Daniel Mandel: Entebbe CelebratedRoundup: Historians' Take
Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, London, 2004). His blog can be found on the History News Network.
Thirty-five years ago last week, Israeli commandos flew into the heart of Africa to the old terminal building at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport. In a lighting operation, they freed 103 hostages. 248 passengers and 12 crewmembers had been hijacked a week earlier aboard Air France Flight 139 en route from Athens to Paris. The hijackers were German and Arab -- this was a collaboration between Baader-Meinhof and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist PLO faction that is now part of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA).
Once in control of the plane, the terrorists refueled with help from Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan government and diverted the flight to Idi Amin ’s bloodthirsty dictatorship. The PLO terrorists gradually released most passengers, retaining only those with Israeli passports or Jewish surnames -- no "we’re anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic" pretensions here -- plus the Air France crew of Captain Michel Bacos, who refused to abandon any of his charges.
The hijackers demanded the release of jailed Palestinian terrorists in an assortment of Israeli and European jails and threatened to start murdering the hostages if their demands went unmet. With the passengers captive in the middle of a seemingly inaccessible African tyranny, there was no reason to suppose anyone, the Israelis included, would have any choice but to cave in.
Instead, only hours before the deadline, Israeli commandos flew the 2,500 miles to Uganda in four C-130 Hercules military transport planes, taking the terrorists and their Ugandan enablers by surprise. The terminal building holding the hostages was stormed and all but four were safely spirited away. It was the stuff of movies (and three were duly produced in quick succession). Israel basked, perhaps for the last time, in international acclaim and sympathy for resolutely fighting terrorism.
Much has changed in 35 years...
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