On America’s two hundredth birthday the tiny nation Israel, surrounded by enemies and hated by the United Nations boosted the morale of America and much of the Western world, with Operation Thunderbolt, the official name of the daring raid to free hostages from Palestinian terrorists at the Entebbe airport in Uganda. More than any gala American Bicentennial party on July 4, 1976, Israel’s raid on the Entebbe Airport reminded the world, Freedom the real “Spirit of 1776,” is worth fighting for.
It wasn’t supposed to be the big story of the day, after all, July 4, 1976, was the two hundredth anniversary of America, the nation which became a beacon of freedom for the entire world. At the time America needed a celebration, as we were still recovering from the scandal which forced a president to resign for the first and (hopefully) only time in its history.
Israel needed a morale boost also, three years earlier, Israel came the closest it had ever been to being destroyed when their Prime Minister Golda Meir obeyed Henry Kissinger’s orders and did not strike first, even though they knew that Egypt was going to attack a few hours later on Yom Kippur. One year before Operation Thunderbolt, the United Nations passed a resolution saying that Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people was the same as racism. Thus Israel and America each needed some good news.
This is how it happened.
On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139, carrying 248 passengers and a crew of twelve, took off from Athens, heading for Paris. Soon after the 12:30 p.m. takeoff, the flight was hijacked by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and members of the German “Revolutionary Cells (RZ)” (Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann). The terrorists commandeered the flight, diverting it to Benghazi, Libya. The plane left Benghazi, and at 3:15 it arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
At Entebbe, the four hijackers were joined by three “friends” and supported by the pro-Palestinian forces of Uganda’s despotic president, Idi Amin. The hijackers were led by the German, Böse. They demanded the release of 40 Palestinian terrorists held in Israel and 13 other detainees imprisoned in Kenya, France, Switzerland, and Germany–and if these demands were not met, they threatened to begin killing hostages on July 1, 1976. Eventually, that deadline was extended to July 4th.
The hijackers eventually released all the hostages except for Israelis and Jews whom they threatened to kill if Israel did not comply with their demands by the end of the day on the fourth.
The Hijackers didn’t realize that the Entebbe airport where they were holding the hostages was built by an Israeli construction firm. The firm provided the IDF with blueprints which were used to plan Operation Thunderbolt. Moreover, the released, non-Jewish hostages were able to describe the terrorists, their arms, and their positioning. As a result, the IDF decided to send in an overwhelmingly dominant force: over 200 of the best soldiers the army had to offer participated in the raid, all of them heavily armed.
Upon the hijackers announcement that the airline crew and non-Israeli/non-Jewish passengers would be released and put on another Air France plane that had been brought to Entebbe for that purpose, Flight 139’s Captain Michel Bacos told the hijackers that all passengers, including the remaining ones, were his responsibility, and that he would not leave them behind. Bacos’ entire crew followed suit...