What Was Operation Thunderbolt?

The Thunderbolt operation, also called Entebbe Raid or Operation Entebbe, was a rescue operation held hostage by the Israeli defense forces at Entebbe airport in Uganda on the night of July 4, 1976. This rescue occurred after that Wadie Haddad’s allied terrorists hijacked an Air France plane with 248 passengers, mostly Israelis, and seized the plane in Uganda where former Ugandan president Idi Amin hosted them, pretending to act on the best interests of the hostages . The planning, execution and success of the operation make it one of the most daring in history.

The situation of hijacking and hostage

The Air France 139 flight took off from Tel Aviv on June 27, 1976, with 246 passengers and 12 crew members, and flew to Athens where it left some passengers and hired 58 more, including the hijackers, before leaving for Paris. Immediately after take-off, two Palestinian terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO) and two Germans (Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann) belonging to the German revolutionary cells took control. They postponed the flight to Benghazi where they released Patricia Martell, an Israeli citizen of British origin who pretended to have a miscarriage. They were in Benghazi for several hours and refueled while discussing with Uganda to host them to which the country agreed. To Entebbe,

In return, PFLP-EO wanted the release of 53 Pro-Palestine militants and $ 5 million in ransom by July 1, otherwise, they would execute all the hostages. In June 29 and with the help of Ugandan soldiers, the hijackers separated the hostages into two, Israeli and non-Israeli. The following day, 48 non-Israeli hostages were released, followed by another 100 in June 30 after Israel agreed to negotiate, leaving the hostages 106 including the crew.

Negotiations and operational planning

The Israeli official appeared to be negotiating as he planned diplomatic solutions and military operations, depending on what happened before. Diplomatic options included negotiations with Amin, the United States and Egypt. These negotiations led the hijackers to extend the deadline until July 4, a date that Amin also accepted because he had to attend an OAU meeting and return that night. The absence of Amin and the expected arrival date gave the operation a success. Other useful factors include the fact that an Israeli company built parts of the airport and still has plans and, some years ago, the IDF had trained some Ugandan soldiers. In addition, the released hostages provided information on hijackers, weapons and the terminal.

Raid Preparation and Logistics

The IDF rejected plans to abandon its commandos in Lake Victoria near the airport after information that the lake had crocodiles and the fact that Amin would not allow them to leave Uganda. The other option was the transport of troops to Uganda and return with space for the hostages, but even this would have required a low flight to avoid radar detection and refueling in Kenya. However, Kenya feared Amin’s retaliation and it took the efforts of Bruce MacKenzie, then Kenya’s Minister of Agriculture, to allow refueling at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The Raid and Rescue

In July 3, Israel transported similar vehicles to Amin’s parade complete with Ugandan flags along with troops in four C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and flew over strategic roads to Entebbe avoiding any radar. There were also two Boeing 707 jets, one that carried medical facilities that had landed in Nairobi and the other surrounded Entebbe Airport during the raid. Due to the poor lighting of the airport, an IDF plane landed without incident and shot two guards only using silenced guns following a misinterpretation of Ugandan military practice of pointing a gun at approaching vehicles. The soldier is not dead, leading to the use of a noisy rifle that ruined the element of surprise. The troops organized by the IDF positioned themselves and exchanged fire with Ugandan forces as a team rushed to the terminal and ordered the hostages to lie down in Hebrew and English. While the rescue continued, the other three Hercules planes landed with reinforcements in an operation that took 53 minutes.

Victims and departure

The IDF mistakenly killed a nineteen-year-old French immigrant, Jean-Jacques Maimoni, who stood up during the rescue after mistaking him for being part of the terrorists. In addition, Pasco Cohen of 52 suffered gunshot wounds. Two other hostages died in the process. Approximately 55 Ugandan soldiers and all hijackers died in the raid. The commander of the Israeli unit Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of Benjamin Netanyahu) died outside the terminal and five commandos suffered injuries. The IDF left behind 74, Dora Bloch, who was taken to the Kampala hospital earlier. Amin later ordered his execution. Before the departure, the IDF destroyed several Ugandan planes including MiG-17 and MiG-21 to avoid pursuits.


Amin executed hundreds of Kenyans in Uganda in retaliation for assisting Israel and murdering MacKenzie. While many nations praised the raid, Uganda called it “an act of aggression” and planned military action against Kenya, but the United States responded by deploying the super carrier USS forestry (CV-61) along the Indian ocean. In 1980, pro-Palestinian militants bombed the Norfolk-owned Jewish hotel in Nairobi in retaliation.

Israel sometimes refers retroactively to the operation as Operation Jonathan in memory of Yonatan Netanyahu, the head of the unit.

Leave a Comment