Sunday, June 10, 2007

90 Minutes at Entebbe

I was thinking about the movie I reviewed (see Lunatic Fringe archive) called “Idi Amin: Last King of Scotland” and I noted with regret that the story of the rescue raid wasn’t given more attention. Of course, that would have made a different film entirely. I liked the film as it was. Anyway,
I remembered a book I’d read long ago called: “90 Minutes at Entebbe.” The Israeli raid touched off one of the most vitriolic United Nations debates ever, the text of which appears toward the end of “90 Minutes at Entebbe.” Entebbe, of course, is the airport where all this happened.

Americans of advanced middle age who could read newspapers will remember the late 60s and 70s as a time of worldwide social upheaval during which airplane highjackings and bombings seemed commonplace. It wasn’t unusual for a traveler to embark for Paris and find oneself in Libya or Egypt or some other destination. There was a virtual epidemic of highjacked commercial jets, an epidemic that seemed unstoppable until Air France flight 139 was highjacked due to the lax security at Greece’s Athens airport. Air France was made to fly first to Libya and then to Entebbe Airport which, as everyone discovered, was in Uganda.

If people had not heard of Entebbe, they would certainly have heard of Idi Amin Dada, the outlandish dictator of Uganda, who assisted the terrorists. Idi Amin’s exploits had captivated the press and the public imagination. Idi was said to have a taste for human flesh. Psychologists of today would tend to dismiss his aberrations as “poor impulse control.”

Idi bought his nine year old son a real airplane and would let the kid fly it around the palace. Idi was sp desperate for acclaim that it didn’t matter to him a whit how he got it.
The terrorists who high-jacked Air France Flight 139 were left-wing Germans and Palestinian Arabs working together for a “free Palestinian state.” You can see how much their efforts helped.

The terrorists had a record of previous kidnappings and murder, and were anxious to focus world wide attentions upon themselves and “the cause”. After capturing the jet, the highjackers got the assistance of the Ugandan army. World reaction and negotiating tactics were an encouragement for the highjackers to release all hostages except for 100 Jewish passengers.

Jewish people have a fear of unusual sequestration and segregation and this release of all non-Jewish hostages was a clue Israel could not afford to ignore. The fear that these terrorists would slaughter the entire lot of Jewish civilians spread to the highest echelons of the Israeli government. The terrorist offered a prisoner exchange. There was pressure on the Israeli and the German governments to release 52 convicted terrorists in exchange for the Jewish hostages. With the memory of the 1972 Olympic massacre of bound Israeli athletes slaughtered wholesale by Palestinian terrorists still fresh in their minds, there were some Israelis who began to hatch a backup military plan at the same time the hostage-prisoner exchange negotiations began.

90 Minutes at Entebbe” describes the military plans which involved sending several teams of Israeli commandoes about 2000 miles to land in an African country protected by Ugandan soldiers and terrorists armed with machine-guns. As a commando raid, it very likely has no parallels in history. It’s a blow by blow description in flat, often colorless terms

The Israeli commando raid on Entebbe was successful, though it involved some loss of life. Most of the terrorists were killed. One of the commandos was killed, that man the brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The angry Ugandans, under orders from Amin, murdered Dora Bloch, an ill 75 year old hostage who had been taken to a Ugandan hospital by Amin’s soldiers. There were five hostages struck by flying bullets, two of whom died.

90 Minutes at Entebbe was written shortly after the Israeli Commando raid and published soon after since the entire world wanted to know the facts and details. Some typographical errors were apparently rushed through the editors. The account sometimes seems fragmented and out of sequence. But this book is a straight telling of events, pieced together from assembled military, governmental and independent newspaper reports. I recommend it highly as worthwhile reading for people who wish to examine the historic roots of international terror.

(Notes: The photo of the soldier is Colonel Jon Netanyahu, the only Israeli commando killed in the raid)

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