On Sunday, June 27, 1976, an Air France jet plane en route from Tel Aviv to Paris with over 200 passengers on board, including 80 Israelis, was hijacked after it took off from Athens where it had made an interim landing. The hijackers claimed to belong to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The plane landed at Benghazi Airport in Libya later the same day, and after refueling there (although Libyan authorities denied this), it took off in the direction of Amman and ultimately landed at Entebbe Airport near Kampala, Uganda, in complete darkness.
On Wednesday, June 30, the terrorists – after releasing 47 of the passengers, including elderly women, children, and the sick – issued their demands for the release of 53 Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in various countries, 40 of them in Israel, setting the following Thursday at noon as the deadline, and threatening to kill all the remaining passengers and blow up the plane if their demands were not met. Later, they extended the deadline for another 24 hours.
Meanwhile, on the previous two days the hijackers released 148 passengers, most of them Jews who were not Israelis, leaving 102 hostages, mostly Israelis, plus the crew of the airline.
On July 1, the Israeli government announced that it would submit to the demands of the hijackers and officially asked France to negotiate on its behalf for the return of the hostages.
It later transpired, however, that from the moment that the hijack took place a rescue plan was drawn up, and on July 4, Israel and the whole world thrilled at the news of an attack by an Israeli commando unit at Entebbe, which effected the release of the hostages. The operation was rightly described as the most daring and incredible rescue mission in military history, taking place as it did, in a hostile country, 2,500 miles distant and with minimal time for planning its complicated details. The operation, which had been kept a guarded secret, was under the command of Brigadier-General Dan Shomron and was carried out with giant American Hercules transport planes.
The rescuers landed at the airport with orders only to return fire directed at them and did so at Ugandan soldiers who fired at them from the control tower. Storming the place where the hostages had been housed, they shouted to them to keep their heads down, with the result that the rescue was thus effected with a minimum of loss of life.
Three of the civilians lost their lives, two in the actual operation and one succumbing to wounds in Nairobi Hospital. There was a single military casualty – Lt.-Col. Jonathan ("Yoni") Netanyahu, commander of the strike force, the 30-year-old son of Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu. He was buried with full military honors in the Military Cemetery on Mt. Herzl. Among those present were President Katzir, Prime Minister Rabin, and Chief of Staff Mordecai Gur.
One hostage, Mrs. Dora Bloch, was left behind, since she had earlier been taken to a hospital in Kampala and it transpired that she was later brutally murdered.
Kurt Waldheim, secretary-general of the un, described the rescue operation as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty and claimed that the situation created by it was likely to have serious international repercussions, especially as far as Africa was concerned. (It was in fact condemned at a summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity.) This, however, was the only discordant note in a flood of congratulations which poured in, including one from President Ford – a message which was declared to be "unprecedented," since no American president had ever congratulated Israel on a military action.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz (2nd ed.)]