It was my privilege to take part in the 1976 Israel Defense Forces raid on the terminal at Entebbe Airport in Uganda under the command of the late Yoni Netanyahu. I was the first soldier to enter the terminal as part of the operation to free the hostages from the hijacked Air France Tel Aviv-Paris flight. Because I was the first inside, I will allow myself to express my opinion on what happened at the time and about the various reports that have appeared in Haaretz on the subject recently.
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First of all, when it comes to what happened at the airport itself, Yoni directly commanded the Israeli forces. He wasn’t the “forward command center commander,” as he was called by Uri Misgav in the Hebrew version of Haaretz. The forward command center commander isn’t in the midst of the battle and doesn’t lead the troops. The fact that he himself was fatally wounded is proof that he was not a forward command center commander. I’ve never heard of a such a commander sitting in the center and being hit by a bullet. Yoni was hit during the raid in the seconds during which we burst into the terminal, just a few meters from the doors. To be perfectly clear: When he was hit, he was closer to the hostages than was Muki Betser, who was also tasked with leading the rescue force.
With regard to the erudite conclusions of Amir Oren, Yechiam Weitz and others writing in Haaretz (including the late Yossi Sarid) suggesting that Yoni “seriously erred” when he opened fire on the Ugandan guards, I am personally convinced, as are almost all of my colleagues who burst into the terminal, that it was necessary to open fire – and the results prove that this move was entirely justified. Misgav claimed that “when the Israeli forces landed at Entebbe Airport, en route to the terminal and ignoring the beseeching of his deputy, Yoni Netanyahu made a bad management and operational mistake, which led live fire to begin prematurely and set off a chain reaction.” That is completely ridiculous and groundless.
First of all, the decision had to be taken in the space of just one or two seconds, and it’s not clear to me how it would be possible to “beseech” of someone in one or two seconds. At most, Yoni Netanyahu could have been told “shoot at them” or “don’t shoot at them.” At most, it would have been a suggestion but certainly not a matter of “beseeching.”
Secondly, who is to say that if we had not shot at them, our situation would have been better? Nearly all of my colleagues and I are convinced that the weapons fire saved us from a hail of bullets to our backs from just a few meters away, which would have mowed us down at a distance of 100 to 200 meters from the terminal and totally disrupted the raid.
Thirdly, precisely such a scenario was rehearsed in the final drill that we carried out, and we were praised by the IDF chief of staff for opening fire and “destroying” the guards. And a fourth and last point: When put to the test, it was an outstanding decision that paved the way for storming the terminal and ended with the greatest success in history by any army in a hostage rescue operation. The suggestion that, after we opened fire, the force needed luck and that it was only thanks to luck that the operation was a success, is baseless. The operation was a success due to the outstanding performance of nearly all of those who took part.
A particularly outrageous statement by Misgav was that “Yoni Netanyahu’s part in the mission and his functioning during it do not detract one iota from his heroism, nor from the grief felt since then by his family and loved ones.” Through his reverse logic, the writer is actually trying to show that Yoni’s performance was poor and his role in the operation marginal. I don’t know what Misgav’s sources are, but he would do well to check them again. I can state categorically that the role played by Yoni Netanyahu in Operation Entebbe was substantial and his performance outstanding. As I see it, Yoni was one of those few people thanks to whose courageous and proper actions at Entebbe, more than 100 hostages are alive today.
In conclusion, I would like to comment on Haaretz’s general approach to Yoni Netanyahu and his memory. Columns such as one on March 20 by Amir Oren (in Hebrew), “The second assassination of Yitzhak Rabin,” July 17, 2015 and “Netanyahu wades in the swamp of terror to stay king,” April 7 by Yechiam Weitz really don’t inure to the respect of the newspaper. I simply cannot understand why Haaretz repeatedly links its legitimate goal of encouraging a replacement of the current government with the performance of a brilliant army officer who commanded the best IDF unit in the most daring and successful operation ever carried out by the IDF, performing at the highest level and being killed in the process. Please let Yoni Netanyahu rest in peace. He has that coming to him.
The writer was the first IDF soldier to enter the airport terminal in the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation.