Entebbe: a story of the measure of a man

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

In our third year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we Americans are still coming to terms with our vulnerability. At the same time, U.S. society has become somewhat polarized between hawks and doves, reminiscent of the late 1960s and '70s during the Vietnam War.

But Vietnam was not fought on American soil, and a simple pacifist response is not appropriate for today's highly mobile and flexible terrorists.

When the United States was celebrating its 200th birthday, shortly after midnight on July 4, 1976, Israeli Lt. Col. Jonathan "Yoni" Netanyahu led an assault force of some 30-odd soldiers at Entebbe Airport in Uganda to rescue 105 hostages held at gunpoint by terrorists ---- four Germans and at least five Arabs.

While the rescue was a success, Yoni was killed as he led his troops to the old terminal where the hostages were held. Yoni never made it inside the building.

Written by Yoni's younger brother, Entebbe paints a picture of a driven young man, 30 years old, with singleness of purpose, uncompromising patriotism, a keen and probing military mind. The publisher draws a comparison of Yoni to the Maccabees, that group of Jews who suicided at Masada rather than surrender to the Roman army.

Considering the unprecedented tactics implemented for the daring, out-of-country rescue, the reader might think Yoni had a death wish. But, throughout the planning, the analysis of scarce intelliegence, the selling of the plan to the Israeli government, it is apparent that he is determined that his country will not bow to the terrorists' demands to release certain prisoners, nor allow innocent civilians, both Jews and gentiles, Israeli citizens or not, to be killed because of his country's stand not to appease terrorists. His own death, or life, was not a consideration.

He undoubtedly thought the Entebbe raid might be his last military action, but he was determined to make the stand.

The author shifts the story back and forth in time as he reveals the measure of the man; focusing on the impossible task facing Yoni and his assault team; shifting to indications of Yoni's character he saw while growing up with him; shifting again to Yoni's lack of respect for military officers more interested in image and political advantage.

Images include the man who is in love though never married; the swaggering clownishness of Idi Amin, the Ugandan tyrant; and the cautious Israeli government.

There are many lessons here for post-9/11 America. The author deftly describes, in the words of his brother, "People with initiative and drive, willing to break with convention when necessary, people who do not stick to one solution but are constantly seeking new ways and new answers."

Entebbe ---- The Jonathan Netanyahu Story: A Defining Moment in the War on Terrorism; by Iddo Netanyahu; non-fiction; 218 pages with footnotes, illustrations and afterward; softbound; Balfour Books; New Leaf Press, P.O. Box 726, Green Forest 72638.

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