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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Operation Thunderbolt

- Rescued passengers welcomed at Ben Gurion Airport

My latest checkout from the public library is the non-fiction Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History by Saul David.

Here's a bit about Operation Thunderbolt (Operation Entebbe) from Wikipedia ...

Operation Entebbe was a successful counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976. A week earlier, on 27 June, an Air France plane with 248 passengers had been hijacked by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO) ... and two members of the German Revolutionary Cells. The hijackers had the stated objective to free 40 Palestinian and affiliated militants imprisoned in Israel and 13 prisoners in four other countries in exchange for the hostages ...

Given what a global place contemporary terrorism has in our lives, I thought I would revisit an example of it from the past. A couple of days ago I posted some photos from my family's one visit to Europe, and weirdly, the summer we went there was the same summer this event in the book occurred - we were even at the Athens airport, which plays a small part in the story, and were shocked to see guards with machine guns on the tarmac - yet I don't remember the terrorist event from the news back then at all.

But anyway, here's the beginning of a book review in The New York Times ...

On June 27, 1976, an Air France plane took off from Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel, heading for Paris with a stopover in Athens, carrying 228 passengers of Israeli, French and various other nationalities. Security at the Lod airport was famously tight — but in Athens, where security was lax, four hijackers boarded the Airbus carrying large black bags that held guns and hand grenades, took over the plane and forced the pilot to divert to Entebbe Airport, on the shore of Lake Victoria in Uganda. Six days later, a team of Israeli Special Forces personnel attacked the airport in a daring and ingenious raid, named Operation Thunderbolt, and freed the hostages.

That raid is the subject of Saul David’s new book, “Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History.” This is a ­minute-by-minute narrative of that week by a scrupulous and thorough historian, who has written what will most likely be the definitive work on the subject and produced a tense and riveting account of what has come to be known as the Entebbe raid. By means of extraordinarily deep research, David essentially lets the characters speak for themselves.

And what characters they are. The hijackers were led by two German left-wing terrorists, a man and a woman with connections to the Baader-Meinhof gang, supported by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They were opposed and ultimately defeated by the leading political and military personalities of Israel. Some 40 years later, many of the names associated with the hijacking are still remembered: the Palestinian terrorist Wadie Haddad and the Israelis Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Menachem Begin (with a brief appearance by Moshe Dayan). The leader of the raid, killed in combat at the airport, was Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In some ways at the center of the narrative is Idi Amin Dada, “Uganda’s eccentric, flamboyant and ruthless dictator who, just two days earlier, had been declared ‘president for life’ by the Ugandan Parliament.”

These characters and a vast assortment of others — hostages, diplomats, aircrew members and soldiers — are all described in great detail and, through the use of diaries, articles, books and private papers, heard as well, as they attempt to deal with the inevitable conflicts arising in a crisis. David is a military historian; his previous books include “The Indian Mutiny,”  “Military Blunders” and “Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879,” and he is especially adept at explaining the ­decision-making process that takes place as a complex military operation is considered, planned and executed ......

One strange and disturbing thing I came across in the book was the name of Hilarion Capucci. He was a Melkite Greek Catholic priest from Syria and archbishop of Caesarea who was arrested in Israel for smuggling weapons from Lebanon to the PLO in 1974 ... he was in custody when the events of Operation Thunderbolt took place and was one of the prisoners the terrorists wanted to be released in exchange for the hostages. That didn't happen, of course, but after serving two years of a twelve years sentence, he was released at the request of Pope Paul VI. He remained active in pro-PLO stuff over the following years. (Hilarion Capucci, Archbishop Jailed for Aiding Palestinian Militants, Dies at 94)

I'm not yet finished with the book, but it's very interesting so far and well worth a read.


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