Israel Releases Logs From Entebbe Raid, a Mission Some Deemed Impossible

‘How does a mission start? They say it’s impossible,’ Defense Minister Shimon Peres complained at the time.

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Air France passengers after they were released in the Entebbe operation in 1976. Credit: Getty Images

Israel on Thursday released logbook excerpts from 1976 Operation Entebbe that freed Israelis taken hostage after their Air France plane had been hijacked to Uganda. The defense minister at the time, Shimon Peres, comes across as particularly resolute.

Just before the commandos set off, Peres writes to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: “The latest upgrade to the plan: Instead of vehicles belonging to the airport, a big Mercedes decked with flags will emerge — Idi Amin returning home from Mauritius. I don’t know if that’s feasible, but it’s an interesting idea.”

Rabin wonders when Amin is due back from Mauritius, and “why a Mercedes?” Peres replies: “How does a mission start? 1. They say it’s impossible. 2. The timing is wrong. 3. The cabinet won’t approve it. The only problem I saw, and still see, is ‘how will it end?’”

The logbook is kept in the military archives at the Defense Ministry. The mission on July 4, 1976, took place after the Air France jet had been hijacked on its way to Paris from Israel. It ended with three hostages dead and one later killed in a Ugandan hospital.

One Israeli soldier was killed: Yonatan Netanyahu, the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and brother of the current prime minister.

Final approval was given at 3:15 P.M., 24 hours before the rescuers set off. “Get Dan Shomron urgently,” says an entry two minutes later, referring to the major general in charge of the operation. An hour later, the logbook notes: “Received Charlie.” One plane was off to Uganda.

There were a few glitches. One entry says certain necessary personnel “haven’t arrived yet. This could delay takeoff by 10 minutes.” Also, “medical personnel arrived in uniform instead of civvies. This will be addressed urgently” — the idea was for the medics not to be identified as soldiers.

At 10:30 P.M. a Hercules plane reports that it has landed in Entebbe. Half an hour later another Hercules reports the same. At 11:18 P.M. the air force reports that “all forces have landed.”

Half an hour later the logbook notes that “things are quiet now the wounded have been put in the plane carrying the freed hostages. It is expected to land at air force base 27. The other planes will land at Tel Nof” — another air force base.

At 11:51 P.M. a message comes over the radio: “Hostages — two dead. Our forces — one wounded” — numbers that would later rise.

Seven minutes later one of the planes reports that it has taken off from Entebbe. The plane with the hostages flies to Nairobi, Kenya. Fifteen minutes later a question is heard over the radio: “Did they get the MiGs?” — referring to Ugandan fighter jets stationed at the airport.

The answer is “Not clear.” Actually, soldiers destroyed the MiGs, out of concern they would pursue the Israeli planes.

Half an hour later the chief of staff inquires about the name of the wounded soldier:

“What’s his name? The chief of staff wants to know.” Fifteen minutes later comes the answer: “His name is Hershko” — Staff Sgt. Surin Hershko, who was badly wounded.

Close to 2 A.M. it is reported that the four planes have landed in Nairobi, a stop on the way to Israel. It then becomes clear that another soldier has been wounded, the mission’s commander on the ground.

“Over the radio we’ve learned there’s another wounded soldier called Yoni,” the logbook says. Two hours later it is noted that all the planes are airborne, including the one with the medical team.