Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Raid on Entebbe

Herewith a review of Operation Thunderbolt - Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History, by Saul David, Little, Brown and Company, NY, 2015.

39 years after the fact, there is now a comprehensive blow-by-blow account of the Israeli military operation that freed hostages taken on a hijacked Air France flight by Palestinian terrorists in 1976.  You would think this would be a bit of a turgid read, but it is not. In fact, it gets fairly gripping.  The tale is divided into its concomitant parts - the situation of the hostages on the plane and later inside the Entebbe terminal, including their interactions with the terrorists; the political maneuvering within the Israeli leadership as they seek a solution, including efforts to placate Idi Amin; and not the least the planning, training and carrying out of the military operation itself.   

Author David delivers almost an hour by hour description.  Indeed to generate all of this he must have done an astonishing amount of research, not only of documents but also with interviews of people involved.  What comes across is credible, full of the nuances of change as matters evolved. The Israeli military men who conducted the attack, of course, are portrayed as the heroes they were, especially Yoni Netanyahu, who died on the scene.  The home leadership was haunted by the possible consequences of other alternatives, indecision or failure, yet made the decision to proceed. The hostages - passengers and crew - are well depicted as were their activities while captive and the stress they endured.  Even the terrorists themselves, especially the two Germans, are more than caricatures. Finally, Amin himself is honestly painted, mostly verbatim in his own words.

Readers know that the operation successfully freed the captives, but not without casualties: five Israelis, all of the terrorists and dozens of Ugandan soldiers were killed, and more were wounded.  Operation Thunderbolt drew a line in the sand to emphasize that nations of the world would not cave into terrorist demands.  Indeed that policy has mostly been honored every since.  The event also proved the value of small specialized highly competent strike teams which many nations of the world, including the United States subsequently developed for such contingencies.   

1 comment:

Alan Johnston said...

Bob, I was also fascinated by the details of the Kenyan involvement in the raid. Kenyans were also fascinated by these details - long excerpts were recently posted in the Daily Nation. This was apparently based mostly on an interview with Charles Njonjo, but also on other sources. A few fascinating details were also included about the apparent assassination of Bruce McKenzie by a bomb hidden in a gift from Idi Amin, a stuffed lion's head delivered to his small aircraft just as McKenzie was leaving Entebbe to return to Nairobi in 1978, in retaliation for McKenzie's role in setting up the refueling in Nairobi.

Also just to let you know I enjoy following your reviews and other articles.
Hope to see you soon.