July 4, 1976
Before terrorists used airliners as weapons, passengers were used as collateral. In late June 1976 Palestinian and German terrorists skyjacked an Air France jetliner that originated in Tel Aviv, eventually landing in Entebbe, Uganda. With backing from Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, the terrorists demanded that Israel release more than 50 comrades in exchange for the 250 passengers. As negotiations dragged on, 147 passengers were released, and the demand deadline was extended to July 4. But Israeli leaders secretly feared that caving to the terrorists’ would lead to more terrorist acts. A rescue mission rich with information from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was launched on July 4, with 100 to 200 Israeli commandos flying a distance nearly the length of the United States. All seven of the hijackers were killed in the raid along with three hostages—104 hostages were rescued. The Israeli force suffered one casualty—commander Yonathan Netanyahu, brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Operation Thunderbolt, also known as Operation Entebbe, is considered by many the most successful high-risk special forces missions in modern warfare.
John Plaster: “In the trade this was considered ‘a hostile environment,’ that is, the local government was not cooperating with the Israelis, requiring a stealthy infiltration into the country, and a synchronized commando attack on Ugandan MiGs at the airport, to secure a safe withdrawal. Very well done.”