Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rescue at Entebbe -- the continuing lesson - Abraham H. Miller

by Abraham H. Miller

What followed afterward in Uganda and on the world’s diplomatic stages is as important as the raid itself.

On July 4, 1976, Israeli commandos launched one of the most daring hostage rescue missions of all time, the raid on Entebbe. Its military audacity and tactical details have become a textbook case of the use of special forces and the element of surprise to gain advantage over a superior force. Its success awed military leaders across the globe. ­

On June 27, 1976, an Air France Air Bus took off from Tel Aviv for Paris with a stop in Athens. Among the passengers that boarded the plane in Athens were four hijackers, two members of the loosely organized Revolutionary Cells, a German terrorist group, and two members of a faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Shortly after takeoff, they commandeered the plane and forced it to fly to Benghazi Airport.

From Benghazi, the plane flew to the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, which at the time was under the control of the maniacal psychopath, Idi Amin, who was president for life of Uganda and head of the Organization of African Unity. Four more armed hijackers boarded the plane at Entebbe, with the complicity of the Ugandan dictator. Ugandan military reinforced the hijackers.

At the Entebbe Airport, the terrorists, with the help of Ugandan soldiers, separated the Jews from the rest of the passengers. Of the non-Jews, 148 were released and flown to Paris.

With the unstable Amin in charge and the terrorists refusing to receive diplomatic entreaties, even from Yasser Arafat, the lives of the Jewish hostages hung in a fragile balance.

Following hostage negotiations, the Israelis ran the clock and prepared for an assault on Entebbe. The dramatic and skillful execution of the surprise raid has been well documented elsewhere and the subject of several cinematic productions. Israeli commandos rescued some 100 hostages, losing one of their own, Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of the current Israeli prime minister, and three hostages. The Israeli Special Forces killed all of the terrorists and more than forty of their Ugandan military accomplices.

The drama did not end there. What followed afterward in Uganda and on the world’s diplomatic stages is as important as the raid itself.

Members of Amin’s security forces, in retaliation, dragged Dora Bloch, an elderly British-Jewish woman, from a hospital bed in Kampala and shot her. They also shot Ugandan medical personnel who tried to intervene to protect her.

Because Kenya permitted the Israeli plane that transported the hostages to refuel in Nairobi, Amin’s troops massacred hundreds of innocent Kenyans who were living in Uganda.

At the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity entered a complaint against Israel for violating Ugandan sovereignty. The Soviets joined in the condemnation. Among many African nations, the principle of sovereignty of a country run by a psychopath and co-conspirator in international piracy was more important than the humanitarian consideration of saving lives -- perhaps, because they were Jewish lives.

UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim spoke of the importance of respecting national sovereignty and of the unprecedented nature of the situation. U.S. representative to the UN William Scranton voiced similar sentiments trying to balance Amin’s national sovereignty against Jewish lives. In private, however, Henry Kissinger took a much harsher tone, telling the Israeli ambassador that the United States was deeply concerned that the Israelis used American equipment in the rescue. Thus, Kissinger inadvertently raised the question of what equipment the Israelis should have used.

The diplomatic aftermath is all too reminiscent of the plight of Jews during the Holocaust when concerns for immigration quotas and the calculated findings of British White Papers were more important than saving Jewish lives.

For those, especially leftist Jews, who think Israel has no place in the community of nations, the 90 minutes at Entebbe remind us that when Jewish lives hang in the balance, it is Israel that can be counted on to come to the rescue. When mad men commit atrocities against Jews, much of the rest of the world will simply engage in diplomatic circumlocution. As it was in the time of Hitler, so it was also a generation later, in the time of the Revolutionary Cells, and so it often continues to be. 

Abraham H. Miller


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