This year we will mark 40 years since Operation Entebbe, officially known as Operation Yonatan. From the Israeli public’s perspective, its main significance was as a tremendous military success shortly after the Yom Kippur War which aroused the sense that the Israel Defense Forces was still a winning army. This illusion evaporated in the ensuing years, especially after the first Lebanon War, but from one individual’s perspective the operation was indeed a constitutive event. That individual is Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.
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The operation was the launching point of a lofty career and presumably, without it and without the death of his brother Yonatan (Yoni) and the hero worship that developed around him – a cynical and mendacious cult – he would still be an unknown salesman at the Rim furniture company. The Yoni cult was Bibi’s springboard.
The commemoration of Yonatan Netanyahu has been done in a sophisticated, shameless and above all brutal way. Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in creating the impression, while stealing the credit, that his brother – about whom Amir Oren wrote recently that he had been close to being cashiered from the command of Sayeret Matkal – was the main hero of the operation. This, while minimizing the roles of the other heroes, like its commander Dan Shomron, who was modest and not very worldly, and Muki Betzer, who fought for the lost honor of which the Netanyahu family robbed him.
An outrageous way of commemorating Yoni was the publication of a book of his letters, despite their banality and his very middling writing abilities. The gap between that book and the books of letters published in memory of the fallen fighters Rafi Maltz, Yaakov Eilam and (my uncle) Yechiam Weitz is huge. The Netanyahu family published that volume for one reason only: A book of letters is a necessary condition for the creation of a myth.
In the wake of his brother’s death, there was a dramatic change of direction in Benjamin Netanyahu’s life. From an expert on closets he became an expert on international terror – he wrote a book, gave lectures and organized conferences. His new status led Moshe Arens, who was our ambassador in Washington, to appoint him as the deputy chief of mission. It is hard to know what Arens, a man of integrity and values, thinks about that appointment today, an appointment that was critical not only for Netanyahu but also for the entire public. After that his career soared. Only 14 years after that appointment he became prime minister.
During all the years that have elapsed since then, Netanyahu has continued to be “Mr. Terror.” Like a magician he pulls from his hat an endless variety of anxieties and traumas and brandishes a pessimistic message – terror will forever be a part of our lives. Presumably, on the day terror struck the capital of Belgium the prime minister experienced profound satisfaction. At two consecutive press conferences he proved to the entire world that there is no way more justified than his way.
Over and over again Netanyahu stresses that the world is split into two polar entities: “the sons of darkness,” the barbaric terrorists who sow death and destruction, and “the sons of light,” the civilized people who with their bodies defend Western civilization. There are no shades but rather only two colors, black and white.
Regarding Israel, his remarks arouse perplexity and concern, for two reasons. The first is his ignoring of the historical fact that every occupied nation uses terror. The people of the right-wing Irgun pre-state militia hanged two innocent sergeants in the context of their struggle against the British occupation. The second reason is that even in our own midst it is possible to find “sons of darkness” who are capable of burning an entire family to death.
Prime Minister Netanyahu did not bother to call a press conference to condemn the murder of a wounded man in Hebron. The things he said about that deed were forced and the distance between his racist statements on Election Day and the executioner in “the city of the Patriarchs” seems nauseatingly small.
How grim it is to see a prime minister who is using the swamp of terror to improve his own image, while fleeing as though possessed by a demon from dealing with the complexity of our lives here.
Prof. Weitz is a historian.