parachute drops to test the concept. The parachute drop failed; Shani recalled that “the rubber boat exploded.” But “immediately [the] problem was found and fixed, and we dropped again the same day. And it worked nicely.”3 That same day information from the released passengers seemed to confirm Amin’s support for the PFLP. Consequently, by Thursday evening the idea of using marine commandos was dismissed.
In the meantime, members of the IDF had developed an alternate plan that made use of C-130s to land directly at the airfield. Shani said later, “The plan was relatively simple. It was based on the fact that no one would think we were crazy enough to fly there, so it would be a total surprise.”4
This operational concept called for the four C-130s to conduct a staggered landing at Entebbe. The airport had been recently upgraded and there was an old terminal complex and a new terminal. It was now known that the hostages were being held in the old terminal. In the first aircraft would be commandos from the Unit who would assault the old terminal. Also in the first aircraft would be a small contingent of paratroopers who would secure the new terminal. The second aircraft would contain armored personnel carriers (APCs) and additional commandos and paratroopers. The third and fourth aircraft would contain a reserve force and space for the hostages.
Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron, the officer who would eventually command the raid, believed the concept of operations presented was sound, but the force structure presented in this plan was too limited. He wanted to rely on numerical superiority to overwhelm the terrorists and Ugandan soldiers. The IDF’s Operations Chief, Colonel Shai, directed the command staff officers to return to their bases and continue planning. (Colonel Shai was the deputy commander of the Special Operations Division of the IDF, and although junior in rank to General Shomron, he was the IDF staff focal point for all plans dealing with the raid on Entebbe.) Although several concepts were discussed between Monday and Wednesday evening, “nothing was done during that period of time to treat the subject in depth, to broaden the background planning.”5
With the deadline only, hours away, Rabin once again convened a meeting of his cabinet on Thursday, 1 July, at 0700. Gur informed the prime minister that the military was unable to develop a viable solution to rescue the hostages. Consequently, after lengthy discussions on the political ramifications of submitting to the terrorists’ demands, the Israeli government announced that it would release the prisoners in exchange for the hostages. Contrary to previously published information, Rabin was not merely stalling for time. He later stated that the Israeli government was prepared to negotiate the hostages’ release. The Israelis were committing themselves to this policy in the belief that the hijacking was not directed solely against Jews. At the time of the announcement, over two hundred passengers of all nationalities were still being held prisoner.
At 1300 Thursday afternoon, the terrorists, in receipt of Israel’s exchange proposal, announced that the deadline to execute passengers would be extended until Sunday, 4 July. Additionally, the terrorists had released one hundred passengers earlier that morning. All who remained at Entebbe were Israeli citizens, non-Israeli Jews, and the twelve members of the Air France crew, who refused to accept repatriation. In all, 106 hostages remained with the hijackers. The real purpose behind the hijacking was beginning to emerge. Released passengers told intelligence agents that the Jews were being segregated and that the Ugandan soldiers were cooperating fully with the PFLP. Now, any military option would have to consider the Ugandan forces as part of the problem. This fact lent credence to General Shomron’s proposal to insert a large-scale force to overwhelm the enemy.
Later that day, the Israeli Defense Minister, Shimon Peres, met with his military advisers. They argued about the viability of a rescue operation. The IDF Chief of Staff, Motta Gur, believed that a mission of this magnitude would be too difficult to execute with only two days’ planning and preparation; casualties could be high, and Israel could not afford another military disaster like Ma’alot.* Additionally, intelligence about the airport, and in particular on the old terminal, was still very sketchy. These arguments notwithstanding, Peres directed that detailed planning and training commence immediately and appointed Shomron as the commander of the operation. The feeling among the military advisers was that the mission could always be canceled; therefore any prior preparation could only work to their advantage.
After the meeting with Peres, Jonathan Netanyahu, who until that morning had been on a classified operation in the desert, went to Shomron’s paratrooper house in Ramat Gan to receive a briefing on the proposed raid. At the paratrooper house, Shomron laid out the roles and missions of each of the three ground combat elements. The Unit was to secure the old terminal and immediate vicinity, while the paratroopers and Golani Infantry would seize the new terminal and control tower and act as reinforcements and escorts for the hostages. Shomron again stated his position that he wanted a large force to secure the area. According to Netanyahu’s intelligence officer, Netanyahu and others argued for a smaller, more mobile force. “They said that Shomron’s operation would be too big and unwieldy, and a more limited way had to be found to do it, one that would have a better chance of succeeding.”6
Shomron elected not to make a final decision on the force composition. He had given his broad guidance and now left the details up to the component commanders. The following morning at 0700, he would present the operations order to all the participants, and rehearsals would begin soon afterward.
Netanyahu returned to his compound with Maj. Muki Betzer, who would be his deputy, and the intelligence officer. They began detailed planning. Fortunately for Netanyahu, Betzer had once served in Uganda and was vaguely familiar with the old terminal.
The Unit’s mission was to penetrate the old terminal, kill the terrorists, and rescue the hostages. Additionally, the commandos would have to secure the area around the old terminal to ensure Ugandan troops did not reinforce the terrorists or prevent the hostages from boarding the aircraft. Detailed intelligence was still not available on the exact location of the hostages, the physical layout of the old terminal, or the complete Ugandan order of battle. Therefore, the planning continued based on certain worst-case assumptions.
By Friday morning, Netanyahu and his staff had developed a basic plan of attack. The first C-130, flown by Shani, would conduct a blacked-out landing and taxi to the north end of the runway.* Before the plane came to a complete stop, a small team of paratroopers would jump out and place lights along the runway for the next aircraft. At the north end, Shani would stop the C-130 and lower the ramp. The thirty-five commandos, dressed in Ugandan uniforms, would exit the aircraft in three vehicles: a Mercedes and two Jeep Landrovers. It was decided not to make up the commandos in blackface because target discrimination would be confusing, and at night it was doubtful the Ugandans could tell black from white anyway. The Mercedes would be flying the Ugandan flag and would appear to be an official vehicle. The rescue force would proceed toward the old terminal with their lights on. It was hoped this action would reduce suspicion among the guards and gain the Israelis the time they needed to reach the old terminal. (Originally, the Unit had explored the possibility of posing as Idi Amin. Amin was scheduled to return from a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Mauritius. This idea was later shelved when Amin returned early to Uganda.)
Netanyahu realized that speed was vital to success. “The time spent crossing the large airport had to be cut to a minimum, to reduce the risk of the terrorist and Ugandan sentries at the terminal being alerted by the control tower—and to make sure that even if they were warned, they would not have time to understand exactly what was happening and respond.”7 Any Ugandans who attempted to stop the vehicles would be immediately killed with silenced pistols. The commandos in the Landrovers would also carry machine guns and shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled grenades in the event a heavy force intervened.
Once at the old terminal, three teams would immediately assault the building’s three main entrances, concentrating inside on the areas where the hostages were held. Other elements would follow behind and move to the second floor, where the Ugandan soldiers were berthed. Outside the building would be the command and control element, under the direction of Netanyahu, and a support team that would focus its jeep-mounted weapons on the tactical high points (control tower and upper deck of the terminal) held by the Ugandans.* Netanyahu decided not to assault the control tower because it would require more men and increase the possibility of casualties.
Two hundred yards east of the old terminal was a Ugandan military base. It was estimated that over one thousand soldiers and airmen were stationed there, as well as a MiG fighter squadron. It would be necessary to establish a blocking force to prevent the soldiers from spoiling the rescue. Netanyahu planned to add four Buffalo APCs to the equipment list for this purpose. These vehicles would be loaded in the second and third C-130s and operated by commandos from the Unit. The Golani Infantry would also be positioned in the second and third aircraft, but their mission would be to provide protection for the C-130s.
In the final hour of planning, Netanyahu identified the personnel from the Unit who would be participating in the operation. Most of the men selected were chosen on the basis of seniority. There were a few who were picked for their previous combat experience. Netanyahu also chose several men based on his personal experience with these individuals. When this was done, he instructed his secretary to recall the men and have the officers available for an 0100 briefing.
At the first of what were to be many briefings, Netanyahu laid out the proposed plan. Many of the personnel had been involved in missions before that were planned and rehearsed but then never executed. This appeared to be the case with Entebbe. Most of the men were skeptical that the operation would be approved. When the meeting was completed, Netanyahu advised them to get some rest while he returned to his office and began detailed planning. In Yoni’s Last Battle, Netanyahu’s brother Iddo, a former member of the Unit, recalls how Jonathan must have felt while planning the operation. “As he sat alone in his office, it is possible that the full significance of the operation, and the risks it entailed crystallized in Yoni’s [Netanyahu’s] mind for the first time. The people of Israel had not yet recovered from the devastating blow of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. In many ways, the morale of the country had only deteriorated in the three years since then. If the operation were to fail—if all the hostages were killed, or most of them, and if in addition Israel’s elite force were to be captured or annihilated, far from the nation’s borders—it would strike at the spirit of the nation with devastating effect.”8 If the mission was approved, Netanyahu knew it would be the most important operation of his life. Failure could affect the honor of his country and the prestige of the Israeli military. Netanyahu, who was known for his obsession with detail, would ensure that Entebbe did not fail for lack of planning and preparation.
In the meantime, Shomron and others had gone to Rabin’s office to brief the prime minister on the plan that had been formulated up to that point. Gur intercepted Shomron outside Rabin’s office and, after reviewing the proposal, sent Shomron back to continue planning. Although it was Friday morning, six days after the hijacking, Shomron believed that the General Staff was still not taking the possibility of a military rescue seriously. Nevertheless, Shomron and the other commanders were determined to be prepared. When the sun came up, the paratroopers and the commandos would commence full-scale rehearsals, the logistics people would be busy modifying the Landrovers and the Mercedes, the weapons branch would be gathering the Galil assault rifles and the AK-47s, and the intelligence branches would be putting together the final pieces of the Entebbe puzzle.* Unknown to Shomron, however, in a day and a half, his force would take off for Entebbe, ready or not. (Shomron did not actually oversee the Unit’s preparation. The Unit was not under the operational control of Shomron until the mission began.)
Of all the men studied so far, no one exhibits as much leadership ability as Jonathan Netanyahu. His extensive combat experience, coupled with a flare for motivating his men, stands out above the rest. Born in the United States in 1946, Netanyahu was an extremely bright and industrious young man. When the state of Israel was established, his parents, Benzion and Cela Netanyahu, then on a Zionist mission in the United States, relocated to Israel. Netanyahu became president of his high school student body and leader of his Boy Scout troop. In January 1963, during his junior year in high school, the family moved to Philadelphia where his father was the editor in chief of the Encyclopedia Judaica. Young Jonathan, called Yoni by his friends, became extremely homesick for Israel. It was difficult for him to adapt to a new culture, new language, and new friends.
In July 1964, after a year and a half in the United States, Netanyahu returned to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. He joined the paratroopers and was stationed along the ten-mile “waist” that divided the Arabs from the sea. Within two years, Arab terrorists began to launch repeated attacks into Israel. Eventually the Israelis retaliated and attacked the terrorist’s base camps. Netanyahu saw his first action in a raid against Es-Samua in Jordan.
In 1966, Netanyahu attended the officers’ training school and graduated as the outstanding cadet. He was subsequently assigned back to the paratroopers as a platoon leader. While assigned to the paratroopers, Netanyahu underwent the paratroopers’ advanced training course. He wrote in a letter to his parents about the course’s final exercise: “We had to parachute in an area that is not a proper drop zone—‘somewhere in the Negev’—under cover of smoke and planes, to take over an emergency airfield, capture a number of targets in the area and after that mark the airstrip and land several planes carrying equipment for the continuation of the mission—all of this at night of course.”9 It was this type of training that would later affect Netanyahu’s course of action at Entebbe. After the advanced course, he received training in heavy mortars and machine guns. Determined to go to college and get his undergraduate degree, Netanyahu left the regular army in 1966, planning to attend Harvard. After being accepted at Harvard, he decided to delay his entry for a few months to work and raise additional money for school.
In May of 1967, Egypt blockaded the Strait of Tiran, a vital Israeli access route to the Red Sea, and then positioned one hundred thousand Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula. On 5 June 1967, believing that an Egyptian invasion was imminent, Israel conducted a surprise attack on Arab strongholds. Within the first day, most of the Egyptian air force was destroyed, and soon afterward, Israeli tanks roared through the Sinai, pushing the Egyptians back past the Suez Canal. Both Jordan and Syria joined in the fighting, creating a three-front war for the Israelis.
Netanyahu, who was called up as part of reserve mobilization, was involved in several battles during the Six-Day War, including a decisive engagement at Um-Katef, which allowed the Israelis access to the Sinai. His paratrooper force was airlifted behind the lines and attacked the Egyptians from the rear. A few days later, the paratroopers were sent to the Golan Heights, where Netanyahu was wounded in the elbow by Syrian gunfire. The wound was severe enough that he was released from the active reserves (although he stayed in the inactive reserves) as a disabled veteran.
In July 1967, Netanyahu was married and by September was enrolled at Harvard. After a year at Harvard, he again got homesick and decided to return to Israel where he entered the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Soon, however, Netanyahu tired of school, and after receiving a medical waiver for his elbow, he returned to the army. By July 1969, he was back with the army as the second in command of the Sayeret Matkal Counterterrorist Unit. The Unit had the responsibility of antiterrorist operations in the Jordan Valley. While assigned to the Unit, Netanyahu took part in a successful raid into Beirut, and his force killed three members of the PLO high command. Later the Unit kidnapped a group of Syrian generals and exchanged them for Israeli pilots.
In 1972 he was promoted to major and transferred to a tank battalion. On 6 October 1973 Egypt and Syria conducted a surprise attack on Israel, which began the Yom Kippur War. Netanyahu was stationed on the Golan Heights at the beginning of the war. Syrian commandos ambushed his position, killing one officer and wounding others. In what was to become indicative of his leadership style, Netanyahu led a counterattack that routed the Syrians. An Israeli officer who witnessed the action recalled later, “I saw Yoni get up perfectly calm, as though nothing were going on. With hands he motions to us all to get up along with him—and he starts advancing like it’s a training exercise. He was upright, giving out orders right and left. I remember my thoughts then as a soldier: Hell, if he can do it, so can I! I got up and started to fight.”10
At the end of the engagement, forty-five Syrians were dead and only two Israelis. Netanyahu was involved in several other combat operations during the Yom Kippur War, including reconnaissance missions, ambushes, and rescue operations. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Citation. His leadership under fire did not go unnoticed, and in 1975 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and subsequently assigned to the Sayeret Matkal Counter-terrorist Unit as the commanding officer.
Throughout the book Yoni’s Last Battle, there are countless recollections of Netanyahu by his fellow officers and enlisted men. They portray a man totally committed to his beliefs, an Israeli who firmly believed in the principles for which his country stood. He was a soldier and a scholar, who preferred reading Machiavelli’s The Prince to a leisurely night on the town. He was a detail man who realized the value of good planning but also knew that courage and boldness could cut through the fog of war. In his farewell speech to the tank battalion he commanded during the Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu outlined his command principles. These principles, more than any individual man’s assessment, show what made Jonathan Netanyahu a great leader. He wrote:
• I believe first of all in common sense, which should guide all of our actions.
• I also believe in the responsibility of commanders. A good commander … is one who feels absolutely responsible for anything connected, even indirectly, with his command.
• I believe that the buck should not be passed to anyone else—that it should stop here, with us.
• I believe in getting down to the smallest details. Anyone who fails to do that and tries to spare himself the effort is doing a disservice to our goal, which is preparing the unit for war.
• I believe there can be no compromise with results. Never accept results that are less than the best possible.
• I believe that the greatest danger in the life of a unit is to lapse into self satisfaction.
• I believe that all the battalion’s efforts must be subordinated to the main aim—victory in war. Let us never confuse our priorities.
• I believe with all my heart in our ability to carry out any military mission entrusted to us, and I believe in you.
• And I believe in Israel and in the sense of responsibility that must accompany every man who fights for the fate of his homeland.11
Uganda, located in East Africa, is twenty-two hundred miles from Israel. It is bordered by Sudan on the north, Zaire to the west, Tanzania and Rwanda to the south, and Kenya on the east. At the time of the hijacking, only Kenya had friendly relations with Israel.
From the late 1960s until 1973, Israeli personnel had served in Uganda, training the local air force. In 1971, Idi Amin, the Ugandan army chief of staff, conducted a coup and overthrew Prime Minister Milton Obote. In 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, Amin began to side with the Soviets, who provided him with MiGs and other military hardware.
Entebbe, one of the largest cities in Uganda, is located on the shores of Lake Victoria. The international airport at Entebbe had two runways, the largest a 12,000-foot strip running north on a bearing of 353 degrees. At the north end of this main strip was a taxiway which ran southeast past the old terminal to a small 5,448-foot strip which also ran north-south.
The old terminal, where the hostages were being held, was a two-story building that faced the taxiway and aircraft parking apron. Adjoining the two-story terminal was a single-story west wing. In the past this wing had housed passport control and customs. The west wing led to the old tower. The east wing, another single-story structure, had been a VIP lounge.
The main focus of the attack would be the old terminal. There were six front entrances into the terminal including the east and west wings. The commandos planned to assault through three entrances, thereby ensuring that all areas of the terminal were accessible. The terminal was being guarded by between sixty and one hundred Ugandan soldiers, most equipped with assault rifles. The soldiers had established a perimeter defense and were positioned in key locations including the top of the old tower. The troops presumably rotated the watch and while not on duty were generally stationed on the second floor of the old terminal.
The seven terrorists were inside the old terminal. At the time of the rescue, four of the seven were in the large hall at the center of the terminal, while the other three were in the east wing. They carried AK-47s, and prior to the raid it was thought that the terrorists had rigged the terminal with explosives. Later, it was found that the explosives were only fake. To the north and west of the old terminal were dozens of smaller buildings used to support the daily activities of the Entebbe Airport.
A short distance east of the terminal was the military base, which quartered approximately two battalions of Ugandan troops and the MiG squadron. Additionally, Entebbe was down the road and overlooked the airfield. In the city were the presidential palace and Amin’s palace guards.
The new terminal, which was located on the north end of the main runway, was left unguarded except for some Ugandan police. It contained the staging area for passengers departing Uganda and the new tower which now controlled all inbound and outbound traffic. Most importantly, just outside the entrance to the new terminal were underground fuel tanks from which the C-130s might need to refuel. The paratroopers were assigned to secure this facility.
Early Friday morning rehearsals began in ernest. A mock-up of the old terminal had been constructed at the Unit’s base, using metal poles covered with burlap sheets to denote the walls and white tape on the ground to identify the rooms. Commandos from the Unit simulated exiting from the vehicles and quickly entering and clearing the building. At the same time, the Unit personnel assigned to drive the Mercedes and the Landrovers met with the air force element at another base and practiced off-loading the vehicles. This exercise was conducted repeatedly until the drivers and loadmasters could unfasten the tie-down straps, lower the ramp, and depart the aircraft in a matter of seconds. Throughout the day, drills covering every aspect of the mission were rehearsed. That evening a full-scale rehearsal was scheduled.
Earlier that morning, all the unit commanders met with Shomron for another briefing. Shomron presented an overview of the plan and a revised force structure. Netanyahu was pleased to see that the general had implemented the force reduction recommended the previous day. What had been an unwieldy conventional assault was now a manageable operation. After Shomron finished his brief, he directed the officers to return to their units and continue planning.
Netanyahu drove back to his base and assembled his men for an update. Shomron’s intelligence officer brought some 8mm films of the old terminal taken by a sergeant major previously stationed in Uganda. He showed them to the men in Netanyahu’s unit and later to other key players. Although the films did not show the inside of the terminal, they did give an exterior view of the area. What concerned Netanyahu was the five-story control tower that tactically dominated the area. A single soldier with a machine gun could control the entire front of the terminal. The intelligence officer also had some short clips of the new terminal. This was the first time the commander of the paratroopers, Col. Matan Vilnai, and the commander of the Golani Infantry, Uri Saguy, had seen pictures of the new terminal.
Later that evening detailed intelligence arrived from Paris. Israeli intelligence had interviewed a woman who was released because she was pregnant. Shani recalled later, “She was a good source of information. She was very observant. She knew how many terrorists there were, what they were carrying, and where they were located.”12 Other passengers were able to tell the Israelis the general location of the hostages, although it was still not certain in which of the rooms they were kept, and the composition of the walls in the terminal. There was some speculation that the terrorists might have rigged the building with explosives. “It was good intelligence,” Shani remembered. “We knew what was going on.”13
With this information, Netanyahu once again refined the plan and opened the brief for discussion. The primary concern was the reported heavy concentration of Ugandan soldiers surrounding the building. The passengers indicated that the soldiers were spaced ten to fifteen yards apart around the entire facility. If this were true, surprise would be difficult to achieve. The men being briefed were also concerned about the nonstaggered arrival of the APCs. Netanyahu had initially ordered the first two APCs, arriving on the second C-130, to wait until the last two APCs, on the next C-130, arrived before proceeding to the old terminal area. This meant that all four APCs would not be on the target until seven or eight minutes after the Unit assaulted the old terminal. This scheme was modified to allow the first two APCs to immediately proceed to the old terminal.
The Unit commandos “were also troubled by the numerical inferiority of the force landing in the first plane compared to the terrorists and Ugandan soldiers in the environs of the old terminal … This they claimed was contrary to all the rules of combat.”14 Netanyahu told his men that surprise would be on their side and that reinforcements would arrive shortly after the assault. After Netanyahu finished talking, the communications officer and operations officer gave their respective portions of the brief.
Upon completion of the brief, more drills were conducted. The commandos practiced over and over assaulting the mock-up terminal. They timed all the separate evolutions, calculating how long it took to disembark the plane, travel to the terminal, and enter the building. The commandos assigned to ride in the Mercedes during the mission conducted several simulated approaches to the old terminal. The element leaders continued to study the intelligence and discuss the possible options. Even with all this preparation, there was still a feeling among the men that the mission would never be approved.
As the drills continued, Netanyahu drove to Shomron’s office to present his modified plan. While waiting to see Shomron, Netanyahu was notified by phone that Ehud Barak, who had initially been tasked with supervising the Unit’s assault on the old terminal, had been cut from the force, and that Netanyahu now had complete command of the Unit. This meant that Netanyahu would have to position himself outside the terminal in a command and control position rather than leading one of the elements into the building. After briefing Shomron on his modified plan, which Shomron subsequently approved, Netanyahu returned to base to check on the preparations.
One of the more important requirements was to ensure that the Mercedes sedan, which would be used to deceive the Ugandan soldiers, was mission ready. Unfortunately, the car was in poor mechanical condition: the tires were bare, the frame was dilapidated, the gas tank leaked, and the battery required charging. Additionally, the white exterior had to be painted black to resemble an official Ugandan vehicle, and new Ugandan license plates and flags had to be installed. All of these repairs had to be made between rehearsals, because the portion of the operation requiring the Mercedes was being exercised repeatedly.
After ensuring that the mechanics were making progress on the Mercedes, Netanyahu met with Colonel Shani, the air commander. The two men had been conducting separate planning sessions with their staffs, and now it was time to bring the plan together. Every aspect of the launch, insertion, and extraction was discussed in detail: the exact off-load point, direction of vehicles upon disembarking, which aircraft the hostages would be loaded onto, taxi routes, pickup points, and aircraft protection. Netanyahu wanted to know the alternate plan for landing if the airfield lights were not on. Shani explained that he and his pilots had worked out a method of using the C-130’s radar to pick up the runway.* If that failed, Shani was prepared to contact the tower and claim to be a commercial airliner with an in-flight emergency. He later revealed, “My third pilot was an El Al [Airlines] captain, a perfect radio-telephone operator, he spoke perfect English. I told him, if we cannot see the runway, here is the microphone, you are East African Airways flight number 701, you are coming in for an emergency landing … ‘please turn on the lights.’ I don’t know an air traffic controller in the world who would not turn on the runway lights.”15
At the end of the meeting, the two men discussed the evening’s full-scale rehearsal. Shani would not actually participate in the exercise; he was scheduled to demonstrate his radar landing procedure to the IDF chief of staff, Motta Gur, and the commander of the air force, Benny Peled, earlier in the evening. As soon as that rehearsal was completed, Shani would return to base, and his second pilot would pick up the Unit’s commandos and conduct the full-dress rehearsal.
Once the meeting was completed, Netanyahu continued planning and Shani headed to his base. Shani loaded his C-130 and took off for the prerehearsal exercise. He knew that the entire mission might hinge on convincing Gur and Peled that the C-130 could land on a dark runway. He was not about to leave that decision to fate. The demonstration with Gur and Peled was scheduled to be at Sharm-a-Sheikh, a desert runway in the Sinai. This exercise would be much harder than the actual mission. Unlike Entebbe, which bordered Lake Victoria, Sharm-a-Sheikh did not have any distinguishing features that the radar could pick up. Even during the late afternoon, the prerehearsal landings proved difficult. As expected, the radar had difficulty identifying the runway.
Shani returned to Lod by early evening and picked up Gur, Peled, and Brig. Gen. Avihu Ben-Nun. Within the Israeli air force, “Shani was considered, from an operational standpoint … to be top notch.”16 Nevertheless, he was concerned about making the radar approach at night. As the C-130 approached Sharm-a-Sheikh, Shani was surprised to find the entire base without lights. The chief of staff had ordered a complete blackout for the purpose of testing Shani’s night landing skills. Nothing could be distinguished from the air. The radar approach that Shani had so confidently advertised was not working. All he was able to pick up was a fence that paralleled the runway.
The first approach fell short of the runway, and Shani pulled out and came around again. Peled realized that something had gone wrong but chose to remain quiet. Shani made a second approach. He remembered later, “It was a beautiful approach, total darkness, the last thing you could see was the runway, just two feet below. It was impressive.” Gur apparently was impressed, and he congratulated the crew for their fine work. With the demonstration completed, Shani flew the three VIPs to the desert training site to observe the dress rehearsal. It was 2200. In a small office, Netanyahu and the other component commanders were assembled to brief the chiefs of staff on the night’s rehearsal. Like Shani, Netanyahu had already conducted two daytime rehearsals in preparation for the VIP visit. With the chiefs of staff observing, Netanyahu wanted everything to go right.
After the brief, all the personnel assembled outside and observed the full-dress rehearsal. The C-130 taxied to the assigned spot and lowered the ramp. As the ramp touched down, the driver of the Mercedes tried to start the engine, but the car wouldn’t budge. The driver of the jeep, positioned behind the Mercedes, gave the sedan a nudge and the car came to life. The three vehicles roared down the ramp and toward the mock-up terminal. “Ugandan” guards, alerted by the noise of the C-130, moved to stop the approaching vehicle but were quickly “killed” by silenced pistols. After dispatching the sentries, the commandos hastily moved to the terminal and assaulted the mock-up using blank rounds. Gur, who was watching the entire operation at close range, was impressed. His only criticism was that there were too many men in the jeeps. He ordered each jeep reduced by one man. This was not easily accepted by the Unit. The men knew that a reduction in force meant that someone wasn’t going to participate.
Following the rehearsal, Gur met with all the senior officers. He wanted their opinion on the likelihood of success. Shomron stated that the whole mission hinged on the first plane arriving undetected. If that failed, the entire force could be captured and the hostages killed. If Shani was able to land his C-130 and arrive undetected, then the mission stood a good chance of succeeding. When asked his opinion, Netanyahu said confidently, “It can be done.”17*This seemed to convince the chief of staff of the viability of the military mission. He told the officers that he would recommend to the prime minister that the mission be approved. Later that evening, all the aircraft, vehicles, and equipment were moved to Lod Airport.
Eighteen hours after the first rehearsals began, the training was completed, but there was still a great deal of uncertainty about the preparedness of the force. Several of Netanyahu’s officers were vehemently opposed to conducting the mission on such short notice. Normally it took months to prepare for an operation of this magnitude. They were concerned about the shortage of intelligence, the lack of proper training, the unreliability of the vehicles, and the harried nature of the entire preparations. The dissenters wanted to jump the chain of command and let the government know that the force was not ready to conduct this mission. Eventually, Netanyahu was able to “allay this apprehension and ease their uncertainty,” but not without much aggravation.18 Sunrise was only hours away and Netanyahu returned home to get some sleep. Tomorrow, Prime Minister Rabin would approve the operation to rescue Israeli citizens held in Uganda; Netanyahu would lead the initial assault and bear the responsibility of success or failure.
Early Saturday morning most of the Unit’s personnel were at the base well before the assigned time. They were making last-minute alterations and preparing their equipment for the final inspection. In the meantime, the staff continued planning and gathering last-minute intelligence. After the equipment inspection was completed, Netanyahu held a brief for the officers. Once again, he concentrated on the prime objective of the mission, rescuing the hostages. This operation was not to be a “conventional assault on an enemy stronghold.”19 Speed was absolutely essential; the entire rescue operation could not take more than thirty to sixty minutes. All targets that did not immediately affect the rescue of the passengers were to be avoided. When the passengers were secure, then the ancillary targets could be attacked if they presented a problem. The brief turned into a session in tactics and a reiteration of each group’s objectives. The what-ifs were discussed, and by the end of the meeting most of the questions were resolved.
By 1130 all the participants were gathered at Lod Airport. The officers and key participants assembled for the final brief. This, however, was only for show. Shani recalled, “It was a general briefing … Everybody said a few words. I gave a briefing about how we are going to fly, what is the weather there. It was a bullshit briefing. Nothing serious; big board with all the lines between points … a line of generals in front. But, when it was over I was sitting with my crew outside. We discussed again in some detail the mission. We had two more hours and I got with Yoni [Netanyahu] and his deputy, Muki Betzer, and we covered options; what if I missed this turning point, what if I taxi here, what angle should I put the airplane so the Mercedes could go out under the wing. We covered friction points between us [the air crew] and them [the Unit].”20
As the force began to depart for its final stop in Sharm-a-Sheikh, there were still considerable details, both of the ground maneuver and of the air plan, that had not been fully coordinated. Many aspects of the flight plan, which were normally prepared as an in-depth mission packet, were handwritten on scraps of paper, the chain of command was still being sorted out, and the decision to launch for Entebbe had still not been made. Nevertheless, at 1320 hours, the five C-130s (one reserve) took off from Lod (in different directions to deceive onlookers) and proceeded to their Sinai air base at Sharm-a-Sheikh. The aircraft flew at low levels to the Sinai to avoid detection by Russian ships and Egyptian radar. The warm desert air caused the flight to be exceptionally turbulent, and by the time the C-130s reached Sharm-a-Sheikh, most of the soldiers were airsick. One commando from the Unit had to be dropped from the mission because he was so weak from vomiting.
At the air base, the C-130s topped off their fuel tanks, and the soldiers got a quick bite to eat. Once again, and for the final time, Netanyahu briefed his element leaders. An intelligence report had been received just prior to departing Lod which stated that the Ugandan soldiers were no longer encircling the old terminal. They had taken up defensive positions around the building and were rotating the guard force. This meant that only half, or maybe one-third, of the guards would be on duty at any one time. The off-duty guards were believed to be positioned on the second floor of the old terminal. Netanyahu emphasized for the last time the importance of focusing on the objective. He told his troops that, the objective of the mission was to save the lives of the hostages. No matter what developments there might be, even when they were under fire and things were not going as anticipated, and even if it turned out that the hostages were not exactly where they were supposed to be, everyone had to remember the purpose of the action, and work towards attaining it. At every stage of the operation, this goal had to be at the front of their minds.21 Netanyahu also instilled in his men a sense of patriotism. “The entire nation is depending on us,” he said.22 He told his men that he had complete confidence in their ability to succeed. They were the best combat force in the world and now was the time to prove it.
Fig. 9–1. Route of Hijacked Airliner and Israeli C-130s.
At 1530, Shomron made the decision to launch from Sharm-a-Sheikh. The order from Rabin had not been received, but if the mission were canceled, the force would be recalled.* Four C-130s lifted off on schedule. (The fifth C-130, which was flown to Sharm-a-Sheikh as an emergency backup aircraft, was not used on the mission.) In the first aircraft were Shomron and his headquarters element, Netanyahu and his thirty-five commandos, fifty-two paratroopers, the Mercedes, and two Landrovers. The second C-130 had more men from Shomron’s headquarters element, seventeen paratroopers, two APCs with their drivers, and Shomron’s command jeep. The third C-130 had thirty Golani Infantry, the other two APCs and their drivers, and a jeep. The last C-130 had twenty medical team personnel, twenty Golani Infantry, ten refueling crew personnel, and the fuel pump, which was to be used in the event aviation fuel could not be pumped from Entebbe’s fuel storage. Two hours later a Boeing 707 would depart Lod with the commander of the air force, Benny Peled, and the chief of the IDF Operations Branch, Yekutiel Adam. The 707 had greater range and speed and consequently could launch after the main force and be overhead at Entebbe at H hour. Although Adam was overall mission commander and Peled commanded the overall air force portion of the mission, in reality the command and control team had little to do with the combat operation.
On takeoff from Sharm-a-Sheikh, the aircraft were significantly overweight. The 110-degree temperature and full fuel load caused the C-130s to struggle off the runway. Shani recalled later, “The airplane hardly moved. The normal takeoff weight is 155 thousand pounds; in wartime we have permission to take off at 175 thousand pounds. We took off from Sharm-a-Sheikh at 180 thousand pounds. We were sure the plane wouldn’t get off; we were very close to stall speed. We had to stay in a ground effect just to get airborne. Every time we started a right turn, the aircraft trembled from a stall situation.”23 Eventually, the pilots gained altitude and air speed before once again dropping down to less than fifty feet to avoid enemy surveillance.24 The flight, which was scheduled for seven and one-half hours, took the C-130s down the length of the Red Sea and across Ethiopia. Once in Ethiopia the planes rose to twenty thousand feet. Ethiopia had no air-search radar, so there was little chance of compromise.
During the flight, Netanyahu, Shani, and Shomron all tried, with varying degrees of success, to get some sleep. Between the planning, briefings, and rehearsals, there had not been much time for rest.
The formation headed south-southwest, eventually passing out of Ethiopia and into the northern corner of Kenya. At 2230, the C-130s reached the far end of Lake Victoria, which was just minutes by air from Entebbe. On their radio the pilots could hear Entebbe control talking with an outbound British Airways passenger liner.
As planned, the last three C-130s broke from the formation. The lead C-130 began its approach. Six minutes after departure of the lead C-130, the other three aircraft would make their descent. The Boeing 707 command plane had arrived on station, and after making radio contact with Shani, Peled asked if the runway lights of Entebbe were visible. Not yet, Shani responded. They were still too far out. In the cabin, Netanyahu was trying to talk with each man before they landed. He was giving them final words of encouragement. Although most of the commandos had seen some level of combat, it varied considerably, and Netanyahu was one of the most experienced fighters in the army.
Fig. 9–2. Entebbe International Airport: Mission Overview.
As Shani descended on final approach, he could finally see the runway lights of Entebbe clearly marking his path. Shomron, Vilnai, and Netanyahu had all come into the cockpit to watch the landing and see firsthand what Entebbe looked like. After a quick look, Vilnai and Netanyahu returned to their men and prepared for action. At 2300, 3 July, Israel time, Shani touched down. Inside the C-130, the vehicles started their engines. Aircrew quickly unlashed the tie-down straps and prepared to lower the ramp. As Shani reduced his speed, ten soldiers jumped from the side door of the slow-moving aircraft and began to place their emergency lights. The C-130 spun around as it got to the end of the runway and began to turn onto the access strip leading to the old terminal. On order, the aircrew man lowered the ramp, and the Mercedes and two Landrovers quickly exited.
Netanyahu, in the Mercedes, looked back to make sure the Landrovers were behind him. Satisfied that they were, he began driving directly toward the terminal. The three vehicles had their lights on and kept their speed at a respectable forty miles per hour. Netanyahu wanted to deceive the Ugandans as long as possible. After one minute, the vehicles reached the approach road to the old terminal.
Seemingly out of nowhere, two Ugandan soldiers suddenly appeared, one on each side of the road. The soldier on the right yelled for the Mercedes to stop. When the vehicle continued to move, the Ugandan raised and cocked his rifle and signaled for the Mercedes to pull over.
Netanyahu slowed the vehicle as if to stop, and then, when they were within range, he ordered his men to fire. The Israeli commandos opened up with their silenced Berettas but didn’t hit the Ugandan sentry. The sentry stumbled backward and then began to fire. Tracers from the sentry’s rifle cut in front of the Mercedes as the commandos continued to shoot at the Ugandan. The sentry on the left began to run toward the terminal, but was killed by the commandos.
Fig. 9–3. Old Terminal Assault: Exterior View.
Immediately after the shooting began, Netanyahu ordered the driver to head for the terminal at full speed. They were only two hundred yards from the entrance. As they approached, several Ugandan soldiers and a terrorist were seen just outside the main entrance, but the soldiers seemed confused by the action. The driver hurriedly parked the Mercedes by the side of the control tower and all the commandos jumped out. No one had fired yet, and Netanyahu ordered the men to charge the building.
Netanyahu’s second in command, Muki Betzer, moved quickly toward the old terminal building, firing at one of the Ugandan soldiers. The terrorist, who was still outside the building, ran back into the terminal shouting, “The Ugandans have gone nuts—They’re shooting at us!”25 The deception appeared to have worked. Soon the assault force had reached the corner of the old terminal and was within a few yards of the entrance. Instead of attacking, however, Betzer stopped the force. Netanyahu yelled several times to move forward, but for some unknown reason Betzer didn’t budge. Seeing the hesitation, Netanyahu ran past Betzer, and the commandos resumed their assault with the point man leading the way into the terminal (Netanyahu remained outside to coordinate the attack). Although it seemed longer to them, it had been only fifteen seconds since the commandos had left the car.
A Ugandan guard leapt up from behind some large wooden boxes and began to fire at the commandos. He was quickly killed by several of the Israelis. From inside the terminal, one of the terrorists opened fire, blasting through the window and spraying glass everywhere. During the assault Netanyahu was hit in the chest and fell to the ground mortally wounded.
As previously ordered, the three assault elements disregarded Netanyahu and stormed the building. At this point in the engagement, there wasn’t time to attend to the wounded. Although the elements were roughly together, the movement into and throughout the building was not fluid or precise, as rehearsed. Some of the commandos were bunched up and moving cautiously, while others ran independently, darting from room to room in search of terrorists. Nevertheless, the basic scheme of maneuver was being exercised.
Fig. 9–4. Old Terminal Assault: Inside View.
One of the Israelis, Amir, was the first man into the terminal. He penetrated through the second door of the main hall. Inside was a large, well-lit room where all the hostages were lying on the floor. A terrorist, who had been lying on the other side of the door, fired a burst from his Kalashnikov but miraculously missed Amir. Amir returned fire. His rounds sliced through the door and killed the terrorist instantly. As trained, Amir turned right and cleared his side of the room. Behind Amir came another commando, who turned left and picked up coverage on the other side of the room. As the second commando entered, he saw two terrorists lying on the floor to his left, their rifles trained on Amir. Immediately he fired and both terrorists were killed.
Betzer and the other part of his element, who should have entered through another door, came into the room directly behind the first two commandos. As the commandos entered, a terrorist jumped out from behind a column but was shot instantly. Within three minutes of landing, four of the seven terrorists were dead, and the hostages were safe. Amir, who had the loudspeaker, began telling the passengers to stay down. The commandos, with weapons at the ready, continued to scan the room. Suddenly, a little girl jumped up from the ground, and the Israeli soldiers turned to fire. Fortunately, they realized in time that the girl was a passenger. Others were not so lucky. In the course of the next several seconds, two passengers were shot as they got up to move. Both later died of their wounds. A third passenger died in the fighting, but apparently from wounds received from one of the terrorists during the initial exchange of fire.*
As Betzer and his men were securing the large room, the other elements were penetrating and clearing the remainder of the terminal. At the next entrance down from the large room, a lone commando entered the hallway firing, but no one was inside. By the time he stopped to reload, two other Israeli soldiers entered. They moved down the hall and into a small room that had been used as a kitchen. They entered the room firing, and after the assault they found two dead Ugandan guards. Two commandos from another team, who were disoriented and in the wrong hallway, arrived, only to be yelled at by their companions for being out of position.
Outside the building, the team that was to storm the VIP lounge found their entrance locked. One of the Israelis threw a grenade at the door, only to have the grenade bounce off and explode close by. One commando was slightly wounded from the shrapnel. The team backtracked into an open door and entered the VIP lounge from the building. In the lounge were two men. As the commandos entered, the two men raised their hands slightly and began moving toward the soldiers. The Israelis shouted at them to stop, but the men continued to move. For a moment, the commandos did not know whether the individuals were terrorists or hostages. Then one of the Israelis noticed a grenade belt around one of the men’s waist. Without hesitation, the commandos fired. As they did, the terrorist dropped a grenade that had been hidden in his hand. The explosion stunned the commandos, but none were seriously hurt. While clearing the remaining small rooms attached to the VIP lounge, another terrorist was found dead. It is presumed he was killed by an errant round when the commandos fired at the two unidentified terrorists. At this point in the engagement, all known terrorists had been killed; only the Ugandan troops remained.
At the other end of the building, in the old customs hall, the commandos entered and quickly killed a number of Ugandan soldiers. These commandos had the responsibility of clearing the second floor (the Ugandan berthing area) of the terminal. As the commandos climbed the stairs to their objective, two more Ugandans suddenly appeared in the doorway and were killed. A metal door led downstairs into the large hall where the hostages were held, but it was locked. Turning left, the commandos entered a restaurant where the Ugandan soldiers had been living. All that remained were blankets and sleeping bags. The Ugandans had apparently escaped when the fighting began.
Confident that the area was clear, the commandos proceeded to the outside deck above the customs room. From here they could see the Ugandans in the control tower exchanging fire with the commandos in the Landrovers. They found good cover and joined in the firefight. Once the second floor was clear, another smaller team was supposed to provide security, but that team never found the stairs to the second floor.
By this time, the firing in the terminal had abated enough for a doctor to reach Netanyahu, who was still lying outside the main entrance. The doctor found that a round from an AK-47 had pierced Netanyahu’s chest just under the collarbone. The internal bleeding was so severe that the doctor knew almost immediately that Netanyahu would not survive. Information on Netanyahu’s condition was passed to Betzer, the second in command, who subsequently informed the force that he was taking charge. As soon as the fourth C-130 landed and took its final position on the ground, which was only moments later, Netanyahu was moved by Landrover to that aircraft.
Although there was occasional fire from the control tower, the old terminal was secure, and the Unit began concentrating on their second objective, setting a defensive perimeter around the terminal area. During the fighting at the old terminal, Shomron and his five-man command element had remained at the site where the Mercedes and Landrovers disembarked. Six minutes after the first C-130 landed, the second aircraft touched down. Aboard this aircraft were Shomron’s command jeep and the first two APCs. As soon as the plane stopped and the vehicles were off-loaded, Shomron and his element got aboard and proceeded to the old terminal. Shomron arrived at the old terminal to the sounds of sporadic gunfire coming from the control tower. He parked his jeep nearby and directed the APCs to engage the tower with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). This temporarily quieted the tower.
Within one minute the third C-130 landed, but without the advantage of lights, which had been shut off after the second aircraft touched down. Shani, who watched the approach, recalled later, “The runway just disappeared and the pilot did a ‘navy landing.’ ”26 In seconds, the last two APCs exited and proceeded to the old terminal. The first two APCs separated, with the first APC remaining in the vicinity of the old terminal and the second APC moving to the Ugandan military base where the MiGs were positioned. The last two APCs drove to the backside of the old terminal and blocked the road coming from the city of Entebbe. Within fifteen minutes of the initial landing, the area inside and outside the old terminal was relatively secure, despite the occasional fire coming from the control tower.
Minutes later, the fourth C-130 landed, taxied south on the access runway, and halted about five hundred yards from the old terminal. This location was further from the old terminal than originally planned, but eventually the pilot corrected his error and moved somewhat closer. A Golani Infantry force of about sixteen officers and men surrounded the aircraft and prepared to assist in the evacuation of the hostages.
Two of the commandos from the Unit met the fourth C-130 after it stopped and began to coordinate the evacuation. At the old terminal, the passengers assembled outside and walked or were shuttled by Landrover or truck to the C-130. Throughout the assembly and evacuation process, the soldiers later reported, the passengers were overly concerned about their personal belongings, some even returning to the terminal to gather lost items. This happened despite pleas from the commandos for the passengers to leave their baggage.
Outside the cabin of the C-130, the medical team set up to assist the wounded. Netanyahu, who was still alive at this point, received a blood transfusion as the doctors worked feverishly to save his life.
As the passengers arrived at the aircraft, they were shuffled to the forward part of the cabin and asked to sit close together. Although efforts were made to get a head count, the darkness and confusion made an accurate count difficult. Several of the passengers at the terminal were hysterical or in shock and had to be physically removed from the building and placed on the C-130. Eventually, however, all the passengers were assembled aboard the aircraft.
While the passengers were being evacuated, the APCs continued to engage the control tower. After all the passengers had been loaded, two vehicles believed to be carrying Ugandan troops appeared on the road from Entebbe. These reinforcements were quickly repelled by the first APC. Meanwhile the second APC requested and eventually received permission to destroy the eight MiGs lined up outside the Ugandan military base. Although this action was ostensibly designed to prevent the MiGs from attacking the retreating C-130s, in reality it was Israel’s present to Idi Amin.27 The APC raked the MiGs with machine-gun fire, and the fighter aircraft exploded in a huge fireball that illuminated the sky. Fortunately for the commandos, who wanted to remain concealed in the darkness, the fire soon died down.
Earlier in the operation, even before the first rounds were fired at the old terminal, paratroopers under the command of Matan Vilnai had left the first C-130 and quickly moved into position outside the new terminal. Intelligence had indicated that the building was only occupied by civilians and a small police unit. As the first shots were heard from the old terminal, the paratroopers advanced on the new terminal. Inside the building were several civilians, but for the most part the facility was deserted. The Ugandan civilians were corralled and kept inside. The only unfortunate incident occurred when one of the Israeli paratroopers was shot by a policeman attempting to escape the building. The Israeli soldier, who, as directed, had his Galil assault rifle on safe, did not react quickly enough to the sudden appearance of the policeman. A round from the policeman’s pistol pierced the soldier’s neck and paralyzed him for life.
When the new terminal was secure, the C-130s, with the exception of the fourth aircraft, began to assemble on the apron in front of the building. Shani had brought a fuel pump and planned to refuel all the aircraft from the subterranean storage tanks. As the refueling began, the airborne command and control aircraft notified Shani that the Kenyans had granted permission for the C-130s to refuel in Nairobi during their return to Israel. It did not take Shani long to make a decision. He said later, “The chances that something was going to hit you were high. I tried to talk with Shomron, but he was over the hill. We needed forty more minutes on the ground to refuel. It was too risky, so we decided to stop refueling. This decision was supported by everyone.”28 (There was a large mound between the new terminal and the old terminal that made communications between the two positions difficult.) At 2352 Israeli time, the C-130 containing the 106 hostages departed Entebbe. It was fifty-one minutes after the touchdown of Shani’s first C-130. The only passenger who remained unaccounted for was seventy-five-year-old Dora Bloch. The previous day Mrs. Bloch had gotten a piece of meat stuck in her throat and was taken by the Ugandans to the Kampala Hospital. The commandos were forced to leave her, hoping that Idi Amin would release the woman later. Unfortunately, Amin had Bloch murdered in retaliation for the raid on Entebbe.
With the passengers safely on their way to Nairobi, the main assault forces began to withdraw. As they extracted to the aircraft, the commandos covered their movements with smoke and left small explosive devices scattered around the parking apron outside the old terminal. These devices were set with a fifteen-minute time fuse and would discourage any Ugandan soldiers from pursuing the force.
Yekutiel Adam, who was aboard the command and control aircraft, had received conflicting reports on the number of hostages rescued. The C-130 aircraft commander reported 93 hostages rescued, but intelligence had previously indicated that there were 106 at the old terminal. Adam directed Shomron to double-check the Air France jet, which was parked at the old terminal, to confirm that no one was still aboard. One of the APCs returned to the terminal and conducted a quick check of the Air France airbus.* Convinced that there was no one left behind, the assault force continued their withdrawal.
By 0012 4 July, Shani had reloaded all his commandos and their vehicles onto the airplane as planned, and they took off for Nairobi. Within thirty minutes the other two C-130s had back-loaded their troops and equipment and lifted off for Nairobi at 0040. Ninety-nine minutes after the first C-130 had landed at Entebbe, all the hostages and Israeli soldiers had been extracted. It was approximately a one-hour flight to Nairobi. As soon as the aircraft landed, they were met by Israeli officials. Some of the passengers were moved to a waiting Boeing 707 mobile hospital that had landed earlier in the evening, while the remainder of the passengers elected to stay with the C-130s. At 0200, after refueling all six aircraft (the airborne command and control, the mobile hospital, and the four C-130s), the task force departed Nairobi bound for Israel. Much to the chagrin of the assault force, the Israeli army radio station broadcast the results of the raid well before the C-130s had returned home. At this point in the flight, it would still have been possible for either Egypt or Saudi Arabia to intercept the unarmed air armada and prevent a successful conclusion to the mission.
About four hundred miles outside of Israel, the C-130s picked up an F-4 fighter escort. At 0943 the C-130s landed at Tel Nof Air Force Base. Here the passengers were debriefed and told not to discuss the tactics employed by assault forces. Following the briefings the passengers were flown to Lod Airport, and Operation Jonathan was completed.
The raid on Entebbe is the best example yet of how the principles of special operations are used to achieve relative superiority. With less than two days to plan and prepare a major assault mission, the Israelis developed the simplest option for success. During the planning phase, they limited their objectives, used intelligence to identify the obstacles, and then applied technology and innovation to overcome those obstacles. During the preparation phase, security surrounding the operation was effective but not overbearing. And in less than eighteen hours the units involved conducted several partial and full-dress rehearsals. During the execution phase, the Israelis gained surprise using boldness and deception to momentarily confuse the Ugandans, and by moving quickly on the target, they were able to secure the hostages within three minutes of landing at Entebbe. Throughout the three phases, the purpose of the operation was emphasized again and again, and it not only meant the rescue of the hostages, but the honor and respect of the state of Israel. Even though the engagement was not executed exactly according to plan, all the commandos and soldiers understood the prime objective and worked toward achieving that goal.
Were the objectives worth the risk? It is difficult to appreciate the risks, both militarily and politically, that were inherent in the raid on Entebbe. The Israeli public had suffered “a great psychological and moral blow” in the Yom Kippur War.29 Politically, a failure at Entebbe might spell defeat for the Rabin government. Militarily, the Israeli commandos had recently suffered several disasters. In 1974 at Ma’alot, twenty-three children were killed when commandos stormed a schoolhouse, and in 1975 in Tel Aviv, eight hostages and three soldiers died in a rescue attempt at the Savoy Hotel. Had the IDF failed at Entebbe, it would have had a devastating effect on military pride and morale. Consequently, the choice to use force, from both a political and a military standpoint, was a risky one. When, however, the terrorists turned the hijacking into a purely anti-Zionist action, the Rabin government had little choice but to exercise the military option. Even if the military option had failed, at least it would have failed in defiance of terrorism. To have stood idly by and negotiated with the terrorists would have been a sign of weakness and probably would have perpetuated the terrorist problem. Therefore rescuing the hostages was clearly worth the military and political risks.
Was the plan developed to maximize superiority over the enemy and minimize risk to the assault force? General Shomron initially wanted to use a large force to take Entebbe by storm. Although this probably would have minimized the risk to the assault force, it would not necessarily have maximized superiority over the terrorists. A large force would have been more difficult to control, easier to detect, and slower to launch an assault, all of which could have reduced the effectiveness of the operation. The final plan relied on gaining relative superiority by using surprise and speed to confuse and subdue the terrorists long enough to rescue the hostages. To sustain relative superiority, the Israelis would use conventional force (i.e., APCs, Golani Infantry, and paratroopers). In the first few minutes of the engagement, the risk to the Unit’s personnel was high, but once the hostages were secured, the risk abated. The plan, although not without considerable risk, was well conceived. Owing to excellent planning and preparation, it offered the lowest risk possible.
Was the mission executed according to the plan, and if not what unforeseen circumstances dictated the outcome? With the exception of some misdirected commandos entering the wrong hallway, the mission was almost flawless. Although four people died, including Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, this does not alter the fact that the men and equipment performed as planned and rehearsed. Chance and uncertainty were high; and considering the difficulty of the operation, the loss of four people, although regrettable, nonetheless constitutes a highly successful mission.
What modifications could have improved the outcome? It is doubtful that any change in the plan or the execution of it could have improved the outcome of the raid on Entebbe. Had lightweight body armor been available to the commandos, it might have saved Netanyahu’s life. However, in 1976 the only option to the soldiers was a heavy flak jacket. These vests would have restricted movement and, in the heat of the African night, would have been highly undesirable.
In conclusion, the raid on Entebbe stands up well to close scrutiny and even with today’s advances in technology and training, it is doubtful that a modern force could have improved on the Israelis’ success.
In describing the first few minutes of the raid, Iddo Netanyahu captures the essence of relative superiority. “With that, all four of the terrorists who had been in the hall with the hostages, and had posed an immediate danger to them, had been eliminated. At that moment—a blink of an eye after Amir had killed the first terrorist, less than a minute after the force had encountered the Ugandan sentries, and roughly three minutes after it had descended from the Hercules—the operation had essentially achieved success.”30
Fig. 9–5. Relative Superiority Graph for the Raid on Entebbe
The Unit had achieved a decisive advantage over the terrorists and Ugandans within three minutes of arriving at Entebbe. The mission was far from over, but the necessary conditions for success had been achieved. The moment Netanyahu describes did not arrive by coincidence. It was the result of the effective application of the principles of special operations, and it is highly unlikely that a large conventional force, unwieldy by nature, could have achieved the same success.
The relative superiority graph (Figure 9-5) shows that the point of vulnerability occurred immediately upon landing at the airport. Prior to this time, the Ugandans had no capability to detect, much less interdict, the incoming C-130s. Although the aircraft could have been detected by Egyptian or Saudi radars, sufficient precautions were taken to minimize this possibility. Additionally, it is presumed that Israeli intelligence had the capability of monitoring Arab transmissions and could have aborted the mission if the aircraft were compromised.
The terrorists basically established four lines of defense: the new control tower, which could have alerted the terrorists that an assault was taking place; the sentries, who were positioned on the access road; the Ugandan guards outside the old terminal; and the terrorists in the building. After a successful surprise landing, the commandos wasted no time in assaulting the objective. Netanyahu had instructed his men that if the vehicle convoy were interdicted prior to reaching the old terminal, which it was, he and his element in the Mercedes would continue to move toward the objective. Once at the old terminal, the assault element stalled momentarily. Netanyahu, who clearly understood the need to move quickly, took charge and directed the assault force to the door. Once inside the building, the terrorists were killed with a minimum of confusion. The area of vulnerability between gaining relative superiority and mission accomplishment was minimized by the conventional arm of the assault force. Considering that the entire operation, from landing to takeoff, took ninety-nine minutes, the area of vulnerability was just over 3 percent of the total engagement. Fifty-one minutes after the first landing, the fourth C-130 departed with the hostages, and soon thereafter the operation was completed. In this case, the frictions of war were minimal and the moral factors, such as Netanyahu’s courage, were strong enough to overcome any attempts to topple the pyramid.
The Principles of Special Operations
Simplicity. All of the forces involved in Operation Jonathan had done missions more complicated than the raid on Entebbe. Shomron, in an effort to convince Gur of the viability of the plan, said, “Believe me, from the moment that we will be on the ground in Entebbe, we can carry it out easily. We have done things a thousand times more complicated.”31 However, in this mission, the forces were working under a severe time constraint, and every attempt to further simplify the plan was worth the effort.
Initially, Shomron wanted to storm Entebbe with a large force, hoping to overwhelm the Ugandan troops. This idea was discarded when Netanyahu and others argued that “such a [force] would be too cumbersome … and that a way had to be found to pull [the raid] off in a more limited, more compact way.”32 By limiting the size of the force, Netanyahu understood that the mission “would have a better chance of succeeding.”33 However he also had to limit his objectives to the old terminal in order to maximize the strength of his small force. The adjacent control tower, which clearly presented a threat, was bypassed because penetrating the structure would detract from the primary objective of rescuing the hostages. It was not until the hostages were secure that follow-on forces arrived to cordon off the entire area and provide covering fire for the extraction.
In the early phases of planning there was insufficient intelligence to develop a detailed plan for the hostage rescue operation. By Friday afternoon, however, solid information began to pour in, although it was still somewhat limited for an operation of this magnitude. Israeli intelligence had provided passenger interrogation reports, home movies, and other firsthand accounts of the Entebbe Airport. This information allowed the commandos to construct a clear picture of the threat and develop possible “workarounds.” They now knew how many terrorists there were and basically where they were positioned, and they were able to closely estimate the number of Ugandan soldiers and determine how they might react in combat. This allowed Shomron and Netanyahu to tailor the force structure to simplify the mission. Consequently, with no apparent threat at the new terminal, only a small paratrooper force was used to secure this facility, and with only seven terrorists and a small number of Ugandans inside the old terminal, Netanyahu was able to limit the number of assault elements he employed. Intelligence further simplified the mission by providing additional information about the Ugandan reaction force in the city, the airfield refueling points, and the fact that the old terminal was not wired with explosives, as originally reported. (Although Israeli intelligence was not 100 percent certain that the building was not rigged with explosives, they had verified that Ugandan guards and the terrorists were moving freely throughout the facility without apparent regard for explosives.) By eliminating the unknown factors and identifying obstacles that could reduce surprise and speed on target, intelligence was instrumental in developing a simple plan.
New technology and innovative tactics were also helpful in overcoming obstacles and thereby simplifying the plan. Although it is common practice with today’s special operations forces, the raid on Entebbe was the first application of long-range penetration by airborne commandos. The flight from Israel to Entebbe took seven and a half hours. It was virtually unthinkable, at the time, for a force to travel such a distance to conduct a raid. Consequently, the terrorists and Ugandan soldiers were relatively secure in the belief that Entebbe was unapproachable. By using this bold and innovative tactic, the Israelis were able to surprise the enemy, reduce the effectiveness of his defenses, and thereby simplify the mission. Additionally, new or improved technology in the form of Buffalo armored personnel carriers, “sight light” low-light aiming devices, special explosives, and silenced weapons were used as force multipliers against the ill-equipped terrorists and Ugandan soldiers.
The raid on Entebbe, although exceptionally bold and politically risky, turned out to be “a straightforward operation without any complications.”34 The lack of significant problems was a result, in part, of the efforts to simplify the plan through limiting the objectives, obtaining good intelligence, and using innovative tactics and new technology.
Security. The military security that surrounded the planning and preparation for the raid on Entebbe was unusually light by normal standards. This can be attributed, in part, to the sense of national security that prevails throughout Israel. General Shani said it best when he noted that “as a nation, we are always conscious of security … We are surrounded by the enemy, so we must be careful.”35 There seemed to be little concern that the raid would be compromised to foreign sources. Some soldiers went home every evening, many of the wives or girlfriends knew that a raid was pending, and personnel from other military units rushed to be considered for the mission. By approaching the raid with a business-as-usual attitude, the Israelis were able to conduct several partial and full-dress rehearsals, borrow home movies from an outside source, and interface with noncleared units (i.e., the air force cadets who set up the mock terminal). Security was tightened, however, once the preparation was in its final stages. On Saturday, when all the personnel arrived for the final briefing, the phones were secured and no one was allowed to leave the base. When the C-130s landed at Sharm-a-Sheikh, the base was sealed off and none of the base personnel were allowed to depart until after the aircraft had returned from the raid. Once in flight, all precautions were taken to avoid enemy air-search radars, and Israeli communications experts listened for possible detection of the mission.
The light security surrounding the raid on Entebbe provides an interesting case study of the cultural appreciation of military operations. The Israelis, by virtue of their national identity and geographic position in the Middle East, are security conscious as a matter of routine. Additionally, Israeli combat operations between 1967 and 1976 were commonplace, so the movement of soldiers and aircraft did not present a unique profile to the average citizen. These two factors—a national appreciation for security and military routinization—provided the assault force sufficient security to maintain their cover without affecting the proper planning and preparation necessary for a successful operation.
Repetition. The principle of repetition, as seen in the raid on Entebbe, takes two forms, routine and rehearsals. Routine was manifested in the thousands of flight hours and hundreds of short-field landings done by the C-130 squadron and in the tens of thousands of rounds fired by the Israeli counterterrorist team. In both cases, because the act of landing or shooting was the same regardless of location, the transition from practice to execution was eased considerably. Shani said later, “As far as the Unit was concerned, they didn’t care whether it was Lod or Entebbe. They were trained to do this mission. Their actions were the same either way.”36 This statement was not meant to trivialize the commandos’ role but to reinforce the point that by practicing the same action again and again, they were able to somewhat neutralize certain factors, such as location. The same generalization holds true for the pilots. It didn’t matter whether they were landing at Ben Gurion or Entebbe; they were trained to do the task.
What the pilots and commandos were not trained to do was to work together on this type of mission. Consequently, when Netanyahu received the order to prepare for Entebbe, he immediately started his men on a series of rehearsals. They began by practicing the hasty off-load from the C-130s. “Everything was rehearsed again and again, each time in order to cut another two or three seconds off the times required to unfasten the vehicles and secure them.”37 At the same time, the men who were assigned to assault the old terminal conducted dozens of drills on a mock-up terminal. By late afternoon on Friday, Netanyahu had his men exercising the entire scenario from off-load to back-load and everything in between. That evening a full-dress rehearsal was conducted that included all the ground and air forces, which had also been conducting drills throughout the day. The scheme of maneuver that was practiced at the rehearsal was constantly reinforced and refined through a series of briefings. By the time the assault force departed Sharm-a-Sheikh, each man knew his responsibility. However, knowing your responsibility and being able to rehearse in a benign environment and quite different from actual combat. During the assault on the old terminal, several commandos entered the wrong hallway, even though they had practiced entering the mock-up a dozen times.* Nevertheless, the Unit’s ability to rapidly offload from the C-130, move to the old terminal, assault the building, and kill the terrorists with a minimum of friendly casualties is a testimony to the importance of rehearsals and constantly practicing basic tactical skills.
Surprise. Rescuing hostages is the most difficult of all special operations. It requires relative superiority to be almost simultaneous with mission completion, because any delay between relative superiority and mission completion provides the enemy an opportunity to kill the hostages—an action which takes only seconds. Consequently, if possible, surprise must be maintained up to the point of entry. In the raid on Entebbe, surprise was not absolute, but, coupled with deception, it was sufficient to confuse the Ugandans and terrorists long enough to allow the commandos to penetrate the old terminal and rescue the hostages.
Interestingly enough, the Israelis were confident they could land at Entebbe uncompromised if not undetected. Entebbe was, after all, an international airport, with “movement in and out of the airport about every half an hour.”38Shani believed, and was proven correct, that the sound of a C-130 would not arouse undue suspicion. In fact, it was not until the second C-130 landed that the Ugandan Airport personnel became interested enough to investigate the unannounced aircraft. This was approximately six minutes after the first C-130 had landed. (The old terminal was over a kilometer from the new terminal and behind a small ridge, so it is not unbelievable that the noise of the gunfire went unnoticed by the airport personnel.) However, landing at the airport and penetrating Ugandan security at the old terminal were two different problems.
By wearing Ugandan uniforms and using the Mercedes to momentarily confuse the guards, the Israelis were able to maintain surprise right up to the point of entry. The terrorist who ran screaming back into the old terminal apparently did not realize, even at that point, that the Israelis were conducting a rescue. At night, and in the confusion, all the terrorist saw were the mottled camouflage utilities, and he assumed the Ugandans had “gone nuts.” Once in the building, the Israelis had a decisive advantage and surprise was no longer an important factor.
Although surprise was manifested in the actions at the airport, those actions were only possible because the idea of rescuing hostages from a sovereign country was so improbable. The boldness of the plan created an environment in which surprise was possible. As Shani said later, the raid was a total surprise, because “nobody [thought] we were crazy enough to fly there.” This bold act, coupled with deception, was the key component to gaining surprise at Entebbe.
Speed. In interviews with Iddo Netanyahu members of the Israeli assault force expressed understanding that “the time spent crossing the large airport had to be cut to a minimum, to reduce the risk of the terrorists and the Ugandan sentries at the terminal being alerted by the control tower—and to make sure that even if they were warned, they would not have time to understand exactly what was happening and respond.”39
In the ideal special operation, speed is so dominant that the enemy has no time to react. This speed allows the attacking force, which has trained for just such a situation, to dictate the tempo of the engagement. The raid on Entebbe demonstrates how speed on the target is necessary for success. From the moment Shani landed the first C-130, it was three minutes until the commandos had relative superiority and the passengers were secure. During most of this time the terrorists guarding the passengers were unaware that a rescue attempt was in progress. Netanyahu fully appreciated the need for speed. Anticipating that the vehicle convoy might be stopped before it got to the old terminal, Netanyahu had ordered the driver of the Mercedes not to stop under any circumstances. Nothing was to delay the initial assault force from reaching the hostages as quickly as possible. When the commandos reached the old terminal and then suddenly hesitated, Netanyahu personally jumped in front of the assault element and ordered them to the door. He knew that “the loss of every second, especially when they were so close to the hostages, could have fatal consequences.”40 Netanyahu had told his men to run as hard as they could, and the commandos heeded his instructions. It was approximately thirty seconds from the time the Mercedes stopped in front of the old tower until the passengers were secure. Considering that the terrorists were not expecting the assault, the thirty seconds was insufficient time for the terrorists to react with any degree of purpose.
Throughout the engagement a sense of urgency always governed the actions of the air and ground elements. For example, Shani had instructed his pilots to take off as soon as they were back-loaded, regardless of the order of departure. This meant that most of the command and control element, Vilnai, Shani, and Betzer, departed before the other aircraft. This was considered acceptable because it reduced the time on target and thereby reduced the number of personnel and aircraft exposed to enemy fire.
Time was also a consideration when planning for the arrival of the APCs. Originally the four APCs, which were to provide security around the old terminal, were scheduled to arrive six minutes apart on the second and third C-130s. Netanyahu had initially ordered the drivers to wait until all four APCs were together before proceeding to the old terminal. Netanyahu’s men argued for immediate deployment of the first two APCs, claiming it was better to have two APCs quickly than four APCs later. Logic prevailed and Netanyahu agreed to bring in the first two APCs as soon as they landed.
Any delay that expands the area of vulnerability, or exposure, increases the chance that the mission will fail. Consequently every attempt should be made to reduce the time on target. The raid on Entebbe clearly shows that speed was considered throughout the planning, preparation, and execution and was instrumental to success on the ground.
Purpose. As with most successful operations, the raid on Entebbe shows how identifying the purpose early in the planning instills a sense of commitment and helps the combatants focus on what is important. Time and again throughout the preparation for the raid, Jonathan Netanyahu stressed the purpose of the mission. “The objective of the mission was to save the lives of the hostages … everyone [has] to remember the purpose of the action, and work towards attaining it.”41 Since the planners understood the purpose of the mission, they reduced the size of the assault force, ensured the assault on the old terminal was kept to a minimum of time, and bypassed the old tower to reach the hostages quickly. Any action, with the exception of destroying the MiGs, that deviated from rescuing the hostages was discarded from the plan. But a sense of purpose involves more than just understanding the objective; it means being fully committed to the mission. The Unit’s intelligence officer recalled that Netanyahu was greatly moved by the moral significance of the operation. “There was another element [that Netanyahu considered] … beyond the tactical side of the operation: the Zionist, human element.”42 It was this direct affront to Zionism and the conventions of civilized nations that inspired the Israelis throughout the operation. The success of a mission frequently depends on the actions of one man; consequently indecision and hesitation resulting from misunderstanding and indifference can lead to failure. At Entebbe the purpose was clear and the commitment unwavering.
In conclusion, the raid on Entebbe is the best illustration of the theory of special operations yet presented. Relative superiority, which was achieved within three minutes of the engagement, resulted from the proper application of the principles of special operations: a small force using a simple plan, carefully concealed, repeatedly rehearsed, and executed with surprise, speed, and purpose. The defenses were penetrated before the enemy had time to react, and relative superiority was sustained through the use of superior firepower. Using the principles, the Israelis minimized the frictions of war. Those frictions that did appear were countered by the moral factors of courage and boldness, which were present in abundance throughout the engagement.
1. Vice President’s Task Force on Combatting Terrorism, Terrorist Group Profiles (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988), 118.
2. Brig. Gen. Joshua Shani, interview by author, tape recording, Washington, D.C., 19 January 1993.
5. Iddo Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, unpublished manuscript, 19.
6. Ibid., 41. Attributed to Jonathan Netanyahu’s intelligence officer.
7. Ibid., 43.
8. Ibid., 55–56.
9. Jonathan Netanyahu, Self Portrait of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu (1963–1976) (New York: Random House, 1980), 97.
10. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 136. From an Israeli Defense Force radio program of August 1976.
11. Ibid., 266-67.
12. Shani, interview.
14. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 31.
15. Shani, interview.
16. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 64. Attributed to an officer in the C-130 squadron.
17. Ibid., 78.
18. Iddo Netanyahu, letter to author, 14 May 1993.
19. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 5.
20. Shani, interview.
21. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 172. This is an indirect quote based on Dr. Iddo Netanyahu’s interviews with Israeli commandos present at the time of Jonathan’s brief.
22. Ibid., 27.
23. Shani, interview.
25. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 29.
26. Shani, interview.
29. Netanyahu, letter.
30. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 206.
31. William Stevenson, 90 Minutes at Entebbe (New York: Bantam, 1976), 75.
32. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 35. Attributed to Netanyahu’s intelligence officer.
33. Ibid., 35.
34. Shani, interview.
37. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 16.
38. Shani, interview.
39. Netanyahu, Yoni’s Last Battle, 43.
40. Ibid., 31.
41. Ibid., 172.
42. Ibid., 7.
*It is also believed that three additional terrorists joined the group later the next day. This raised the total number to ten terrorists. However, at the time of the assault by Israeli commandos, only seven terrorists were present at the old terminal. The others are believed to have been in the town of Entebbe.
*On 15 May 1974, three terrorists from the Democratic Front, a militant faction of the PLO, took 105 people hostage in a schoolhouse in the town of Ma’alot. Most of the hostages were schoolchildren and their teachers. When Israeli soldiers assaulted the schoolhouse, the terrorists began killing hostages. Twenty-two children died, fifty-six others were wounded, and an Israeli soldier was killed.
*The Unit did not actually propose the blacked-out landing. This was developed by the planners at the C-130 squadron, but it was coordinated with the Unit.
*Originally, Jonathan Netanyahu was not scheduled to be the assault force leader, in spite of the fact that he was the commanding officer of the Unit. For political reasons, Col. Ehud Barak, the previous commander of the Unit, was chosen to supervise the Unit’s ground operations. Eventually, this convoluted chain of command was resolved, and Barak did not participate.
*Most of the commandos preferred the Kalashnikov (AK-47) to the Galil because it fired a 7.62 (39mm) round rather than the 5.56 and the reliability was reportedly better.
*The squadron had also been working with night-vision goggles to do blacked-out landings, but Shani felt the pilots were not operationally ready to use this technique.
*The meeting between Gur and the officers lasted approximately thirty minutes, during which time Netanyahu spoke up several times. However, when Gur asked for Netanyahu’s final assessment, this was his response.
*There is some argument about whether the launch order was ever received or not. Shani never recalls receiving an order to launch from the general staff, while Iddo Netanyahu’s research shows that the order was given to launch while the force was at Sharm-a-Sheikh.
*The account of actions in the large room do not indicate that any terrorists, other than the one lying behind the door, fired at the commandos. Nevertheless, an investigation of Ida Borokovitch, the third passenger killed, revealed that the fatal wounds came from terrorist guns and not Israeli. In the confusion, it is conceivable a terrorist fired but was killed so quickly that the incident went unreported.
*The APC commander did not enter the Air France jet for fear that the hatches might be booby-trapped. Instead he looked through the portholes and could see that the aircraft was empty.
*In his correspondence with the author, Iddo Netanyahu was quick to point out that entering the mock-up a dozen times could not prevent confusion. The mock-up was just a bare outline of the old terminal, and with all the other preparations necessary for this raid, the commandos could not rehearse as much as they would have liked. This illustrates that the frictions of war are always present in combat. Even if the commandos had rehearsed on a realistic model one hundred times, chance and uncertainty would still have played a major part in success. It is a credit to the Israelis that more tactical problems did not arise.