It was the 200th birthday of the United States of America, and three C-130 Hercules military transport planes silently flew through the night to land at a darkened landing strip with enough Israeli commandos and fake official Ugandan vehicles to make it through airport security.
The Israelis ultimately rescued 102 Air France passengers and crew being held hostage by Arab and German terrorists at the old terminal in the Entebbe international airport, who were under the military protection of then-Ugandan President Idi Amin.
On Monday, 40 years later to the day, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the miraculous rescue. He said the Jewish State had been right to carry out the long-distance operation.
Netanyahu called the mission “a watershed moment for my people.” Operation Thunderbolt is now called Operation Yonatan in memory of his older brother who lost his life leading the mission.
The prime minister also referenced the Holocaust during his remarks, saying Jews had been murdered by the millions, stateless. “The State of Israel has changed that. Perhaps it was in Entebbe,” he said, “where this transformation was seen by the world. We were poweless no more.”
Museveni agreed, saying that for Uganda as well, the operation had marked a turning point.
“Your brother Jonathan, some Israeli hostages and some Ugandan soldiers were killed here,” he told Netanyahu in remarks at a ceremony with journalists at the airport. “Fortunately, the rescue mission succeeded.”
Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan, “Yoni” was the leader of the commando unit who raced into the terminal to rescue the passengers; he was also the sole casualty in the operation, leading the way, he was hit by terrorist gunfire in the first moments the soldiers were seen.
Benjamin Netanyahu, his younger brother, was in the same elite Sayeret Matkal unit at the time but due to the IDF rule not to allow two brothers in the same operation, he was not involved in the rescue. Instead, he learned when they returned that he had lost his brother.
Museveni told those gathered at the airport that Idi Amin’s “hobnobbing with terrorists was a crime in itself,” and called the raid “another bond” that connected “Palestine to Africa.” He slammed what he called “indiscriminate violence” and said it didn’t matter if the “cause is just.”
Prior to 1948, the Jews who came to resettle the reborn State of Israel called their endeavor the “yishuv” (settlement in Hebrew) and referred to the geographic region as “Palestine.” They called themselves “Palestinians” — just as the newspaper which today is The Jerusalem Post was at that time called “The Palestine Post.”