July 4, 1976
On June 27, 1976, an Air France flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris was hijacked after making a stopover in Athens. There were nearly 250 passengers on board, including eighty-three Israelis. Of the four initial hijackers, two of the hijackers were from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two were from Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang. In order to refuel, the plane was first diverted to Benghazi, Libya, where it landed just after 1:00 PM.
Despite the fact that Libyan authorities claimed they did not allow the plane to refuel, it took off after nearly six hours in Libya and flew towards Amman, Jordan before redirecting and landing in Entebbe, Uganda at 3:15 AM on June 28. The following day, the hijackers, who were joined by three additional terrorists at Entebbe, demanded the release of fifty-three Palestinian militants being held in Israeli, French, Swiss and Kenyan jails.
The terrorists released over 100 of the hostages on July 1st, but kept nearly all of the Israeli and Jewish passengers. The same day, the Israeli government announced that they had begun negotiations with the French to secure the release of the remaining hostages. Talks progressed slowly and a number of deadlines set by the hijackers were necessarily extended.
Israeli officials publically maintained that they were continuing to negotiate with the hijackers, but at the same time, a secret rescue operation, named Operation Thunderbolt, was drawn up by the Israeli military. Israel had information about the situation at the airport from informants, and also possessed blueprints of the Entebbe airport because an Israeli construction firm had built it.
At 1:00 AM on July 4th, a team of 200 elite military forces of the Sayeret Makhtal landed at Entebbe, surprising the terrorists and Ugandan soldiers who had joined them. The battle lasted just thirty-five minutes; all seven hijackers and twenty Ugandan soldiers were killed, as were three of the hostages. The lone Israeli casualty was the operation’s commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu. Thereafter, Yonatan was recognized as an Israeli national hero. The success of the operation brought euphoria to the Israeli public and praise from President Gerald Ford and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. The rescue happened to coincide with the commemoration of 200 years of independence and freedom in the United States.
The photo shows Israelis rejoicing while awaiting the arrival of the freed Entebbe hostages at Ben-Gurion Airport on July 4, 1976.