Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his brother Iddo sat quietly in his office, together with Ronny Daniel of Channel 2 TV and a camera crew. They listened intently as a technician played for the first time a recording of their older brother Yoni being debriefed following a 1972 operation in which he participated with his elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit. Code named Argaz 3, the undercover unit had grabbed five senior Syrian officers in southern Lebanon. Younger Netanyahu brothers had also participated in the operation.
Save for one television interview, this is the only recording of Binyamin Netanyahu’s older brother’s voice. Channel 2’s report was timed for Israel’s Yom HaZikaron — Israel’s Memorial Day, the Remembrance for Fallen Soldiers.
After asking the Netanyahus about their emotional reactions to the recording, journalist Ronny Daniel had some tougher questions for the prime minister.
The issue of terrorist attacks and abductions and the price paid by Israeli society in return has been a delicate and very sore point in the Jewish State. Israel was known for decades as the one nation that would under no circumstances ever negotiate with terrorists, regardless of cost. Over the past decade, negotiations with terrorists have resulted in freedom for thousands of murderers with Jewish blood on their hands. Some of those were freed by Binyamin Netanyahu himself.
His older brother Yoni Netanyahu died in the 1976 counter terrorist raid on Uganda’s Entebbe Airport in a rescue mission to free hostages being held by terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and German Revolutionary Cells. The terrorists who hijacked an Air France plane on board had separated Israeli and Jews from the rest of the 248 passengers on board the aircraft, placing them in another room. Ultimately all non-Jewish passengers were let go, with the exception of the pilot, Captain Bacos, who together with the Jews being held hostage was threatened with death.
The IDF, acting on intelligence from Israel’s international Mossad agency, carried out a long distance 90 minute rescue operation involving 100 commandos and support from Kenya. Five soldiers were wounded and the unit commander – Lt.-Col. Yonatan Netanyahu – was killed during the operation. All the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were also killed.
“We used to behave differently, in order to bring back pilots who fell captive,” Daniel commented after hearing the recording. “We abducted, we acted, we blew things up… today it is different. So what has changed? Is it them? Us? Reality?”
Netanyahu’s reply was that of the political leader who dances simultaneously at ten weddings, with more than a few in hidden venues.
“In those places where we can act, we do act. Believe me, we also take action in many things that are not known, and may not become known in another 42 years, either.”
“Yes, but we still release all sorts of murderers from the jails, in order to set a soldier free, and we do not do all sorts of aggressive things in order to make them set him free – taking [former kidnapped IDF soldier] Gilad Shalit as an example.”
Gilad Shalit was held hostage in Gaza by Hamas terrorists for more than five years after being abducted by operatives from three Hamas-affiliated terrorist organizations in a cross-border raid near the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel. He was freed in a prisoner swap deal in October 2011 that required Israel to free more than 1,000 Palestinian Authority Arab terrorists being held in Israeli prisons.
“If you knew, you’d take action,” retorted Netanyahu. “Our main problem is that we did not know,” he said, confirming the reports of various sources throughout the Shalit captive years who told journalists operatives were having a problem fixing a location on the kidnapped soldier. Military sources kept saying quietly that terrorists were moving him around in order to elude Israeli soldiers. “We can send someone in, but by the time we get there, he’s gone. And then what? We’ve endangered our people for nothing. We need better information. We’re having trouble tracking him,” sources kept saying.