The man behind Entebbe

"It was Dan Shomron who convinced Rabin to give him the green light."

Dan Shomron archive 224 (photo credit: IDF)
Dan Shomron archive 224
(photo credit: IDF)
Lt.-Gen. Dan Shomron, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 70, commanded one of the most well-known and successful military operations in IDF history - the counter-terrorism hostage-rescue mission at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, overnight July 3-4, 1976. Four hostages were killed and five Israeli commandos were wounded in the daring raid known as Operation Yonatan, after Yonatan "Yoni" Nethanyahu, the commander of the storied Sayeret Matkal unit, who was killed during the mission. On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139, originating from Tel Aviv carrying 248 passengers and a crew of 12 people, took off from Athens heading for Paris. The flight was then hijacked by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two Germans from the German "Revolutionary Cells" (RZ) who diverted the flight to Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The hijackers, with the support of Ugnadan leader Idi Amin, demanded the release of 40 Palestinian terrorists held in Israel and 13 other detainees imprisoned in Kenya, France, Switzerland and West Germany. The hijackers threatened to kill hostages if their demands would meet. The hijackers held the passengers hostage for a week in the transit hall of Entebbe Airport. Some hostages were released, but 105 Israelis and French Jews remained captive. The hijackers threatened to kill them if Israel did not meet their demands. In Israel, the cabinet approved a rescue mission under the command of Maj.-Gen. Yekutiel "Kuti" Adam, and Brig.-Gen. Dan Shomron, who was appointed to command the operation on the ground. Four Israel Air Force Hercules transport aircraft flew secretly to Entebbe Airport, under cover of night, without the aid of ground control. They were followed by three Boeing 707 jets that were landed in Kenya by Matan Vilna'i (today a member of Knesset representing the Labor Party), who was Shomron's deputy and the commander of the Paratroopers Unit. "Dan Shomron stood behind the Entebbe raid, including the entire planning and the detailed idea of how to free the Israeli passengers and the crew members of Air France," Vilna'i recalled upon Shomron's death on Tuesday. "Even when the Israeli government didn't show enthusiasm, he believed in the operation and convinced then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to give him the green light." Vilna'i said he couldn't forget the image of Shomron, "Kuti" and himself standing inside the cockpit shortly before landing in Entebbe. "The control tower babbled in the radio while we were busy deciding if we could land. It was a suspenseful moment because we arrived there with no backup, as the three other jets we took with us had to land someplace else so we wouldn't draw so much attention," he recalled. "We didn't talk much; this was not the time for talking. In these sort of moments, everyone withdraws into themselves and goes through all the possible scenarios in their heads. It is usually the worst scenarios," Vilna'i said. "Dan and Kuti controlled the entire operation. We were used to successful operations and we knew this one would be successful too, despite the great tension. "God was on our side, Vilna'i concluded, "and Dan was too."