Thursday, February 28, 2008

Better Men than Me

A few days ago, an Israeli general named Dan Shomron died, aged 70. General Shomron served in the Six-day War and all the major Israeli actions after that. He served as the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 1987-1991.

However, Gen. Shomron's greatest achievement was his command of Operation Entebbe in 1976. On June 27th, 1976, and Air France flight from Tel Aviv was hijacked by Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (shades of "Life of Brian" here) as well as two Germans cooperating with them. They directed the plane to Benghazi, Libya, and after refuelling, on to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

Once in Uganda, several new hijackers joined them, encouraged by Uganda's dictator Idi Amin. They demanded the release of 40 Palestinian terrorists in Israel and 13 others held in other places. They released many of the non-Jewish hostages over the next few days, but retained their hold on 105 Israelis and French Jews in an abandoned terminal building at the airport.

On July 1st, the terrorists deadline, the Israeli government announced they would negotiate. Through the next few days, while they ostensibly bargained with the hijackers, the Israeli Defense Force was directed to plan a rescue mission. Brigadier General Shomron was selected to plan and lead the mission.

After only two days of planning, four C-130's left Israel and flew the 2300 miles to Entebbe airport without the aid of any ground control whatsoever. They landed one hour before midnight with their cargo doors open. The first person to leave the plane was General Shomron. He was followed by a black Mercedes decorated with Ugandan flags and two Land Rovers. These were used to give the impression that Amin had come to visit the hijackers, when in reality they were loaded with Israeli commandos.

Stopped by two Ugandan sentries who realized Amin had recently switched to a white Mercedes, the Israelis shot both and proceeded to the main entrance to the terminal. There they burst from the vehicles and into the main hall, where they screamed at the hostages to stay down while they opened fire on the hijackers. They then proceeded to a back room where, using grenades and assault rifles, they dispatched the remaining hijackers. The commandos were intimately aware of the layout of the location given that an Israeli firm had built the terminal and still had the blueprints.

While the Israeli forces loaded the hostages onto the C-130's, armored personnel carriers brought from Israel destroyed Ugandan fighter planes on the ground. In the end, all four planes took off successfully and landed in Nairobi, Kenya. From there, after refuelling, they returned to Israel.

In th 30 minute raid, all seven hijackers were killed. Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of the future Prime Minister of Israel) was the sole Israeli commando to be killed, although 5 others were wounded. Three hostages were killed by crossfire and 10 wounded. 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed.

General Shomron, in the space of three days, organized, planned, and executed the rescue of 105 hostages from a hostile airport 2300 miles from Israel and without the assistance of any foreign government or local operatives. The plan and its execution are considered the benchmark against which other commando style raids should be judged.

If you've seen The Delta Force, then you've gotten a fictionalized version of this raid. But it's pretty stunning to realize that there are actually people out there who have done this kind of thing - spectacularly and successfully.

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