July 4, 1976. The hijack of a French airliner is brought to a dramatic end when a team of Israeli commandos carry out a daring night raid on Entebbe airport in African Uganda.
The Air France Flight 139, an Airbus A.300-B, was hijacked shortly after take-off from Athens airport en route to Tel Aviv on June 27th by a group of terrorists. Apart from two German supporters of the Baader-Meinhof group, they were Palestinians disguised as Latin-American tourists named Ortega and Garcia. The mastermind of the piracy was Dr. Wadi Hadad, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. (Contrary to popular belief, "Carlos, the Jackal" was not involved.)
Supported by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, they forced the plane to fly to Entebbe where 98 Israeli and/or Jewish passengers were detained. Amin had taken up the Palestinian cause in the beginning of the 1970s, providing training space for PLO terrorists.
The hijackers’ demands focused on the release of 53 convicted terrorists of various nationalities. Most of them were imprisoned in Israel. If the Israeli government would fail to comply, they would systematically execute the passengers, Jews first.
For Israel, releasing terrorists was simply intolerable. They decided to initiate a secret rescue mission, Operation Thunderbolt. One of the key commanders was Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of later Prime Minister Benjamin.
Israel sent three Hercules C-130 transport planes to Uganda. Somehow they were not picked up by radar in the six countries they passed through, including Uganda. Rumours about secret radar-evading instruments were never confirmed. The planes managed to land at Entebbe without ATC's assistance.
Just before midnight on July 4th, the transport planes landed at the airfield. In just 53 minutes, 200 commandos overpowered the Ugandan guards, killed seven terrorists and snatched all but three of the hostages, who were flown back to Israel. In revenge Idi Amin dispatched a crack team of assassins to a hospital in Kampala. They were ordered to kill an old lady, Dora Bloch, that was injured during the hostage taking. Only one Israeli soldier fell during the Entebbe Raid: Col. Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu.
"The Israeli action at Entebbe came to remind us that the law we find in statute books is not the only law of mankind. There is also a moral law, and by all that is moral on this earth Israel had the right to do what it did. Indeed it had also the basic duty to do so."
Israel's UN Ambassador Chaim Herzog
A story as powerful as Entebbe's has proven irresistible to filmmakers. The Internet Movie Database lists four Entebbe-based productions: Raid on Entebbe (1977, starring Charles Bronson and Yaphet Kotto), Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe (2000), Victory at Entebbe (1976), and Mivtza Yonatan (also known as Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt (1977)).