What is the story of the IDF’s operation to release the hostages from Entebbe in July 1976?
Operation Entebbe, which is also named “Operation Thunderbolt” was carried out on July 4, 1976 by the Israel Defense Forces to rescue the hostages of an Air France plane, Airbus Flight 137, which was hijacked by the members of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and German terrorists. The plane which had 248 passengers, with 30% Jews, was taken down at Entebbe, Uganda. The Hijackers included four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and also two members from the German Baader-Meinhof gang. Hijackers released all non-Israeli passengers except one French citizen, showing that they did not go as crazy and held their grudge only against the party they had purpose with.
The plane was diverted to Benghazi, Libya where one woman was released, claiming that she’s pregnant. The plane was refueled before taking off to Uganda, where it landed on June 28. Three more members from PFLP joined others at the Entebbe airport and the passengers, along with 12 crew members were transferred to the old terminal building at the airport.
The following day, the hijackers made their demand to release 53 prisoners, reported to be held in Switzerland, Kenya, France, Germany and Israel. From the non-Israeli passengers released by the hijackers, the IDF started collecting information about the situation inside the plane and charted out a rescue plan on the word of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Israeli troops landed at Entebbe at the night of July 3 and after a 90 minute operation, 102 passengers were rescued.
Although the rescue operation of Entebbe operation went down in the Israel’s history as one of the most daring operations, many sources reported that it was not exactly as heroic as it seemed. A report was released from the UK National Archives claimed that Israel had its hand in the hijacking. A British diplomat was informed that Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine joined hands to seize the plane. This document was written on June 30, 1976 while the hijacking incident was still going on. A statement was given by DH Colvin of the Paris Embassy saying that “the hijack was the work of the PFLP, with help from the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet.” He further stated, “The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO’s standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans.” He added: “My contact said the PFLP had attracted all sorts of wild elements, some of whom had been planted by the Israelis.”
No matter if Israel was involved in the hijack or not, it certainly became a hero in the eyes of the world through Operation Thunderbolt. Another effect of this hijacking incident became evident when the Israelis gained more sympathy and succeeded in damaging the image of Palestine in the world community, portraying them as violent and oppressive.