38 Years Since Operation Entebbe

38 Years Since Operation Entebbe

38 Years Since Operation Entebbe
By Doron Almog, Major Gen. (Res)

Today I was at a memorial ceremony for Yoni Netanyahu z”l, held on Mount Herzl. The memories of that night jump up at me, unbidden. I share with you my thoughts on the operation, as I wrote them 3 years ago….

I was the first soldier to land there, on the ground of Entebbe, charged with the task of marking the route and gaining control of the control tower. Twenty-five minutes later, Yoni was critically wounded, Surin Hershko was seriously injured, and 105 stunned hostages were on their way to Hercules #4, together with the soldiers of the Golani brigade and the airplane’s medical team. I was the last one to leave the ground of Entebbe, just as I received the news that Yoni was no longer among the living. Patched memories of our last conversations flitted through my mind, of the operation we executed deep in Syria in April 1974, when I was a commander of special paratrooper’s force, and he joined us for the special mission from the armored corp. Another update: three of the hostages had been killed. Fleeting thoughts of the fragility of life, of the place of youthful strength that beats inside us, and the willingness to endanger ourselves and even give our lives on behalf of something so much greater than ourselves.

Looking back from the vantage point of 35 years later, I note to myself three insights:

1. The young soldiers
The task of an army leader is not only to fight well but also to give over a sense of confidence and security to those who follow orders. The State of Israel took upon itself an enormous responsibility when it allowed us to fly there, 4000 kilometers away from our homeland. The courage and confidence of Prime Minster Rabin, Minister of Defense Shimon Peres and Chief of staff Lt. General Motta Gur, came from projecting their belief in our capabilities. During our conversations and briefings before the operation, they expressed their faith in us – their young soldiers. Giving over this feeling of confidence to those who follow orders is a vital component of our real strength. One other vital point about our young troops – including those just 18 years old: they are not children. They are the best fighters that we have.

2. A moral imperative and exemplary society
We flew to Entebbe with a single solitary goal: to save the hostages. The Entebbe operation was an expression of our deepest values – that commitment toward others that we were taught from our earliest age: “He who saves one soul in Israel is considered as if he has saved an entire world,” and “Love thy friend as yourself.” That same commitment brought us to Entebbe, and that same spirit must guide our behavior toward the most vulnerable members of society – the hostages around us today. The Entebbe operation entered the pantheon of military history as one of the most daring operations ever undertaken. But for the weakest members of society, those who cannot even ask for themselves, who were deprived from birth or as a result of an accident or serious illness, are held hostage by their condition. We do not need to fly 4000 kilometers on their behalf. What they need is a series of courageous social changes brought about through educational programs and exemplary education on the part of individuals and groups, through new regulations and progressive legislation, and by creating a spirit of volunteerism and activity on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.
The strength of a society is measured by its weakest link. In order to be an exemplary society, we need a sequence of social “Entebbe operations”.

3. The Public Good Relies on a Few Self-Sacrificing Individuals – this has always been the reality. It will probably remain so. We will always need the spirit of Entebbe – the spirit of determination, of willingness to do for others and not only for ourselves. We will always need the Nachshons who leap forward in front of the rest of the camp. Here in Israel there will always be a core group who act courageously on behalf of the entire public. I pray that this small handful, the torchbearers who go forth in front of the camp, will sweep along in their wake many more for whom the metaphor of Entebbe serves as a way of life.

Doron Almog, Major General (Res.)
Chairman, Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran