On Monday, July 4, 2016, the United States will be marking 240 years of independence. The reception at U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro’s residence in Herzliya will also mark the concluding months of Barack Obama’s presidency. Conveniently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be there. That same day, he will be at an airport in Uganda, in a role as producer, director and lead actor in a show with hundreds of extras. It’s now Bibi in Entebbe: The musical.
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A C-130 Hercules transport plane will land there, a plane similar to the four Israel Air Force planes that secretly landed there 40 years earlier to rescue 248 passengers from an Air France plane that had been hijacked on a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris days earlier. At least symbolically, the squadron commander at the time, Joshua Shani, will sit behind the controls.
A military delegation of 80 former and current soldiers, representatives of the unit that took part in the operation headed by current Israel Defense Force Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, standing in for Yekutiel Adam, who had hovered in the air in a command aircraft, will become the IDF orchestra conducted by Netanyahu. It could be that former hostages and crew from the Air France flight could also be on hand. This isn’t a reenactment, the IDF insists, and is not being funded from the army’s budget. Fine – a cabinet committee in charge of commemorating the anniversary approved it. The important thing is that Netanyahu gets media coverage and is satisfied.
Netanyahu’s calculation is simple. Entebbe is identified with his brother Yoni (who was killed in the operation) and Yoni means Bibi, so Entebbe is Bibi. It’s a sub-trademark of the family, as Coke is to Coca-Cola. Central figures in the operation from above and alongside Yoni have been excluded in a ruthlessly systematic way. This ploy has worn thin, 20 years after Netanyahu was first elected prime minister with the help of Entebbe and the crumbling of his arrogance in the face of surrender to terrorism under pressure (with the division of Hebron and the deal to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit); but in the absence of a new achievement of his own, they are again rewriting the truth, this time in an “Entebbe 40 years on” version.
As fitting for a special operation, the cover for the trip is a breakthrough visit to Africa, to Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda, the first to the continent by an Israeli prime minister since the last visit by an Israeli prime minister. When that was depends on how you reckon it. It could be Yitzhak Rabin’s visit en route from China, Indonesia and Singapore in October 1993, when he made a refueling stop in Nairobi, just like the Hercules aircraft that took off from Entebbe did. It would never have occurred to Rabin to exploit the location and the photographers on board his plane for private fireworks that would remind everyone that it was Rabin himself who had been the prime minster who approved the Entebbe rescue mission.
In the mission, under the command of Dan Shomron, there were paratroopers (under the command of Matan Vilnai, who was also Shomron’s deputy) and from Golani (Uri Saguy), from the air force and various intelligence, planning, medical and support forces. If the brigades have the honor to invite senior figures from 1976, how can Yoni Netanyahu’s elite Sayet Matkal commando unit turn a cold shoulder to Moshe (Muki) Betzer, one of the planners of the mission and Yoni’s deputy then? And who will represent those who are no longer with us, notably Rabin and IDF Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur? As chief of staff, Gur just prior to the operation had decided to remove Yoni from the command of Sayeret Matkal.
Everyone is wondering if Bibi will try to influence the composition of those in attendance, particularly by excluding the victims of the family’s cult of the individual. That would be, one of them warned, a “selection,” like the German hijackers who divided the Jewish airline passengers, including Holocaust survivors, from the other foreign passengers.
Netanyahu denies that he is personally involved in choosing the names and approving them. His spokespeople say that his office is “dealing with and responsible for the prime minister’s trip on an official visit to Africa in the context of fostering closer ties with the countries of the continent ... The ceremony at Entebbe is the responsibility of the IDF and Defense Ministry, and the prime minister has no involvement in it.”
Such was the lack of involvement that on the eve of Passover, a response was provided to the question regarding the late Entebbe operation commander Shomron when his daughter, Anat, was surprised by an invitation from Prime Minister’s Bureau chief David Sharan to fly to the event. She said her acceptance depended upon her speaking at the event on behalf of the senior commander of the operation. She, like others, will not leave it to a “brother of,” as the prime minister was, working at the time of the U.S. Bicentennial in Boston (an “emigrant,” as Yoni once characterized him), to appropriate to himself undeserved glory and cast them as faceless extras in Operation Entebibi.