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A raid on Entebbe's legacy

    We've just celebrated the 39th anniversary of "Operation Thunderbolt". To mark the occasion, the distinguished military historian, Professor Saul David, has published what will probably remain, for the foreseeable future, the definitive account of what he rightly terms "the most audacious hostage rescue mission in history." David is a superlative storyteller. It would be impertinent of me to challenge the story he tells, neither do I wish to do so. But I do question certain of his conclusions, not least his astonishing contention that the success of Operation Thunderbolt "has actually made it harder for Israeli politicians - particularly Bibi Netanyahu - to embrace the compromises required for a lasting peace with the Palestinians."

    For those of you too young to remember the events of Sunday July 4, 1976, I need to explain that, on that day, the Israeli military launched Operation Thunderbolt - the successful rescue by IDF commandos of more than 100 hostages kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists at Uganda's Entebbe airport. A week earlier, these terrorists (aided by members of a German antisemitic pseudo-Marxist "cell") had hijacked an Air France jet on its way from Tel Aviv to Paris. After meandering across Europe and north Africa the flight ended up at Entebbe. Why? Because Uganda's military dictator, Idi Amin, supported the terrorist operation, which had as its stated goal the release of some 53 pro-Palestinian terrorists, 40 of whom were held in Israeli jails.

    Amin, apart from being a genuine raving lunatic, was also a black Nazi and a proud mass murderer. Why this ignorant assistant cook in the King's African Rifles was ever permitted by his British colonial masters to rise to the rank of warrant officer, I shall never understand. In 1971, Amin had led a coup against Uganda's president, Milton Obote. As military dictator of the country, Amin then instituted a reign of terror not merely against anyone who opposed him but against ethnic groups of which he personally disapproved. Infamously, he expelled Uganda's immensely entrepreneurial Asian population.

    As the Ugandan economy descended into chaos, Amin turned for help to the Soviet Union and to Libya's Colonel Gaddafi. This necessitated reshaping his foreign policy to please his new paymasters. He enthusiastically supported - both politically and logistically - the hijacking of the Air France flight.

    Following Operation Thunderbolt (in which 102 of the 106 hostages were rescued, but in which a number of Ugandan soldiers were killed and 11 Russian-built MiG fighters of the Ugandan air force were destroyed), Amin ordered the murder of Dora Bloch, a 75-year-old Israeli who had been permitted by the hijackers to be taken to hospital in Kampala, as well as the killing of hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda - payback for Kenyan assistance to Israel in the raid.

    So much for the bare details of Operation Thunderbird, in which the only Israeli soldier to die was Bibi Netanyahu's brother, Yoni.

    Professor David alleges that, contrary to Israeli propaganda, "the mission was dogged from the start by infighting, hasty planning and tactical blunders - and almost ended in disaster." No one - I mean no Israeli - who I've ever spoken to about the raid has ever painted it as anything remotely resembling a perfect military operation.

    But, then, few military operations ever are. Of the Anglo-German victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, Wellington himself confessed that was "a damned nice [i.e. uncertain] thing - the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life." In 1982, we celebrated the liberation of the Falkland Islands from Argentinian occupation but we know now that the British liberating forces were down to their last few rounds of ammunition when victory was declared.

    If Professor David wants to believe that the Entebbe raid "owed its success more to luck than to Israeli military brilliance," that's his prerogative. But his contention that the success of the raid "has actually made it harder for Israeli politicians… to embrace the compromises required for a lasting peace with the Palestinians… because it convinced Israelis that their intelligence services and soldiers could deal with any security threat" seems to me to fly in the face of facts.

    After all, Professor David, was not the Yitzhak Rabin who ordered the Entebbe operation the same Yitzhak Rabin who later (1993) signed the Oslo Accords and shook the hand of Yasser Arafat?

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