The Commandos of Operation Entebbe: Planning the Mission

The Fellowship  |  June 28, 2016

Black and white picture of soldiers loading a car off a plane.
The Commandos of Operation Entebbe: Planning the Mission

This coming Monday, July 4th, will mark 40 years since Israeli commandos pulled off one of the most harrowing missions in history – Operation Entebbe. Yediot Achronot’s Ronen Bergman and Lior Ben-Ami are bringing us a five-part series on the operation. Today the story begins with the brave men who carried out the mission discussing its planning:

Yoni Netanyahu received the news of the hijacking of the Air France plane while he was on his way to the Sinai Peninsula to prepare for an important Sayeret Matkal operation. Avi Weiss (Livneh), who was appointed Sayeret Matkal’s intelligence officer just as Netanyahu took command of the unit, was with Netanyahu when the news came.

“While we were on our way south, we received a report about the hijacking of an Air France plane,” Weiss recounts 40 years later. “The soldiers who remained at the unit’s base were on alert in case the plane circled back and landed in Lod (at Ben-Gurion Airport). But as soon as the plane landed in Entebbe—about 4,000 kilometers from Israel—the high level of alert at the unit was lifted under the assumption that we weren’t going to take part in this hostage situation.

“While we were on deployment in the Sinai, Muki Betzer sent reports to Yoni about the discussions at the different levels of the IDF’s high command examining different operational options to rescue the hostages. The reports we received in Sinai were laughable, and sometimes scorn at the thought that the IDF could carry out an operation like this beyond the mountains of darkness (a place in Jewish tradition where the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel are believed to have been exiled by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V —ed.).”

Muki Betzer (who would later go on to become the first commander of the elite Air Force commando unit Shaldag, Netanyahu’s deputy at the time, knew Entebbe well. At an early stage of planning the operation, he met with Ehud Barak, who was at the time the assistant for operations to the director of Military Intelligence and one of the planners of the operation.

“When I walked into Ehud’s office, there were already several officers from the different corps there,” Betzer recounts. “‘Well, Muki, what can you tell us about the Ugandan soldiers?’ Ehud asked me.

“‘I only trained them for four months,’ I responded. ‘Had I kept training them, they’d be better now.’ Everyone laughed.

“‘And yet?’

“‘They’re scared of their own shadows, and generally they’re not very motivated. And, in this case, I really think they’re not motivated to fight.’ That’s how the planning for Operation Entebbe began…