Operation Thunderbolt

I’ve just finished Saul David’s “Operation Thunderbolt,” a new recount of the (still) amazing 1976 Israeli rescue of mostly Israeli hostages kidnapped from an Air France flight and held in Uganda at the airport at Entebbe.

Not surprisingly it’s hard to put it down. It reads like a movie script.

People under the age of, say 45, will never understand how incredible the operation was. It was the era of plane hijackings. Yes, there had been a couple of successful special operations rescues of kidnapped passengers by the Israelis (in Israel) and Germany (in Somalia) but there had never been a rescue mounted far from home and in unfriendly territory (the Germans had the complete cooperation of the Somali government in their operation). After news of the successful raid broke, ironically on July 4, 1976, in the U.S., pretty much anyone who had a heart cheered while the usual suspects — communist nations and the growing youthful hard left in the United States and Europe cried “foul.” Idi Amin, the semicomical/semiterrifying thug leader of Uganda who had cooperated with the hijackers, had been humiliated and the Palestinian cause took yet another black eye as did the German crazy left. After Entebbe some of the German radicals realized the Palestinian cause was a lost cause and they moved into the disarmament movement and then the antinuclear movement and later the women’s and green movements.

Looking back at the operation, led by Israel’s legendary Sayaret Maktal (AKA ‘The Unit’), it required these and additional troops to be flown over 1,000 miles from Israel. The plan was pieced together over a couple of days. The Israelis had only a vague idea of where the hostages probably were (in an old, unused terminal building) and a rough idea how many terrorists there were (others had joined them in Uganda) and what weaponry they had. They were unsure of what the Ugandans would do when the shooting started. The participants made one run-through and the lead pilots showed they could land a Hercules C-130 aircraft in the dark. That was it. They loaded up and went.

The book is filled with people with guts to burn, yet they are not crazy. They understand that life isn’t always fair and that no one is going to help Israel much and certainly not publicly. If they don’t do it, nobody will.

It’s been decades since “90 Minutes at Entebbe” was in print so this book can act as a reintroduction to one of the most amazing military operations ever. Highly recommended.

And if any Little Brown folks are looking in (or Saul David), here’s a list of possible corrections.

Page 85 — “Yitzhak David, deputy mayor” rather than “deputy major”
Page 154 — Unless it’s a Britishism, explosives are more likely to “detonate” than “ignite”
Page 161 — Is it Nula or Nola Hardie?
Page 241 — Does Netanyahu really have a “silenced revolver”? It’s not impossible but it is an unusual weapon.
Page 252 — (and elsewhere) The term “Jeep” seems to be synonymously used with the Land Rover vehicles. A Jeep, however, is a specific type of vehicle not a generic term for a military personnel transport vehicle. Or did they use a Jeep as well?
Page 275 — Is it Amir Ofer or Ofir?
Page 284 — (and before) several times “neon lights” are referred to. I suspect these are fluorescent lights. Neon lights emit a color (orange) and are used for signs and art and not used for general area lighting.
Page 316 — “Joining Hercules Two at the top…” That should be “Joining Hercules Three…” since it was already on the main runway waiting and it was Hercules Two that was taxiing to the main runway.

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