Operation Entebbe, actually called Operation Thunderball/Thunderbolt (and afterwards renamed Operation Jonathan after the raid commander, Col. Jonathan "Yoni" Netanyahu, the only Israeli soldier who died in the raid) took place on the night of July 3 and early morning of July 4, 1976.
Seven days before, Air France Flight 139, having taken off from Athens, Greece with destination Paris, France was hijacked, diverted to Benghazi, Libya airport and eventually forced to land at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda.
The hijackers were 8 PLO and 2 Baader-Meinhof Gang members. They were apparently supported by the Ugandan regime of pro-Palestinian Idi Amin.
The passengers were held hostage in the Old Terminal's transit hall. The terrorists later released a large number of them, keeping only Israelis and Jews, which they threatened with death in case the Israeli government would not comply with their captors' demand to release Palestinian prisoners.
Upon the announcement by the captors that the crew and the non-Jewish passengers would be released and put on another Air France plane that was brought to Entebbe for that purpose, Flight 139 Captain Michel Bacos announced to the captors that all passengers, including the remaining ones, were his responsibility, and that he would not leave them behind. His entire crew, down to the most junior flight attendant, followed him of their own free will (upon their return to Paris, Bacos was reprimanded for this by his superiors at Air France, and suspended from duty for a period). A French nun also refused to leave, and insisted that one of the remaining hostages take her place, but was forced into the awaiting Air France plane by Ugandan soldiers.
After days of collecting intelligence and careful planning, four Hercules transport aircraft flew down and night-landed without any aid from the ground at Entebbe airport to free the remaining hostages. They were followed by an air force jet with medical facilities flying into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya.
Over a hundred IDF troops including members of the elite Sayeret Matkal team arrived to conduct the assault; some Mossad troops might have taken part in the assault as well.
They landed an hour before midnight, with cargo bay doors already open. A black Mercedes with accompanying jeeps were brought along to avoid suspicion while the Israeli troops drove from the landed plane to the terminal building: this would look like a company of Idi Amin or another high official with escort. The Mercedes was owned by an Israeli civilian and was apparently spray painted black for the raid, on the understanding it would be returned to the owner in its original colour.
The raid lasted only about three minutes and six terrorists were killed. One hostage was killed when he leaped at the Israeli forces. Of the 103 hostages, three died. It is speculated that Israeli forces captured some of the terrorists but there is no confirmation of that. Ugandan forces also opened fire on Israeli troops killing Col. Netanyahu. 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed during the raid and the Ugandan fighter planes sitting on the ramp were put into non-flying condition. The rescued hostages were flown out shortly after the fighting via Nairobi to Israel.
One of the reasons that the raid could be so well planned was that the building in which the hostages were being held was built by an Israeli construction firm. It was very common for Israeli firms to be involved in building projects in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. The firm which had built the building still had the blue prints and supplied them to the government of Israel. In addition many of the released hostages were able to accurately describe the interior of the building, the number of terrorists, the involvement of Ugandan troops and many other important details.
While planning the military operation the IDF built a partial replica of the airport building. Some Israeli civilians who worked on this had worked on the original project in Uganda. It has been claimed by researchers that after arriving at the military base to begin work on the replica building (not having been told what work they were to do before arriving) the civilian Israeli contractors were invited to dinner with the commander of the base. At dinner it was indicated the civilians would be guests of the military for a few days following completion of the replica, in the interests of national security. During the entire operation an extremely high level of security was maintained.
There was one other fatality: Dora Bloch, a 75-year-old hostage, was recovering from a choking episode in a Kampala hospital when the Israelis struck. In April, 1987, Henry Kyemba, who was Uganda's Health Minister at the time of Entebbe, told Uganda's Human Rights Commission that Dora Bloch had been dragged from her hospital bed and murdered by two army officers on the orders of Amin. Bloch's remains were recovered in 1979 following the Tanzanian-Ugandan War which had resulted in the end of Amin's rule of Uganda.
In the week prior to the raid Israel had tried a number of political avenues to obtain the release of the hostages. Many sources indicate the cabinet was prepared to release Palestinian prisoners had a military solution seemed unlikely to succeed. A retired IDF officer, General Bar-Lev had known Idi Amin for many years and was considered to have a strong personal relationship with him. At the request of the cabinet he spoke with Amin on the phone many times attempting to obtain the release of the hostages but had had no success by the time of the raid.
The government of Uganda later convened a session of the United Nations Security Council to seek official condemnation of the Israeli raid as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty. The Security Council ultimately declined to pass any resolution on the matter, thus establishing an important precedent in International Law further strengthening the principal of national self-defence.
The incident was the subject of three films, two of which were US productions with international casts; the third was produced in Israel with mostly Israeli actors in the key roles.
• Victory At Entebbe (1976)
with Richard Dreyfuss, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor.
Director: Marvin J. Chomsky
• Raid On Entebbe (1977)
with Peter Finch, Horst Buchholz, Charles Bronson, Yaphet Kotto.
Director: Irvin Kershner
• Mivtsa Yonatan (English title: Operation Thunderbolt) (1977)
with Sybil Danning , Klaus Kinski.
Director: Menahem Golan
• Entebbe Diary - The official, detailed account by the Israeli Defence Forces
- Hastings, Max. Yoni, Hero of Entebbe Bantam Doubleday Dell Publ., 1979. ISBN 0385271271
- Netanyahu, Iddo. Yoni's Last Battle: The Rescue at Entebbe, 1976, Gefen Books. ISBN 9652292834
- Netanyahu, Iddo. Entebbe: A Defining Moment in the War on Terrorism: The Jonathan Netanyahu Story, New Leaf Press, 2003. ISBN 0892215534
- Netanyahu, Jonathan / Netanyahu, Benjamin / Netanyahu, Iddo. Self-Portrait of a Hero: From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, 1963-1976, Warner Books, 1998. ISBN 0446674613
- Netanyahu, Jonathan. The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, Gefen Books, 2001. ISBN 9652292672
- Stevenson, William . Ninety Minutes at Entebbe, Bantam Books, 1976. ISBN 0553104829