Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony marking the fortieth anniversary of Operation Jonathan in Entebbe, Uganda on Monday. Here is a complete transcript of his remarks:
Thank you, Mr. President, for your gracious invitation, your extraordinary friendship in hosting this ceremony. With your permission, sir, I'd like to say first a few words in Hebrew to my people back home, but also to the soldiers and commanders who are with us today, many of whom participated in the historic rescue mission.
I am moved standing here as the Prime Minister of Israel, in this place that brought endless pride to our soldiers, to the IDF and to our nation. I am moved standing here, in the place where IDF soldiers liberated the hostages in the heart of Africa, thousands of kilometers from Israel, with the commanders and soldiers who took part in the operation. I am moved standing here with the relatives of Jean-Jacques Mimouni, Ida Boruhovitch, Pasco Cohen and Dora Bloch, who lost their lives at Entebbe. I am moved standing here in this place, right in the place where my brother Yoni, commander of the Special Forces unit, was killed while leading the force that stormed the old terminal, overcame the terrorists and freed the hostages.
Here, where the old terminal stood, our brethren were held hostage by cruel terrorists, and this is where our soldiers came to rescue them in a brilliant mission that is almost unparalleled in history. Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, in my consciousness and deep in my heart.
The hijacking of the Air France plane to Entebbe touched a raw nerve with the people of Israel. Thirty-one years after the Holocaust, Jews again had to undergo a separation of Jews and non-Jews by those who wanted to kill us. The terrorists freed the hostages of other nationalities, but they condemned the Jews to the terror of death.
Essential intelligence was provided by members of the Mossad, and the determination of the commanders, the soldiers and the pilots helped convince the Government of Israel to act. Each of you, soldiers and pilots who flew to Entebbe, those who are here and those who are not, members of the Air Force, the Matcal Special Forces, the Paratroopers, the Golani Brigade and the Medical Corps, each of you flew here without knowing if you would come home. You came to rescue, but you knew that in the event there was a problem, there would be no one to rescue you. And despite this, each of you fought to be on the planes because you understood the importance of the mission.
The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deserves tremendous respect for the leadership he showed when making the fateful decision to embark on the operation. Senior partners who approved the operation and its execution include Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, Chief of General Staff Motta Gur, Air Force Commander Benny Peled, Commander of the Infantry and Paratroopers Branch Dan Shomron, who commanded the entire operation, Commander of the Paratroopers Matan Vilnai, Commander of the Golani Brigade Uri Sagi and Commander of the Matcal Special Forces Unit, my brother Yoni.
The Special Forces Unit, its commanders and its soldiers were tasked with the mission of killing the terrorists, incapacitating Idi Amin's soldiers, grounding the MiGs and releasing the hostages. In less than an hour, our soldiers were back on their planes, but this time with the hostages, on their way home.
I wish to pay my respects to the Captain of the hijacked plane, Michel Bacos, who is in France. He and his crew stayed with the hostages out of an amazing sense of responsibility. For the families of the hostages killed during the operation and directly afterwards, the price was unbearable. The same is true for my family and for me. When Yoni died, our world was destroyed.
Not a day goes by that I do not think what might have been. If only I had not refused the unit commander, the late Uzi Yairi, who asked me to go to officers' school. If only I had not consulted that Saturday with my older brother, who had just returned from Harvard and told me, "What's the problem? Tell Uzi Yairi that I'll take your place." And then maybe Yoni wouldn't have come to the unit, and then maybe he would not have died here at Entebbe. In any event, a short while after Yoni joined the unit, I also joined the officers' course and we served together as commanders in the Special Forces unit.
Grief struck us, my family and the families of the hostages, as it strikes many families in Israel today, during these times of great cruelty. And despite this, the power of life sweeps us forward, and it brings us to times of hope and joy. However, the scars always remain, and they are not limited to bereavement. For 40 years, Paratrooper Surin Hershko has lived with the results of his serious injury. Surin told me more than once that if he had to do it all over again, even knowing the price, he would not hesitate for a moment. Surin Hershko represents the best, the most beautiful and noble parts of our people.
At Entebbe, justice overcame evil, and for this simple reason, the operation has earned the sympathy of the world and its praise. Operation Jonathan at Entebbe has become the symbol of standing strongly against terror. It set the rule that when the location of the hostages is known – action should be taken to rescue them. It improved Israel's standing in the worlds and struck a deadly blow against terrorism. The battle against terrorism continues today. Terror threatens all countries and all continents, and we must stand against it united in spirit, a united front, in the spirit of Entebbe. This is the only way we will beat it.
Dear soldiers who fought in Entebbe, you were privileged to take part in an operation that will remain engraved in the history of our people for generations, and which is burned into the heart of everyone who wants peace. Those who follow in your footsteps, IDF soldiers from the same units that participated in the operation, are here today. As Prime Minister, I can tell you they carry the same spirit with them in their overt and covert missions, those close to home and those far away.
On behalf of the people and State of Israel, I salute you all.
President Museveni, I want to thank you also for hosting the other African leaders who have so graciously come to meet me. The historic summit that will be held later today between the leaders of seven African countries and Israel testifies to the dramatic changes taking place in the relationship between Israel and Africa.
Africa is a continent on the rise. Israel looks forward to strengthening ties with all its countries. Many African leaders visit Israel; and I am proud to be the first Israeli prime minister in over 20 years to come to visit sub-Saharan Africa. After many decades, I can say unequivocally: Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel. All of our peoples will benefit greatly from our growing partnership.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a deeply moving day for me. Exactly 40 years ago, Israeli soldiers carried out the historic mission at Entebbe, and now I have the privilege to return here as Prime Minister of Israel with some of those same brave soldiers and some of those brave pilots who flew them here.
Forty years ago, they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists. Today we landed in broad daylight in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.
We have gathered here to mark an event that inspired the world and lifted the spirits of my people. At Entebbe, international terrorism suffered a stinging defeat. The rescue mission proved that good can prevail over evil, that hope can triumph over fear.
Today savage terror is once again sweeping the world. We must recognize that the battle against it is indivisible. When terrorism succeeds in one place, it spreads to other places. And when terrorism is defeated anywhere, it is weakened everywhere. This is why Entebbe was more than an Israeli victory; it was a victory for all humanity in the fight against those who threaten our common civilization.
The raid on Entebbe was a watershed moment in the life of my people. For centuries, Mr. President, we were stateless and powerless to defend ourselves. No one came to our rescue. We were murdered by the millions. The rise of Israel changed all that. Time and again, Israel has successfully defended itself against enemies committed to our destruction. But it was perhaps at Entebbe where this fundamental transformation was most dramatically seen by the world. On July 4, 1976, Israel launched the most daring rescue mission of all time to save our captive brethren in the heart of Africa. We were powerless no more. We would do whatever it would take to defend our nation and rescue our people.
That night 40 years ago also changed the course of my own life and the lives of those whose relatives died here, Jean-Jacques Mimouni, Pasco Cohen, Ida Boruhovitch and Dora Bloch. My beloved brother Yoni, who led the force that stormed the old terminal, overcame the terrorists and freed the hostages, was the only soldier who was killed.
I learned from my brother and from others that two things are needed above all to defeat terrorism: clarity and courage. Clarity to distinguish good from evil; and courage to confront evil. Clarity is to know that nothing justifies terrorism. Nothing justifies the deliberate murder of the innocent, the systematic slaughter of civilians. We must condemn all acts of terrorism, whether they are perpetrated in Paris or Brussels, in Orlando or San Bernardino, in Tunis or Nairobi, in Hebron or Netanya. And alongside clarity, courage is the other indispensable quality needed to fight the terrorists and their sponsors, in order to defend our values and our lives.
Today, in this place, where free people delivered a devastating blow to the forces of terror, we and all the civilized nations must rededicate ourselves to the spirit of Entebbe, a spirit of daring and resolve, a spirit of courage and fortitude, a spirit that is determined as ever to defeat terror and to secure our common future.
Thank you, thank you all.
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