Netanyahu 'Moved' by Entebbe 40th Anniversary Ceremony

'This place brought endless pride to our fighters, the IDF and our people,' Israeli prime minister says in address.

Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at the Entebbe airport in Uganda, July 4, 2016.
Presidential Press Unit Handout, Reuters

ENTEBBE – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his African trip on Monday with a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe rescue operation, which was held at the airport where the daring military raid took place.

The event was also attended by an Israel Defense Forces delegation led by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and included representatives of the military units that participated in the rescue.

“I am moved to be standing here as the prime minister of Israel in this place, which brought endless pride to our fighters, to the IDF and to our people,” Netanyahu said.

He mentioned those who planned and took part in the operation, including his brother Yoni, who commanded the special forces unit and was killed during the raid.

“When Yoni was killed, our world was destroyed,” Netanyahu said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what would have happened ‘if.’”

Netanyahu also discussed how the hijacking had “touched a raw nerve among the Israeli people” in 1976, and how “31 years after the Holocaust, Jews were once again undergoing selection by those who sought our demise,” referring to how hijackers had separated the Israelis and other Jews from other passengers at the disused airport terminal.

Netanyahu added that the late-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deserved tremendous credit for his decision to embark on the operation.

“The campaign against terror continues to this day,” Netanyahu added. “Bereavement strikes many families in Israel with great cruelty, and still the power of life sweeps us forward and brings us to days of joy as well.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stressed in his address the historic and religious ties between the Middle East and Africa, and described the Entebbe operation as another link “between Palestine [sic] and the continent.”

He added, “Your brother Jonathan, some Israeli hostages and some Ugandan soldiers were killed here, on that night, the 4th of July 1976. Fortunately, the rescue mission succeeded and the innocent civilians were rescued.”

Netanyahu later met with senior figures from seven African countries in the Presidential Palace in Entebbe: Museveni; Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta; Rwandan President Paul Kagame; South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit; Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn; Zambian President Edgar Lungu; and Tanzanian Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga.

Before leaving Israel, Netanyahu had issued a video in which he discussed his trip to Africa. “All of Africa is excited, and I’m also excited,” he said. He added that the trip “is important to us diplomatically, economically and from a security perspective.”

Today, Netanyahu is set to visit the mausoleum dedicated to the founding president of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, accompanied by his son, Uhuru Kenyatta. In Nairobi, Netanyahu is expected to attend a farewell ceremony for local students who are leaving to spend time studying in Israel, and will meet a group of Christian evangelists who support Israel.

Netanyahu will visit the Rwandan capital, Kigali, tomorrow, where he will meet with Kagame and visit the memorial to the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. On Thursday, he is scheduled to be in Ethiopia, where he will meet with Desalegn and President Mulatu Teshome. He will also address the Ethiopian parliament.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog of Zionist Union quipped Monday that Netanyahu had gone to Africa because “the despair in Africa is more comfortable” to deal with.