ENTEBBE, Uganda, July 4 (UPI) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commemorated the 40th anniversary Monday of his nation’s secret rescue mission to free more than 100 hostages at Entebbe International Airport.
It was the first visit by an Israeli premier to Uganda since the raid on July 4, 1976.
“Right here, I am standing in the place where my brother, Yoni, was killed, when he led the commando soldiers to release the hostages,” said the Israeli prime minister, addressing Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Netanyhu’s brother, Lt. Col. Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, was the only Israeli soldier killed during the operation. Three hostages died.
“Forty years ago, Israeli commandos landed here in the dark of night to fight against a cruel dictator who worked with terrorists,” Netanyahu said, referring to Uganda’s former despot leader Idi Amin. “But today we came in the daylight, and we were welcomed by a leader who works to fight terrorism.”‘
He said Israel did the right thing attempting the rescue.
“I salute the memory of those who died in that operation in the cascade of actions by the different actors,” he said.
Uganda unveiled a memorial where the hostages and Yoni Netanyahu died.
Relatives of the victims attended the ceremony.
“I think it will help us to see the place where he was killed,” said Marlene Moskowitz, the older sister of victim Jean-Jacques Maimoni.
Maimoni was among the 248 passengers and 12-member French crew aboard Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, with a stopover in Athens, that was diverted to Entebbe by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cell.
Over two days, 148 non-Israeli hostages were released and flown to Paris. Ninety-four, mainly Israeli passengers, along with thecrew, remained as hostages and were threatened with death.
Another hostage, Dora Bloch, a dual Israel-British citizen was hospitalized in the Ugandan capital of Kampala and was ordered killed by Amin.
After one week of deliberations, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to send four Hercules jets with about 200 Israeli commandos, medical crews and refueling gear to Uganada.
“Operation Thunderbolt,” as it was code named by the military, was designed to fool the Ugandan soldiers that it was Amin who had landed at Entebbe International Airport. They even had a Mercedes Benz limousine with a Ugandan flag.
“We took a big chance,” said Joshua “Shiki” Shani, the lead pilot of the raid who was in Monday’s ceremony. “The operation was built on our Israeli chutzpah. It was something that no one had done before and we knew that it would be a total surprise. You can’t do an operation like that unless it is a total surprise.”
On July 4, Kenya imposed an oil embargo on Uganda so Amin would not have enough fuel to stage any military raid on Israel.
Netanyahu will also visit Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia in a diplomatic and economic effort to strengthen Israel’s ties with Africa.