Entebbe Declas­si­fied: The Untold First-Hand Sto­ries of the Leg­endary Res­cue Operation

Say­eret Matkal Oper­a­tors, Mitch Gins­burg (Trans­la­tor)

  • Review
By – October 28, 2021

While Amer­i­ca cel­e­brat­ed its Bicen­ten­ni­al on July 4, 1976, an Israeli mil­i­tary mis­sion made one of the most dar­ing res­cues in his­to­ry. Six­ty-five mem­bers of Say­eret Matkal, the elite spe­cial-oper­a­tions unit of the Israel Defense Forces, flew to Entebbe Air­port in Ugan­da, res­cued 102 hostages, and returned them to Israel. The hostages had been pas­sen­gers on an Air France jet hijacked by the Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Palestine.

The res­cue was soon dra­ma­tized in sev­er­al films, most notably Mena­hem Golan’s fea­ture Oper­a­tion Yonatan (released in Amer­i­ca as Oper­a­tion Thun­der­bolt.). Entebbe Declas­si­fied tells the sto­ry in a very dif­fer­ent way, through the unique first-per­son accounts of thir­ty-three of the sol­diers who were there. The moment-by-moment details of the oper­a­tion are fas­ci­nat­ing, but the book’s true appeal lies in the voic­es of the indi­vid­u­als who took part in the res­cue. Their per­son­al rec­ol­lec­tions trans­form a his­tor­i­cal event into an intense­ly human experience.

Omer Bar-Lev, Israel’s cur­rent Min­is­ter for Pub­lic Safe­ty, reflects on one key deci­sion he had to make dur­ing the mis­sion and cred­its the mission’s suc­cess to the ini­tia­tive of the indi­vid­ual sol­dier.” Shaul Mofaz, lat­er Israel’s Defense Min­is­ter, believes the key was the ele­ment of sur­prise.” Amos Goren, part of the assault force on the mis­sion, recalls that moment in which those peo­ple [the hostages] moved from a world of hor­ror and des­per­a­tion to a world of hope and freedom.”

Most of the team point to Yonatan Yoni” Netanyahu’s extra­or­di­nary qual­i­ties as an inspi­ra­tional leader, a can­ny strate­gist, and a trea­sured friend. He was the mission’s leader, as well as the sole casu­al­ty among the res­cuers. Adam Kol­man, of the assault force, wrote about Yoni’s charge to the troops: He spoke of the spir­it of the Jew­ish Peo­ple and the Peo­ple of Israel, the duty not to for­sake those in captivity…a speech mind­ful of the beat­ing of the wings of his­to­ry above us.” Gio­ra Suss­man recalls him as a sym­bol of courage, com­po­sure, and respon­si­ble lead­er­ship, a true intel­lec­tu­al, a man of let­ters.” We can only imag­ine what he might have accom­plished had he lived.

A sin­gle dis­so­nant note sounds through these rec­ol­lec­tions. One of the assault-team lead­ers, Muki Betser, was sup­posed to enter a par­tic­u­lar door as they stormed the air­port ter­mi­nal. Accord­ing to sev­er­al wit­ness­es, he stopped out­side, seem­ing­ly pre­oc­cu­pied with his rifle. Over the years Betser kept chang­ing his expla­na­tion of what had hap­pened, and he is remem­bered unkind­ly by many of his com­rades. On the oth­er hand, the res­cuers’ accounts are unan­i­mous about the deci­sion to drop two orig­i­nal mem­bers of the team: a giant Schnau­zer assault dog with foot-long fangs” and its han­dler. The idea of being in a plane for hours at close quar­ters with the intim­i­dat­ing beast unnerved even these intre­pid fighters.

It has now been four-and-a-half decades since Israel elec­tri­fied the world with the daz­zling suc­cess of this oper­a­tion. Many younger peo­ple have nev­er heard of it. Entebbe Declas­si­fied brings the res­cue back to mind with riv­et­ing, moment-to-moment details, in the voic­es of the indi­vid­u­als who made it hap­pen. It is an impor­tant addi­tion to the lit­er­a­ture on this still-aston­ish­ing exploit.

Discussion Questions