The Intricacies of Staging the Entebbe Rescue
By Heidi Krizer Daroff
Moving through this month’s Reading Israel book selection, Entebbe: A Defining Moment in the War on Terrorism by Iddo Netanyahu, a few key points about the Israel Defense Forces and the people of Israel at that time period become very clear.
In 1976, the IDF had not conducted a major operation beyond Israel’s borders and certainly not a rescue mission that would take place over two thousand miles away. This situation came at a difficult time. Netanyahu explains in the book:
“It may be that then, as he (Yonatan Netanyahu) sat alone in his office, he saw for the first time the full significance of the operation and the risks it entailed. The people of Israel had yet to recover from the devastating blow of the Yom Kippur War in 1973...If the operation failed-if the hostages, or most of them, were killed, and if the elite forces of Israel’s army were captured or wiped out, far from the country’s borders- the effect on the country’s spirit would be crushing…”
There were so many moving parts to this effort. There were close to one hundred Jewish, Israeli hostages as well as airline crew being held. The number of terrorists holding them was uncertain and to make matters worse, there were units of Ugandan soldiers assisting the terrorists on the ground in Entebbe in their demands.
According to the author, Yoni Netanyahu, commander of the elite fighting force, the unit, spent several days preparing the mission and organizing every detail.
There were so many obstacles to success, everything from securing the Prime Minister’s Cabinet's approval, to flying under the radar so that neighboring Arab countries would not be able to alert the terrorists to the mission underway, devising a plan such as using a Mercedes rigged to look like Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s personal car was driving when it was really loaded with members of the fighting force of the IDF, to making sure that all of the soldiers involved (from combat forces to storm the buildings where the hostages were held, Air Force pilots to fly the military planes to Uganda and back, doctors to treat the injured in a flying hospital because they could not spend any extra time in the hostile territory of Uganda, and many others who played a vital role in this effort) knew their responsibilities and carried them out with precision.
On top of all this was the urgency involved. Usually a mission as complex as this would require months of planning but Yoni’s team barely had days to prepare and bring the innocent hostages home alive.
Iddo Netanyahu further describes the feelings among the people of Israel:
“Among other Israelis, a feeling of helplessness and despair spread. People listened to the radio news broadcast every hour, and the picture seemed clear enough: The Arabs were about to win another victory, boosting their hubris and their strength. And Israel was helpless. Either it would give in to terror and release murderers from their cells, or would refuse to bend, and a hundred innocent people would be killed. There seemed to be no reasonable way out.”
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Until a later chapter describes:
“Orders in Hebrew filled the hall. One of the soldiers announced, ‘We’ve come to take you home,’ and the people began to understand that the inconceivable had indeed happened...salvation had suddenly come, in the form of young Israelis emerging from the night.”
Literally overnight the situation went from horrendously frightening to overwhelmingly thrilling. The members of the Israel Defense Force knew that it was up to them and only them to bring their people home - and that is exactly what they did.
Heidi Krizer Daroff enjoys sharing her passion for Israel with others as North America Director of The Israel Forever Foundation. While her passport indicates that she does not reside in Israel, her heart definitely does. Through her storytelling, Heidi invites you to grow your involvement and add more Israel Forever into your daily life.