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What PM Modi's Reference to 'Entebbe' in his Tel Aviv Speech Signifies

The ‘Raid of Entebbe’ has attained mythic status in the annals of counter terrorism.

Tushar Dhara | News18.com

Updated:July 5, 2017, 11:43 AM IST
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What PM Modi's Reference to 'Entebbe' in his Tel Aviv Speech Signifies
The ‘Raid of Entebbe’ has attained mythic status in the annals of counter terrorism.
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New Delhi: “Today is July 4, exactly 41 years since Operation Entebbe. The day when your Prime Minister, and my friend, Bibi, lost his older brother Yoni, while saving the lives of so many Israeli hostages. Your heroes are an inspiration for the younger generations.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tarmac speech on his arrival in Tel Aviv, Israel, contained this passing reference to ‘Entebbe’. What did he mean exactly?

Entebbe is a city in Uganda and is famous for being the site of a successful strike by the Israeli Special Forces to free a plane that was hijacked by a group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Now consider the significance of the reference in Modi’s speech: The raid happened exactly 41 years ago on July 4, 1976; Air France flight 139, the hijacked airline, had taken off from Tel Aviv; Lt. Col Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu, the commander of the crack Israeli team that stormed the aircraft and killed all the Palestinian hijackers, was the brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who received Modi at Tel Aviv Airport.

“It signals a convergence of security interests between India and Israel at the highest level and that the threat will be dealt with by cooperation between the two countries,” Ashok Behuria, a fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis told News18. “It is a continuation of Modi’s message in Washington D.C. against terrorism,” he added.

The ‘Raid of Entebbe’ has attained mythic status in the annals of counter terrorism. The hijacked airline which was headed to Paris was instead diverted to Entebbe airport in Uganda by 2 Palestinians and 2 Germans from the Deutsche Revolutionary Cells. Many of the passengers were Israeli Jews. The hijacked flight was welcomed by Idi Amin, the then ruler of Uganda.

The hostage situation carried on for several days, during which the Israeli Defence Forces, acting on information provided by Mossad, planned a meticulous hostage rescue operation. A team of 100 crack Israeli commandoes took off in planes from Israel and flew south towards Uganda. The route they took avoided many of the Arab nations in the Middle East and their air craft flew no higher than 30 m, to avoid radar detection by Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

The Israelis landed at Entebbe on July 3 and launched the raid immediately. They stormed the terminal where the hostages were being held and shot dead all the hijackers. In the meantime, 3 Hercules C-130 transport aircraft, which had followed from Israel, landed at Entebbe and the team started to load the hostages onto the aircraft. They also destroyed Ugandan MiGs to deter pursuit.

By this time the Ugandan military had scrambled soldiers who shot at the Israelis, who returned fire inflicting casualties. During this brief, but intense firefight, the Ugandans managed to injure five commandos. Yoni Netanyahu was shot dead, the only Israeli commando who died in the line of fire.

The Israelis finished evacuating the hostages, loaded Netanyahu's body into one of the planes and left the airport. The entire operation lasted 53 minutes – of which the assault lasted only 30 minutes.

Prime Minister Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister who is visiting Israel and it marks a paradigm shift. Indo-Israeli engagement is no longer in the shadows and the visit dehyphenates Israel and Palestine. It is also significant that Modi is skipping the occupied territories of Palestine.

Dr. Khinvraj Jangid, an Assistant Professor at the Jindal Center for Israel Studies told CNN News18 that the visit signifies that India’s decades-long stance of “ideological solidarity” with Palestine has been replaced by a recognition of the two countries’ convergent interests on a wide range of issues, including terrorism.
| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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