Archival documents reveal secrets of mission to rescue Israeli hostages at Entebbe

Handwritten notes between Peres and Rabin among newly-released documents.

Then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (C) and then-defense minister Shimon Peres (2nd L) greet hostages rescued from Entebbe back in Israel (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE/URI HERTZL TZHIK/IDF ARCHIV)
Then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (C) and then-defense minister Shimon Peres (2nd L) greet hostages rescued from Entebbe back in Israel
The Defense Ministry released the military operations log for Operation Entebbe on Thursday, which marked 39 years since the daring mission to rescue Israeli hostages being held in Uganda.
The IDF Archives also released the handwritten notes passed between then-defense minister Shimon Peres and thenprime minister Yitzhak Rabin in which Peres’s apprehension over the fate of the mission was evident. In one such note Peres wrote to Rabin: “How does the operation start? – They say it is impossible, the timing isn’t right and the government won’t approve it – the only question I’ve seen, and continue to see, is how will it end?” Another note has Peres suggesting changes to Rabin’s plan for the raid at Entebbe Airport.
“The last improvement in the plan, instead of an airport vehicle, a big Mercedes will enter with flags. [Ugandan president] Idi Amin is returning home from Mauritius. I don’t know if it will be possible, but it’s interesting.”
Rescued Entebbe hostages welcomed in Israel‏
Rabin replied to Peres’s suggestion by asking him, “When is Idi Amin returning from Mauritius? What is the Mercedes for?” The archives also released the video of the Israeli hostages being welcomed back home after the rescue. In the video, Peres and the defense leadership are seen waiting on the runway at Ben-Gurion Airport for the Israel Air Force Boeing 707 with the rescued passengers on board.
Operation Entebbe had the military codename Operation Thunderball, and was later called Operation Yonatan, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother Lt.-Col.
Yonatan Netanyahu, the only IDF soldier killed during the mission that he led, sought to save 84 Jewish passengers and 12 French crew members who had been aboard an Air France flight that terrorists hijacked while en route from Tel Aviv to Paris.
The terrorists had released 148 non-Israeli hostages.
The terrorists took refuge in Uganda, a country that was hostile to Israel. The mission was carried out successfully, with 102 of 106 hostages rescued.
The plane was hijacked on June 27, 1976, after having taken off from a layover in Athens.
The plane carried 248 passengers and 12 crew members.
The hijackers were two member of the German group Revolutionary Cells and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The hijackers ordered the pilot to fly to Entebbe, some 3,800 km. from Israel. At Entebbe, at least four others joined the terrorists, supported by the forces of Uganda’s president.
They demanded the release of 53 prisoners, including 40 terrorists imprisoned in Israel, and ransom money. They set a July 1 deadline, saying that the hostages would be executed if they did not get what they wanted.
While negotiations for the hostages’ release were ongoing, the hijackers agreed to delay the ultimatum to July 4.
After complicated training and a green light from the political echelon, commandos from the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) arrived at Entebbe Airport and broke into the old, disused terminal where the hostages were being held. Simultaneously, fighters from the Paratroop Brigade, led by Col. Matan Vilna’i (later a government minister and currently ambassador to China), raided the new terminal, taking control of it with almost no resistance. Sayeret Matkal commandos, led by Maj. Shaul Mofaz, later IDF chief of staff and then defense minister, destroyed eight Soviet- built MiG fighter jets that were parked in the airport, to prevent a pursuit after the Israeli Air Force planes. The hostages, now guarded by Golani Brigade fighters, led by Col.
Uri Sagi, later head of Military Intelligence and subsequently the Mekorot national water company, were put on Hercules military cargo planes that then flew to Kenya, refueled, and continued on to Israel.