Operation Thunderbolt - An Unbelievable Mission - TJS Film
Operation Thunderbolt has gone down in history for its audacity, but the mission could have ended very differently. On June 27, 1979, the 260 passengers on board Air France flight 139 from Athens to Paris had no idea they would soon be part of one of the most daring rescue missions of all time.
Flying thousands of miles, the unit, led by Colonel Yoni Netanyahu, carried out one of the most audacious raids in history.
The bold operation amazed the world and gave hope to Jews across the globe that Israel would not sit by while Jewish and Israel lives were threatened.
HERMAN WOUK, FOREWORD TO LETTERS OF YONI The exploit stunned the world. In the continuing struggle of civilized men against the mounting global crime of terrorism, Entebbe shines, a beacon in dense gloom.
YONI NETANYAHU, LETTERS OF YONI, JUNE 2, 1967 [The context is a letter to his girlfriend, Tutti, right before the Six-Day War] It’s a bit odd to sit in the army and just wait for war. To kill and perhaps be killed-instead of being with you. How utterly absurd.
YONI NETANYAHU, LETTERS OF YONI, JUNE 12, 1967 [The context is a letter to his parents and brother, Iddo, following the Six-Day War] This was a “good” war, and it’s good that it’s over. Had it gone on for a few more days, I’m sure we could have gotten to Cairo and Damascus, but we got what we wanted. You should have seen our men fighting! There’s no army like ours! None! It’s an army that only wants peace and doesn’t look for war, yet when it has to fight, there’s no power that can stop it.
SHIMON PERES, NO ROOM FOR SMALL DREAMS If leaders demand allegiance without creativity and outside inspiration, the odds of failure vastly increase.
SHIMON PERES, NO ROOM FOR SMALL DREAMS If we give in to the hijackers’ demand and release terrorists, everyone will understand us, but no one will respect us. If, on the other hand, we conduct a military operation to free hostages, it is possible that no one will understand us, but everyone will respect us.
MENACHEM BEGIN, QUOTED IN YEHUDA AVNER, THE PRIME MINISTERS Not since the Six-Day War has our nation known such a profound sense of unity… Mr. Prime Minister, you who are the leader of the team, I say that while your colleagues have a share in the decision making responsibility, upon your shoulders rests an extra morsel of responsibility and who can weigh that extra morsel? …We are no empire. We are but a small nation… but after all that has befallen our nation throughout all the generations and not the least the generation of the holocaust–we declare that if there be anyone anywhere who is persecuted or humiliated or threatened or abducted is in any way endangered simply because he or she is a Jew, then let the whole world know that we, Israel the Jewish state, shall marshal all our strength to come to their aid and bring them to the safe haven of our homeland. This is the message of Entebbe.
EYAL BOERS, QUOTED IN EETA PRINCE GIBSON, “ENTEBBE’S FORGOTTEN DEAD,” TABLET MAGAZINE, All nations need myths. And often, when they tell their myths, they leave out the parts that are uncomfortable or sad. We needed Entebbe to overcome the trauma of the Yom Kippur War. And there was no place for stories about friendly fire or collateral damage. And it was easier in those days for officials to lie–or at least not to give full information to the public. Media and information were slower, and the public trusted its officials.
The Israeli government underwent a great deal of risk to rescue the hostages during Operation Entebbe. The inspiration for doing so came from a belief in the need to rescue Jews and Israelis whenever and wherever they were in danger. How does learning about this experience help strengthen your identity as a Jew?
Yitzchak Rabin was charged with making a nearly impossible decision of giving in to terrorism and releasing prisoners or choosing a military option to save the hostages without surrendering terrorist prisoners. The decision to send an elite unit to Uganda to save the Israelis is even more complicated in light of two previous botched attempts. In May 1974, in the town of Maalot, 25 school kids were killed by Palestinian hijackers when the IDF stormed the building, and in March 1975, eight civilians and three soldiers were killed when a Fatah squad attempted to, hijack the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, but in some ways failed. Rabin even composed a letter of resignation in case the Entebbe operation failed, as he took responsibility for the outcome.In light of this information, what lessons of leadership can you draw from Rabin as the Prime Minister charged with making the final decision?
In some ways, Yoni Netanyahu is the paradigmatic hero, who sacrificed his life to fight for the Jewish people in a variety of contexts. Yet heroism can take many shapes, and from Letters of Yoni, we see an altogether different side of him. For some, heroism is achieved in the glorious moments on the battlefields. For others, heroism can manifest itself in the mundaneness of day-to-day life. Why do you think Yoni is such a hero and icon for the Jewish people, and in what ways can you emulate Yoni’s heroism?
In his letters, dated May 27, 1967, Yoni Netanyahu tells the following joke: An Englishman, an American and an Israeli were caught by a tribe of cannibals in Africa. When they were already in the pot, each of them was allowed a last wish. The Englishman asked for a whiskey and a pipe, and got them. The American asked for a good steak, and got it. The Israeli asked the chief of the tribe to give him a good kick in the back side. At first the chief refused, but after a lot of argument he finally did it. At once, the Israeli pulled out a gun and shot all the cannibals. The American and the Englishman asked him, “If you had a gun all the time, why didn’t you kill them sooner?” “Are you crazy,” answered the Israeli, “and have the U.N. call me an aggressor?” In many ways this was prescient. Although celebrated as a heroic moment by many, the chairman of the Organization of African unity declared to the UN that Israel’s daring mission was an “Act of aggression.” Much like the critique against the Eichmann capture, Israel was blamed for violating the rights of a sovereign country, as the Ugandan leader Idi Amin claimed they were on their way to a peaceful resolution when the Israelis swooped in. In light of this, to what extent do you think Israel should pay attention to international opinion when making decisions?
On the one hand, Uganda was thousands of miles away, Israeli intelligence had a vague sense of the number of guerillas or the location of the hostages. On the other hand, an Israeli company built the airport terminal in Entebbe, and Kenyan intelligence, who viewed Idi Amin with disdain, allowed Israel’s special forces to refuel. Yet outside of Yoni’s death and one paratrooper accidentally shooting a Jewish hostage, mistaking him for a guerrilla, this story inspired generations of Jews and Israelis. Do you view this rescue as miraculous, lucky or the result of good decisions by well trained leaders and military personnel?