Israelis Celebrate 10th Anniversary of Entebbe
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Hijack hostages and their rescuers held reunions Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of the Israeli commando raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda.
″Ten years ago we didn’t dream that we would be here together,″ said former hostage Ilan Hartuv. ″The Entebbe operation was a turning point, and the world began to see that it is possible to fight terrorism.″
The raid on an airport 2,200 miles from Israel became a textbook case of warfare to counter terrorism.
A graveside memorial was conducted Wednesday for Lt. Col. Yonathan Netanyahu, the commander of the strike force who was the commando team’s only fatality.
President Chaim Herzog gave an official reception and there was an evening party for the survivors.
Former hostages approached the commando leaders and pilots, now top ranking army and air force officers, to thank them and to swap stories about the raid.
The daring raid, recalled in interviews, newspaper accounts and special television shows, provided a badly needed injection of national pride at a time when Israel was shaken by scandals and political intrigue.
Mission commander Maj. Gen. Dan Shomron called it the most complicated operation Israel ever performed and one that was unlikely to be matched. Herzog said Entebbe ″has become a concept″ of fighting terrorism.
After a flight of 7 1/2 hours, the Israelis stormed the airport and killed the West German and Palestinian hijackers and Ugandan soldiers who assisted them.
Four passengers died of the 107 people who were aboard the Air France flight when it was commandeered after leaving Athens. The raid was on July 4, 1976, but was celebrated Wednesday according to the Hebrew date.
Hartuv, thanking the soldiers on behalf of all the hostages, said, ″We were 100 percent certain that if you didn’t come to save us on Saturday night, we all would have been killed on Sunday″ when the hijackers’ extended deadline expired.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose government posts were reversed in 1976, held an unusual joint television interview to recount the agonies of decision-making during the week-long hijack drama.
″If we failed, I knew the government would have to resign,″ Rabin said. Peres added: ″The risk was great, and if God forbid something happened we would have to take the blame upon ourselves.″
Peres and Rabin, who are political rivals within the Labor Party, argued with each other for years over who merited credit for the raid. But they showed no hint of their old dispute on Wednesday.
The rescue raid had an strong impact in Israel and helped the army recover from the aftershocks of the 1973 Yom Kippur War with the Arabs.
It also galvanized world Jewry, including Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union.
Anatoly Shcharansky, who was released in an East-West prisoner swap on Feb. 11, said at the memorial ceremony that he pinned a newspaper picture of Netanyahu on his wall in Moscow.
Shcharansky said that in prison, where he spent nine years, he used to daydream of an Entebbe-type mission to rescue Soviet Jews. ″Every time I heard an airplane it would make me shudder,″ said Shcharansky.
Brig. Gen. Chaim Oren, the operations officer who helped draw up the plans for the raid, said in an earlier interview that the planners had expected high casualties.
″We were thinking about 20 or 30, something like this. We were ready to have a number like this,″ he said. ″We brought with us 10 doctors. A hand grenade or two among the hostages and we’d have a lot of blood. We were lucky.″
But he said high casualties were acceptable because of the importance of the mission. ″Looking back 10 years, I think that we had the motivation to show to the whole world that nobody is allowed to give terrorists what they want,″ he said.
Asked if he would have planned anything different, Oren said he might dispense with the unnecessary measures to deceive the Ugandans after the strike force landed.
The lead commandos, who had painted their faces black, rolled off the Hercules transport planes in Land Rovers - which were used by the Ugandan army although not by Israel - and a Mercedes like that used by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his bodyguards.
″It was really stupid. We had a 100 percent safety margin, more than we needed,″ he said.