One of Israel’s Most Courageous Warriors

Stand for Israel  |  June 26, 2023

PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in front of photo of his brother, Yoni Netanyahu
(Photo: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Remembered as commander of an elite Israeli commando unit, Yoni Netanyahu grew up the big brother of Benjamin Netanyahu. Born in New York City on March 13, 1946, Yonatan soon moved to Israel with his family. He spent several years in the United States throughout his life, but his heart belonged in the Holy Land.

Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu
(Photo: GPO)

Commander and Commando

Following his high school graduation, Yoni joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He quickly became a platoon commander in the paratroopers unit. During the Six Day War in June 1967, his battalion took part in a pivotal battle in the Sinai, and also reinforced the Golan Heights region. Completing his service, Yoni studied at Harvard and Hebrew University, but returned to the IDF in 1969.

He then joined Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s elite special forces unit. In the early 1970s, the unit appointed Yoni its deputy commander in 1972. While deputy commander of Sayeret Matkal, Yoni led a raid which captured Syrian officers to be exchanged for captive Israeli pilots. He also played a large role in the Yom Kippur War, rescuing a lieutenant colonel who wounded behind Syrian lines.

Operation Entebbe

Yoni died in action on July 4, 1976, while commanding an assault unit in Operation Entebbe, a mission to rescue more than 100 Israelis and Jews held hostage in Uganda after a plane hijacking. Although the operation was successful, Yoni suffered a fatal gunshot wound, the only Israeli soldier killed during the raid. After a military funeral attended by enormous crowds and many top-ranking officials, Yoni joined other Israeli heroes in Jerusalem’s military cemetery at Mount Herzl.

Operation Entebbe became known as Mivtsa Yonatan (Operation Yonatan) in his honor, and The Jonathan Institute, established in 1979 and named after him, to this day sponsors international conferences on combating terrorism.

‘One of Israel’s Finest Sons’

Giving Yoni’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.”

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