On July 1, 1976, Shomron was ready with an operational plan which he presented to the Defense Minister. The following day the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister reviewed a full-scale dress rehearsal of the operation. The impossible proved to be possible. The Prime Minister gave a green-light to the operation, and Shomron selected 200 of the best from Sayeret Matkal (Israel’s top reconnaissance unit) and other elite units.
Four Hercules C-130 transport planes were chosen for the operation which commenced late July 3/early July 4th. While the four IDF planes were in the air Prime Minister Rabin revealed the rescue plan to the cabinet. Quick approval by the cabinet assured the continuance of the mission. The lead C-130 held Yoni Netanyahu and 29 other commandos, in addition to a Black Mercedes – a replica of Idi Amin’s car – and two Land Rovers. Flying low, to avoid radar detection, the four C-130’s crossed Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya. Netanyahu’s C-130 was the first to land in Entebbe – in total darkness – leading the way for the other three.
Netanyahu and the Israeli commandos burst into the terminal and quickly eliminated the terrorists, caught totally by surprise. However, in an exchange of fire that killed all of the terrorists, three Israeli hostages were also killed. An elderly Israeli hostage who had taken ill was taken to the hospital in Kampala and deliberately murdered on orders of Idi Amin. Commandos from the second and third C-130 destroyed 11 Ugandan MIG-17 fighter planes parked in the airport to prevent pursuit. The remaining hostages were quickly freed, loaded onto the C-130’s and flown to Kenya.
Sadly, a Ugandan sentry from the control tower shot Yoni Netanyahu as they withdrew to the C-130’s with the hostages. Israeli commandos returned fire and killed 47 Ugandan soldiers around the airport. The incredible success of the mission was however marred by the mortal wounds sustained by Yoni Netanyahu and his subsequent death.
Nevertheless, the mission was a great mood-changer in Israel. The vulnerability felt by Israelis as a result of the Yom Kippur war losses, gave way to feelings of tremendous pride and security with the realization that Jews would no longer be victimized with impunity. The Nazi-like selection of Jewish hostages brought back memories of the horrors of the Holocaust germinated into a deep sense of psychological satisfaction that, in some measure, the Jews had triumphed over the Nazis.
And then, capping off this mood-changing July 1976, Rina Mor, Miss Israel, was crowned Miss Universe.
In retrospect, 35-years later, Operation Yoni, named after the fallen hero of the Entebbe raid, was a most daring and glorious moment in Israel’s history.
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