ISRAEL & THE ENTEBBE RAID
I have been a supporter of Israel for as long as I can remember—not because I believe in all their policies—but because I was born in 1944 and was brought up being made fully aware both of the Holocaust, and of the wider historical context. Simply put, the West, as a whole (something we tend to choose to forget), had treated the Jews abominably for centuries. Given the totality of all this, of course the Jews deserved their own country—and where else could it be but Israel? It seemed to be no more than natural justice; and I haven’t changed my opinion.
No small part of my awareness came from the fact that my much loved grandmother, Vida Lentaigne, was not just active in helping Jews who fled from the Nazis, but she frequently had refugees to stay at the farm in Ireland where I spent so many of my summers. They made quite an impact on me. All treated me kindly, but what really impressed me was how practical they were. They knew how to get things done in a way that eluded my high-minded, but decidedly impractical, grandmother.
Where they all went subsequently, I have no idea—which is something I regret. But such activities mostly occurred in the Forties, when I was pretty small, so I guess the fact that I didn’t keep a Rolodex can be excused.
I was reminded of all this because I say an old movie called Thunderbolt over the weekend. It told the story of the Entebbe raid—one of the most remarkable, and successful, special operations missions in history.
In brief, in 1976, after an Air France aircraft was hijacked by terrorists, and over a hundred Jewish passengers threatened with death (other passengers were let go), an Israeli force flew over 2,500 miles to Entebbe in Uganda and rescued most of them despite opposition from the terrorists themselves and Ugandan forces.
All seven hijackers were killed together with forty-five Ugandan soldiers. Four hostages were also killed. The Israelis lost only their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu (illustrated above), the brother of the current Israeli prime minister. Why were they so successful? Brilliant planning; surprise; outstanding execution; and simplicity—all backed up some extraordinarily talented soldiers. Two other factors are worth emphasizing: Daring—the guts to even attempt such a mission; and seemingly effortless inter-service cooperation.
Years later, I was privileged to meet, and interview at length, one of the Israeli Sayeret Matkal commandos at a Special Operations exhibition in Tampa, Florida. What he told me will have to await my memoirs.
You know, being an author has its issues—chronic financial insecurity being just one of them—but you meet some interesting people in my line of work.