Posted by: distributorcap | July 4, 2008

Out of Africa on July 4th

On July 4, 1976 President Gerald Ford rang the Bicentennial Bell in New York Harbor, signifying the 200th anniversary of American independence. The Bicentennial celebration was complete with Tall Ships in New York Harbor, coins that had 1776-1976 stamped on them, the Queen toured the US, and a lot of red, white and blue painted all over the place. Patriotism was in high swing. After the long nightmare of Vietnam and Watergate, America was in the mood for a party. (little did we know there would be another long nightmare 24 years later).

Halfway around the world there was also a celebration, but for a completely different reason.

On June 27, 1976, Air France flight 139, which had originated in Tel Aviv with 248 passengers and a crew of 12, left Athens heading for Paris. Shortly after take off, two Palestinians and two Germans took over the plane and hijacked it to Libya. After refueling, the plane left Libya and continued onto Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Once the Air France flight reached Uganda, three more terrorists joined the original four. At that time, Uganda was led by “President” Idi Amin Dada. Amin was a brutal dictator and supporter of Palestinian causes. Amin was also nuts.

The hijackers demanded the release of Palestinians held in Israel, France, West Germany and other countries. They threatened to start killing the hostages on July 1.

Once on the ground, the hijackers (which in included Germans) began separating the passengers – Jews on one side, Gentiles on the other. This was no coincidence, as the hijackers who ruled by fear, wanted the Jewish hostages to feel like they were partaking in the selection process done during the Holocaust. Some of the hostages actually were in the camps. Within a week, some of the passengers were released – but none of the Israelis or Jews. Flight Captain Michel Bacos and his entire crew (all of whom were French) refused to leave the Jewish hostages behind.

The Israeli government was famous for not negotiating with hostages (or at least announcing they would not negotiate). But the pressure at home was severe to start talks with the hijackers. On July 1, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin offered to talk to the hijackers if they would extend the deadline to July 4. Amin also pushed for this extension, as he would be leaving the country for a few days. This is what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) needed.

The Israelis had approved a secret rescue mission – Operation Entebbe or Operation Thunderbolt directed by the IDF. Four C-130s containing around 100 commandos were to fly under cover of night and no ground control support to Entebbe. While flying the route over the Red Sea, they would fly under the radar, so as to not arouse Egyptian or Saudi suspicions. They were to be followed by two Boeing 707 jets.

Critical to the planning of this mission was the fact that an Israeli construction firm had built the terminal at Entebbe and still had the blueprints. In addition, a French-Jewish passenger was mistakenly released with the non-Jewish hostages and provided a wealth of information to Mossad – the Israeli secret service. An Amin’s constant need for media coverage and attention provided other tools for the raid.

When they landed at Entebbe, a black Mercedes was driven out of the C-130 toward the terminal, to give the impression that Amin had returned and was visiting his “guests.”

The other C-130s were used for defense and to destroy Ugandan jet fighters to prevent them from pursuing the Israeli planes. Eleven Ugandan MiGs were destroyed.

The Israelis rushed into the terminal and immediately yelled “Get Down” in French, English and Hebrew. The entire assault lasted 30 minutes. Fatalities included all seven hijackers, three hostages caught in the crossfire, and 45 Ugandan soldiers. One Israeli commando was killed – Yonata Netanyahu, the brother of Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu. Dora Bloch, a 75-year old dual British-Israeli citizen who was taken to a hospital – was killed by the Ugandan army on Amin’s orders.

All 6 planes left Entebbe, stopped in Nairobi for refueling and reached Israel on July 4. The country, which was still reeling from the 1973 Yom Kippur war — celebrated. It was a daring, risky and highly controversial mission – but it had worked.

Uganda convened a UN Security Council session to seek condemnation of Israel – for violation of sovereign territory. The Council passed on seeking a resolution (considering the UN had just recently passed the infamous Zionism is racism resolution, this was quite amazing). If you can believe this — Captain Bacos was reprimanded and suspended by Air France for refusing to leave when the hijackers demanded it. Amin was humiliated by the success of the raid. In revenge, he had hundreds of Kenyans killed, since he believed the Kenyan government had helped Israel by allowing refueling in Nairobi. Amin was thrown out of office in 1979.

Film dramatizations include Victory at Entebbe with Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Lancaster and Raid on Entebbe with Peter Finch and Charles Bronson.

On a separate note – Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and my jogging pal Robert Redford may be one of the most boring movies I have ever seen — beautiful cinematography, but a snoozer, and a lousy choice for the Oscar for Best Picture

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Responses

  1. Brilliant post- great retelling and analysis of an unprecedented event!

  2. Great story D-Cap, I have read the details of that rescue mission, and I have no doubt that there are few except the Israelis that could have pulled it off.

  3. I remember the bi-centennial, and all the commemorative crap that was produced for it. Other than that, I don’t remember much….

  4. Fascinating. We forget these moments in history, probably for me, because Bushler has screwed things up so badly in Iraq it’s like little Israel has all the brains and this super power can’t get dick done.

  5. Idi Amin! What a fun-loving dictator! Gees, I almost forgot about him! Didn’t he eat a British Journalist who wrote bad press. Oh gees, and Garrett Morris did such a nice ‘Idi’ on Saturday Night Live. This could be an on going series….”Dictators I Have Known and Loved” Pinochet, Stalin, Peron, Franco, Bush…. I see potential here!A good holiday, Sir!

  6. dcAp,you never fail to amaze me. you can take a complicated story with so many sides and somehow relate it so clearly.cheers to michel bacos and his crew for their bravery. shame on air france. raid on entebbe was a really good movie. i haven’t seen it in many, many years, but i remember being glued to the tv when it was on. happy 4th to you, dcAp, and to all your readers. be safe, everyone!

  7. The partnership of Amin and the terrorists was the manifestation of pure evil, indeed. And yet I wonder if Bush/Cheney have killed even more innocents than they did.According to Bush’s own definition, a terrorist is one who kills innocent people to advance his political agenda.Pure cold-blooded, heartless evil commited to its political advantage… and profit.Happy Fourth of July. Let’s try to keep what remains of our freedom.

  8. I was 8 y/o in 1976 but don’t remember this event, so this was a fascinating read. I do remember Idi Amin because a friend of our family was a missionary there and eventually had to flee the country. Great post as always, Dcap.

  9. Keep bringing the history, my man. Great stuff. And you’re certainly correct about Out of Africa. Yawn, indeed!

  10. I remember how elated I was that day when I heard the news about the rescue at Entebbe– the stark contrast with the horror I felt as a kid four years before when hearing all the hostages in Munich had perished. The rescue remains a model of success. I’ve been thinking lately about the 1981 raid in which Israel knocked out Saddam Hussein potentially bomb-producing Osirek reactor, Operation Opera. Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, who perished in the Colombia space shuttle disaster, participated in that raid. The raid was probably illegal and I’m damned glad that glad that it was done.

  11. Awesome history lesson. And here I thought you were going to transport me on your NYC WayBack machine and write about red, white and blue fire hydrants and the Son of Sam.


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