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Israelis You Should Know: Yoni Netanyahu

Yoni Netanyahu (Photo: GPO)

Lived: March 13, 1946 - July 4, 1976

Known for: Brother of PM Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF officer who led Operation Entebbe, the 1976 mission that rescued over 100 Israeli hostages.

Why you should know him: Born in New York to Zila and Benzion - an Israeli professor of history and ardent Zionist - Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu was named for family friend John Henry Patterson, a Protestant supporter of Israel and the godfather of the IDF. His younger brothers are Benjamin - the Prime Minister of Israel - and Iddo, who is a radiologist and writer.

After high school, Yoni went to Israel and joined the IDF. During the Six-Day War in 1967, he commanded a company of paratroopers and was wounded while rescuing a fellow injured soldier from behind enemy lines. Returning to the U.S., Yoni began studies at Harvard, where he excelled, but the Holy Land still called him, and he returned to the IDF.

In 1972, Yoni was named deputy commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. The next year, he took part in operations to bring justice to the Black September terrorists responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Yoni again proved his bravery on the battlefield. When a fellow officer, Yossi Ben Hanan, was hit by an anti-tank missile and lay wounded behind Syrian lines, Yoni again proved to be his comrade's rescuer. For this act, he was awarded Israel's third highest military decoration, the Medal of Distinguished Service.

In 1976, terrorists hijacked an Air France plane, taking all Israeli passengers and the flight crew to Entebbe, Uganda. Yoni led the elite commando unit that carried out Operation Entebbe, the assault on the airport and hijackers that resulted in the rescue of 102 of the 106 hostages. Tragically, Yoni was shot and killed during the raid.

In the 40 years since his death, books have been written and movies have been made of Yoni Netanyahu, but his bravery and selfless spirit lives on the strongest in the unbreakable people of Israel.

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