The Raid on Entebbe

Uganda is opening her borders this week, and Entebbe Airport is resuming flights. It is currently the only international airport in Uganda, but its claim to fame has nothing to do with flying – in 1976, Entebbe Airport was the scene of one of the most daring escape missions in history, Operation Entebbe, when Israeli commandos swooped into the airport in the dead of night to rescue 103 hostages.

Events began on 27th June 1976 when 4 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Red Army hijacked an Air France plane flying from Tel Aviv to Paris, and landed it at Entebbe Airport. Uganda’s President, Idi Amin, welcomed the hijackers, and allowed them to set up the hostages in the old airport building. He organised for meals to be sent from the Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe to feed the hostages and their captors. The hijackers spilt the group into Israelis and non Israelis, and over the following two days 148 non Israelis hostages were released. The hijackers made their demands known: they wanted 53 terrorists, incarcerated in five countries, mostly Israel.

Israel was not about to give in to this demand. Instead, they hatched a daring plan for commandos of the Israel Defence Force to fly to Uganda, and, under the cover of night, land at Entebbe Airport, where they would sue the element of surprise to take out the hijackers and Ugandan soldiers stationed there, and rescue the hostages, then depart.

On 3rd July 1976, 4 Hercules Cargo plans, carrying the commandos and accompanied by 2 phantom jet fighters, made the 8 hour journey to Entebbe Airport. They landed in the dark, and made their way to the Old Airport Building. But a Ugandan soldier spotted them, and they exchanged gun fire. The commander of the rescue mission, Yonatan Netanyahu, was hit, and became the only Israeli casualty of the mission. The rest of the commandos stormed the building, shooting all of the hijackers, and rescued the hostages, with only 3 civilian casualties. One hostage, Dora Bloch, got left behind, as she was receiving medical treatment at Mulago Hospital. She was subsequently killed.

The raid on Entebbe has spawned films, documentaries and even a play.