One of Israel’s Finest Sons
The Fellowship | March 13, 2020
Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel. Yoni was known for his role as commander of the elite Israeli army commando unit, Sayeret Matkal. Born in New York City on March 13, 1946, Yoni moved to Israel with his family shortly after his birth. He spent several years in the United States throughout his life, but his heart was dedicated to Israel.
Following his high school graduation, Yoni Netanyahu joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and quickly became a platoon commander in the paratroopers unit. During the Six Day War in June 1967, his battalion was part of a pivotal battle in the Sinai, and also reinforced the Golan Heights region. After he completed his mandatory IDF service, Yoni briefly studied at Harvard University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but returned to the IDF in 1969.
He then joined Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s elite special forces unit, in the early 1970s, and he was appointed the unit’s deputy commander in 1972. While deputy commander of Sayeret Matkal, Yoni led a raid in which Syrian officers were captured and then exchanged in return for captive Israeli pilots. He also played a large role in the Yom Kippur War, rescuing a lieutenant colonel who had been wounded behind Syrian lines.
Yoni Netanyahu was killed in action on July 4, 1976, while commanding an assault unit in Operation Entebbe, a mission to rescue more than 100 Israelis and Jews who were held hostage in Uganda after a plane hijacking. Although the operation was successful, Yonatan was fatally shot. He was the only Israeli soldier killed during the raid. After a military funeral attended by enormous crowds and many top-ranking officials, Yonatan was buried in Jerusalem’s military cemetery at Mount Herzl.
Operation Entebbe is known as Mivtsa Yonatan (Operation Yonatan) in his honor, and The Jonathan Institute, established in 1979, was named after him and to this day sponsors international conferences on combating terrorism.
Giving Yoni Netanyahu’s eulogy, Shimon Peres said, “A bullet had torn the young heart of one of Israel’s finest sons, one of its most courageous warriors, one of its most promising commanders — the magnificent Yonatan Netanyahu.”
And Yoni’s beloved brother Benjamin said, “He could do anything. I think he was at heart a great leader. He certainly could have headed the army. What he would have done after that, I don’t know. I think a man with his gifts and his depth would not have stayed on the sidelines. He would have found ways to contribute to the Jewish state and the Jewish future.”