One week after the hijacking of a flight from Israel to Paris on June 27, 1976, Israel mounted a daring hostage rescue operation – and succeeded in what has become the world’s most famous rescue to date.
July 4, 1976 – Entebbe Rescue Operation Successful
On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 departed from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv headed for Paris with a stopover in Greece. After taking on more passengers in Athens, the flight continued on its journey. Just minutes into the second part of the flight, the plane, filled with 248 travelers, was hijacked by Arab terrorists, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), aided by two members of a German terrorist cell.
The flight was diverted to Benghazi, Libya, where it refueled, released one passenger who pretended to be having a miscarriage, and continued on to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
During the course of the ensuing six days, the terrorists, apparently supported by Uganda’s president, Idi Amin, were joined by others. They demanded a $5 million ransom and the release of scores of “Palestinians” held in Israeli prisons.
The terrorists threatened that if their demands were not met by July 1, they would begin killing hostages. Upon hearing the threat, Israel began planning a rescue operation.
After moving the hostages to an isolated airport building, the hijackers separated the Jews from the non-Jewish passengers. The 148 non-Jewish hostages were released and flown to Paris. The remaining 97 passengers and 12 crew members remained in captivity.
With diplomatic negotiations proving fruitless, on July 4, the IDF mounted a rescue operation. In the end, all of the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. Five Israeli commandos were injured, and the unit commander, Lt. Col. Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, brother of the current Israeli prime minister, was killed.
The rescue operation, called Operation Entebbe, was code-named Operation Thunderbolt, but is often referred to as Operation Jonathan in memory of Yonatan Netanyahu.