From chilling announcement on hijacked plane to daring hostage-rescue mission in enemy country: Eight days of grueling discussions result in most important counter-terrorism military mission ever
Published: 11.05.10, 14:50 / Israel News
27.6.76: Cabinet meeting - 'We're in deep trouble'
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin : "Before we continue I have an announcement: We lost contact with an Air France plane that took off in Lod. It was probably hijacked. There were about 83 Israelis onboard, 10 of them got off in Athens. Most were women and children."
(Security forum convenes at 4 pm)
Rabin: "The first thing we must do is declare that we view France as responsible for the lives of the Israeli passengers. They will ask, 'There are 73 Israelis onboard, what's the government doing about it?'"
Transportation Minister Gad Yaacobi: "I recommend not publishing any names and an Air France representative should be the one to deliver the news to the families at Ben-Gurion Airport."
Foreign Minister Yigal Allon: "We are in deep trouble."
Rabin: "We definitely are."
29.6: Cabinet meeting - 'Don't discussion mission now'
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mordechai "Motta" Gur: "The IDF has prepared a mission."
Rabin: "I suggest we don't discuss it here."
Defense Minister Shimon Peres: "We need to rally up the editors' committee (an informal forum comprised by the editors and owners of the main Israeli media) so they don't begin to speculate. They have already cooperated and not published the passengers' list."
Peres: "We are in a tough situation, but not the toughest thing that can happen to us."
Rabin: "I think it is the toughest."
30.6: Cabinet meeting - 'Operation impossible'
(The ultimatum: Free terrorists by 2 pm tomorrow, or hostages will be killed)
Rabin: "I want to say that any information leaked out today can end up costing lives. So I ask you to not behave normally regarding this issue."
Allon: "If we publish a statement saying we'll meet the terrorists' demands, they will say, 'If Israel accepts the possibility of surrender, what will the hyssop on the wall say?' The French will announce they aren't planning on surrendering to pressure. West Germany is completely rejecting the possibility. In a meeting between our Washington ambassador and the assistant to the secretary of state, he mentioned that their secret approach is known to us – not to give into demands or blackmail."
Rabin: "At this stage, I don't think a military operation is possible, because we don't have the ability to act without the consent of the countries involved. So what do we do? Attack Uganda? Not because of the IDF, but how would we even reach Uganda? The object is not to act militarily but to save people's lives. As of right now I can't see a way to do that. So, without befogging the issue, we are in distress. We aren't going to be surprised of the families start to pressure us."
(Security forum convenes at 12 pm)
Rabin: "A telegram arrived from Uri Lubrani (Israeli ambassador to Iran). He and Idi Amin Dada (president of Uganda at the time) both shared an experience where they were saved from a plane crash. Regarding this, we have a statement that will be read by Yigal."
Allon: "Lubarni writes, 'I want to offer myself as a messenger to Amin in Uganda, to try and get him to free all the hostages or trade myself in for them. I think we can try to play this card, especially with such a primitive person like Amin.'"
Rabin: "I suggest you tell him to try and get there."
Peres: "He is the Israeli ambassador to Iran. If, God forbid, they place their hands on him, he knows a lot of secrets."
(Rabin and Peres meet with IDF officials at 12:20 pm)
Gur: "We put together a team to look into all the military options, and Ehud Brog (later known as Ehud Barak, then-assistant to head of the Military Intelligence Directorate) is working with the Air Force and Navy."
Rabin: "An article about 'Heartburn' (military operation executed by the Mossad and Shin Bet during which Palestinian and German terrorists planning to bomb an El-Al airplane were captured in Nairobi), telling almost the entire story, written by a military correspondent in one of the newspapers, but it was disqualified. Everything was mentioned inside. The fact that we can't take a military correspondent, put him in jail and question him how he got this information – this is a catastrophe."
Gur: "I think we have to do it, no later than today."
(Meeting with the Editors Committee)
Rabin: "There is going to be an assembly today of all the family members, demanding the government begin negotiations. I've asked the radio and television stations not to interview them and not to publish this story. I think the extremists amongst them wished to protest near my house and outside the prime minister's building. One thing will be very severe – if the world finds out our government is pressured to surrender."
Maariv Editor-in-Chief Shalom Rosenfeld: "We can't prevent a feature article in the newspaper calling the government to surrender. It's a legitimate opinion, even though I reject it."
Davar Editor-in Chief Hannah Zemer: "Even in this case the government will surrender and not allow 77 Jews to blow up in an airplane."
Haaretz Editor-in Chief Gershom Schocken: "What's the make-up of the hostages?"
Rabin: "As far as Israel is concerned, I haven't checked the ethnicity. Anyway, it didn't interest me. Usually, people of scanty means can't afford to travel around the world. So one kind of people that don't have means and it doesn't matter what their ethnicity is – aren't there."
Schocken: "There are wealthy people of North African origin."
1.7, 7 am: Cabinet meeting - 'We are risking lives'
(Peres reads aloud from text of the conversation between Amin and Baruch Bar Lev, a former head of Israel’s mission that trained Ugandan soldiers in the early 1970s and a close friend of Amin – a conversation in which Bar Lev tried to convince Amin to free the hostages)
Yaacobi: "Last night around 11 pm, I met with the passengers' families. To their credit I must say that the mood was very calm and responsible. Most of them claimed that due to the special circumstances, an Israeli military operation is impossible so the only thing they demand is to begin negotiations."
Peres: "The problem isn't simply the families' claims. It should be made clear that negotiations and surrendering open the door to future terror attacks."
Rabin: "Who says?"
Peres: "I do."
Rabin: "I ask you to clarify yourself and explain tell us why."
Peres: "Until now, the Americans haven't surrendered because Israelis were a world class standard. If we surrender, there won't be any country in the world that will stand it. It will cause more and more pressure."
Rabin: "This is the situation at the moment: Without making a decision, that is a decision, including everything that comes with that, with all the question marks. We must remember that we'll be the first government to show willingness to enter into negotiations regarding exchanges."
Allon: "I am opposed to accepting the terror organization's terms, and I know this is a strong statement, because we truly are putting people's lives at risk, and they have proven before that in certain cases when the ultimatum wasn't answered – they carried out (their threat)."
Rabin: "I wish to clarify: We don't have time for evasions. The question is - are we fundamentally willing to enter negotiations or no? I ask the government members to not avoid answering this question."
Education Minister Aharon Yadlin: "Since anyone who saves an Israeli life is actually saving the entire world, and for pikuach nefesh (the preservation of human life) of those Israelis caught in this situation – I support any effort to save them, including negotiations."
Rabin: "They aren't willing to return them under these conditions, there is no point in announcing negotiations. If we do – what would we negotiate? Their non-return? Let's not run away from the issue."
Minister without Portfolio Yisrael Galili: "I suggest the government begin negotiations immediately in order to save the hostages, while showing readiness to free detainees. I don't suggest we elaborate which ones."
Rabin: "I second Galili's suggestion simply because of this: I'm not willing to explain to the public why we have traded 130 terrorists for corpses till this day, eight of which were part of hostile destructive activity including murder. And based on this, I don't wish to explain to the Israeli public or to anyone else why we can return corpses but not live people."
Peres: "Precedents aren't the problem. The problem is the future, the people's future and the future of Israeli airplanes and aviation. We should be concerned with the fate of the people here, of what will happen to the country and her status regarding hijacking, terror and so on, in addition to the fate of those taken hostage. For now, all of the terror organizations, aside from Wadie Haddad, have disagreed with hijacking, mostly because of Israel's strict and persistent stance."
Rabin: "This was a political decision made by the Fatah (the largest faction within the PLO, Palestinian Liberation Organization) to cease their operations abroad, had nothing to do with Israel's strict stance."
Peres: "If Israel had surrendered every time, the Fatah would have made the decision to continue its terror operations."
Rabin: "I wish to know whether anyone is opposed. I don't want any misunderstandings on this issue. I don't propose we discuss negotiations, but that the government authorizes the team to continue our attempts to release the hostages, including exchange of prisoners in Israel. We'll say 'prisoners', and that doesn't mean accepting the terrorists' terms. No numbers and no names. Those in favor of this offer raise your hands? It's unanimous."
1.7: Consultation - 'IDF not built for mission'
(Gur proposes conquering Entebbe with an option of landing the nearby Victoria Lake and beginning a wide-spread operation)
Peres: "If we surrender, Israel will look so wounded and ridiculed. And if we execute an imaginative military operation it could be huge all around. I have no doubt that the IDF can do it, but then we run the risk of people being killed."
Gur: "It's an operation that's nearly impossible to plan in two days."
Peres: "We can wait one more day."
Rabin: "I feel it might end up being a lot like the 'Bay of Pig', the biggest operation we've done so far. When I examine three different operation options – chances aren't great."
Gur: "We can't deny: The IDF isn't really built for operations in Entebbe."
Rabin: "I'm not complaining, I think we don't have military capabilities over there."
(Security forum convenes at 5 pm)
Peres: "We must ask ourselves whether we are willing to return all terrorists, without any exceptions."
Rabin: "What does that have to do with the mission?"
Peres: "It has a lot to do with it, since you're going to have to explain to the public why you were willing to kill them for X but not kill them for (Y)."
Rabin: "If I believe we had a chance to rescue them, I would support it regardless of the price."
Peres: "If there is a military operation, it's preferable. Until now, I admit that there's no concrete proposal, only ideas and imagination. The second proposal is complete and utter surrender. If we want to negotiate, we should send someone to Kampala (Uganda's capital)."
2.7, 12:15 pm: Consultation - 'No one will back us'
(Gur proposes a practical military plan for the first time.)
Allon: "It's a flight without aerial defense."
Rabin: "Without. The problem is interception."
Peres: "The advantage is the element of surprise."
Rabin: "I am still uncertain about this operation. We have never had so many hostages. The military information we have is the most limited we've ever had. This is going to be the riskiest operation I have ever known."
(Cabinet convenes at 2 pm)
Rabin: "Begin suggested that the government not get entangled in these reservations that we won't commit to the number of prisoners or their names, so we don't face yet another humiliating fold. I admit to accepting his proposal. We should know that from the moment they separate the hostages, it becomes Israel's problem. No one will stand with us. The decisions will be ours. The world couldn't care less. Best case, they'll be sympathetic, or not. We have no one to turn to but ourselves, and the decision isn't going to be made by anyone else but by Israeli government. We are conducting negotiations regarding the release of prisoners, but I don't recommend they start arguing about the numbers, 40 or 50. We didn't say – 'blood avenger', no. I wouldn't want to see this whole thing fail."
Peres: "Starting tomorrow we only have half a day left, and I recommend that all ministers be prepared to stay here for a while. Tomorrow is going to be a dramatic day."
3.7, 1 pm: Cabinet meeting - 'We've done all we can'
Rabin: "New information has come into play and as of today we have a military option."
Peres: "The heart wrenching question is whether we sure risk the lives of innocent unarmed civilians, and save the future of this country, or not. If we surrender, the respect for terrorism will grow, and encourage more operations like this, seeing as how it pays off. In the eyes of the world, Israel's honor will deteriorate, and so will her deterring capabilities. Countries around the world might understand our ways, but mock us in their hearts."
Gur (presenting the military plan): "To summarize: The operation risk is, as I see it, very calculated and can be taken. There is a possibility of injuries, just like in any other operation we've ever done to rescue civilians, but over all I think the circumstances are reasonable and a military operation can be done."
Industry and Trade Minister Haim Bar-Lev: "If they fail to refuel, how long is the flight?"
Gur: "They won't be able to return home."
Bar-Lev: "What about weather issues over there?"
Gur: "It's risky."
Minister Yosef Burg: "What if we find out they moved the hostages' location over night?"
Rabin: "The mission will be a complete and utter failure."
Peres: "It's an IDF operation like never before. This is the first Israeli military mission in history executed outside of Middle Eastern borders."
Rabin: "I admit that after receiving the data regarding the landing I calmed down a bit, relatively of course, because I'm not saying there aren't any risks."
Allon: "I support this mission. Questions have already been raised in this country, why did we act quickly in the Ma'alot attack when there were children from a certain ethnicity involved, whereas we were willing to settle when it came to people belonging to a different ethnic group."
Bar-Lev: "If we fail, we'll have about 300 Israelis in Uganda, including soldiers, and we have to know that. But even if we don't succeed, we've done all that we can."
Rabin: "We're going to execute a complex mission with expected injuries. Nonetheless, I recommend the government approve it, though not with a light heart."
(The mission was approved unanimously)
4.7: Cabinet meeting after operation
Commander of Operation Entebbe Major-General Yekutiel Adam: "There weren't any surprises. The Commander of the unit (Sayeret Matkal) Yonatan Netanyahu ran to the terminal, encountered a group of soldiers who open fire, as well as fire from above. A bullet hit Yoni's heart and he was killed."
Rabin: "His father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, is the father of Revisionist Zionism, an historian and sociologist. His sons live in Israel but he is in the United States. We have to find him, he deserves to know from us and not the press."
Peres: "I want the government members to know that today we lost one of the greatest soldiers the Jewish people have ever had. Yoni and his brother both served in the same unit. They both risked their lives many times. He was one of the most wonderful people this country's ever had."