A statue of the late Yonatan Netanyahu is seen at Aero beach, south of Uganda’s capital Kampala. He was the brother of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer of the elite commando unit.
ENTEBBE – Skimming above the choppy waves through the dark the four planes swooped in low over Lake Victoria, packed with over 200 elite Israeli commandos on a daring raid to free hijacked hostages. Landing soon after midnight at Uganda’s Entebbe airport on July 4, 1976, it took the paratroopers less than an hour to storm the base and free over 100 passengers held aboard an Air France plane, an operation that has gone down in special forces legend. The plane had been hijacked a week earlier on June 27.
Four decades later, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Uganda on 4th July 2016 for the anniversary, not only to mark the operation and boost the now friendly ties between Uganda and Israel, but also to pay a deeply personal tribute.
The commando leader, the only Israel soldier killed in the raid, was his older brother, 30-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu.
Bullet scars preserved
Netanyahu visited the old terminal at Entebbe — still the airport for the capital Kampala — where the walls are still scarred by bullet holes and his older brother’s monument is in place at Aero beach. Some of the retired commandos who took part in the raid visited the scene of the extraordinary rescue, standing alongside Ugandan officials, including the son of their then enemy, dictator Idi Amin who was the president by then. As an operation, it was “a difficult one”, remembered Amir Ofer, then a sergeant major and now a businessman. Uganda Tourism Board is developing the place to become more touristic than it is today and due to its preservation, tourist visits have increased since then
Besides Entebbe airport, there is a lot Entebbe town has got a lot to offer to the visitors, from luxurious accommodation while catering for the budget travelers as well, attractions like the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) which has got a variety of species that will give you a chance to experience nature and a lot more.
“We had short time to prepare for it,” he said, noting the more than 3,500 Kilometres (2,200 miles) separating Uganda from Israel, with a 48-hour ultimatum before the gunmen would start killing hostages. “The clock was ticking away after the terrorists gave their ultimatum.”
An Air France plane route from Tel Aviv to Paris had been hijacked by two Palestinians and two Germans in Athens, and ordered to fly to Entebbe with 250 passengers on board.
Uganda’s Amin, who had cut ties with Israel in favor of cash handouts from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, allowed the hijacked plane to land.
On arrival, Jewish and Israeli hostages were separated and others freed, leaving about 100 hostages and crew members guarded by the hijackers.
Neither the captors nor Ugandan troops ever expected special forces could stage a raid from so far away, taking the airport by complete surprise.
“We fanned out without anyone realizing that we were an enemy force,” Ofer said, describing how they rushed out of the plane after touching down in the dark.
The first team roared out of the plane in a black Mercedes that looked like Amin’s personal car, but their cover was blown when they had to shoot a Ugandan guard. Would you like to visit this monument? Terrain safaris Uganda is one of the tour operators organizing a trip for you to this historic place both for the Israelites and Ugandans.