Yesterday we began bringing you a series by Yediot Achronot's Ronen Bergman and Lior Ben-Ami that looks at Operation Entebbe 40 years later. Today, the daring commandos who undertook this impossible mission tell of the trip to Entebbe:
With the terrorists' ultimatum to execute the hostages in Entebbe looming overhead, the rescue operation was launched. Avi Weiss (Livneh), Sayeret Matkal’s intelligence officer, accompanied the troops to takeoff.
"I left the squadron briefing room with Yoni and accompanied him to his car, where he took out his webbing (load-bearing straps) and personal equipment. We said goodbye with a handshake, a pat on the back, and I wished him luck. As I was waiting by Yoni's car and listening to the increasing roar of the Hercules engines, someone arrived with up-to-date Mossad photographs of the Entebbe terminal. I took the photos from him and quickly ran towards the runway to the Hercules planes—some had already taken off.
"I managed to signal to the last of the Hercules (Lockheed C-130) planes—which had also already started moving—to stop and open the door. The door opened, I threw the package of photographs inside and asked that they be given to Yoni in Sharm el-Sheikh. These photos were taken by a Mossad undercover agent (‘Warrior’ in Mossad terminology —RB), a pilot who took off from Kenya in a light aircraft, flew around the (Entebbe) airport, and fled back. They were the first and last up-to-date photographs we had at our disposal in this operation.
The plane was slowly making its way towards Entebbe. "The flight from Sharm el-Sheikh was actually my first opportunity to sleep," says Rami Sherman, at the time the operations officer who led the backup force. "An hour before the scheduled landing time, the plane started to shake, as there was a storm raging outside. Since I knew the pilots, I could enter the cockpit, and it was from there that I watched a lightning storm the likes of which I'd never seen before.
“The storm ended, and Lake Victoria appeared below us, in all of its glory. It was a bright night with a full moon, and the view that appeared in front of me was so idyllic, so contradictory to the purpose of our flight."
"We were preparing for landing," says Pinchas Buchris, who would go on to become the director-general of the Defense Ministry but at the time was one of the younger commandos, a sergeant in the Yiftach Team. "I remember that Yoni Netanyahu came out of the Mercedes and went to each of the commandos, shook his hand, and wished him luck. When he got to me, I smiled at him. He touched my head and asked, 'What are you smiling for, Buchris?' shook my hand, and went back to the Mercedes..."