Photo from 2016 of the JN
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

As a military operation, the Entebbe Raid was one of the most successful in history.

Around 11:00 on the night of July 3, 1976, six airplanes carrying 100 commandos and medical equipment approached Entebbe, Uganda. Less than 90 minutes later, the aircraft were back in the air. Israeli special forces had just carried out one of the most spectacular rescue missions in history, saving 102 hostages held at the Entebbe Airport by Palestinian terrorists and their two radical German accomplices.    

It began on June 27, 1976, when the terrorists hijacked Air France Flight 139 with 246 passengers, largely Jewish or Israeli, and 12 crew members. The flight was diverted to the Entebbe airport. Once in Uganda, the hijackers demanded the release of Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel and elsewhere. The infamous Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, abetted the hijackers. Negotiations led to the release of some non-Jewish hostages over the next few days, but 94 Jewish hostages remained under the threat of death, along with the Air France crew that heroically would not abandon their passengers. 

The Israeli military began planning Operation Jonathan shortly after the hijacking, but the risks were extremely high; the objective was 4,000 miles away. After several days of failed negotiations, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made the tough decision to act. 

Operation Jonathan was a huge success. Sadly, three hostages were killed; a fourth, Dora Bloch, who had been moved to a hospital was subsequently slain. The leader of the raid, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the future longtime prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was also killed. But, 102 people were saved.

As a military operation, the Entebbe Raid was one of the most successful in history. It was an extension of power from a very small nation that demonstrated the courage, skill and planning abilities of Israelis. It sent a strong statement about not giving in to terrorism. Ian Fleming or Tom Clancy could not have written a more thrilling saga. 

The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds 433 pages that mention Entebbe. Soon after news of Operation Jonathon reached Detroit, Entebbe became a topic of discussion in the Jewish community. Rabbi Harold Loss lectured on the Entebbe Raid at Temple Israel (Aug. 13, 1976, JN). At Congregation Beth Abraham, Yael Rom spoke about the “Entebbe Escape.” (Oct. 29, 1976). And this says nothing about conversations between friends and neighbors, or the extensive reporting in media from around the world.

The Entebbe Raid also inspired several movies and books. Within a month, Uri Dan, military affairs correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Maariv published the first book: Ninety Minutes at Entebbe. Many others soon followed. There have been five movies about the raid, most recently 2018’s Seven Days at Entebbe. And one can find hundreds of entries on the internet.  

Perhaps the best story in the Archive is “Entebbe Memories” by Don Cohen in the June 30, 2016, JN. It is about Arie Smargon, from Huntington Woods, the neighbor next door, who happened to be a veteran of special forces in both the U.S. Army and IDF. Smargon was a commando on the Entebbe Raid, where he lost his best friend, Yonatan Netanyahu.  

Simply stated, the Entebbe Raid is legendary and deservedly so. Forty-five years later, it is a still a thrilling story of derring-do. 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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