40 years after Entebbe raid: Secret plans revealed

New declassified recordings cast light on plans for rescuing Entebbe hostages

Uzi Baruch ,

בני הערובה ממבצע אנטבה נוחתים בישראל
בני הערובה ממבצע אנטבה נוחתים בישראל
צילום: MOSHE MILNER לע"מ

For the first time, the Ministry of Defense has authorized publication of audio recordings of the investigation by Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Benny Peled, immediately after the Entebbe operation which also cast new light on the preparations for the mission.

In 1976, IDF commandos rescued 102 hostages from the Ugandan city of Entebbe, where they were being held by Palestinian terrorists and local soldiers. The legendary mission ended with only one Israeli soldier killed - Yoni Netanyahu, the head of Sayeret Matkal and the brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Three hostages were also killed.

In the first recording the Head of the Combined Air Forces is heard speaking with Air Force commander Benny Peled. This is the transcript of their messages:

3:06 "This is one of the brightest operations in the history of the Air Force"

4:55 "The operation starts when the commander of the Air Force asks for data on the ability of the 'rhinos' (Hercules C-130) to reach Entebbe. We have 10 rhinos"

5:44 Presenting the plan to Ehud Brog (Barak): "Ehud has the idea: The success of the operation depends on surprise. This was the most important principle of this operation... "

6:15 "We started to collect material on Uganda - psychology, maps, etc."

6:38 "There was a mistake in the General Staff's combat protocol. The Operations Division was out on an exercise ... and because of a stupid mistake we were not brought into the combat protocol. We only went in a day and a half later..."

8:12 "Those who discussed the operation were a total of only 8-9 people, which was necessary to keep it a secret."

Another voice then joins in:

9:22 They talk about the various options put forward to free the hostages:

"Forces will be flown to Kenya, attack boats will land on the beach ... and kill the terrorists. Then Uganda will release all [the hostages]."

Someone then suggests "Let's send [air force] Squadron 13 to parachute troops near the target. Then someone said that there were crocodiles..."

The first voice then returns to describe the final plan they chose and describes the operation, and cooperation between the paratroopers and Lod Airforce Base (base 27).

14:10 "At first we thought to seize the airfield for a few hours, take it over, chase away the locals from there and create a base... [but] we were afraid that if we got stuck there even with the hostages it would be an international disgrace ..."

The second recording is of Peled:

01:10 "I want to stress the importance of not drawing general conclusions from things that apply only to this specific operation. It would be bad for someone to try and generalize where there is no room for such generalizations ... We almost did not carry out this operation because we tried to take the 'Torah out of the Ark' and apply things to this situation that did not apply."

I am speaking about the fact that there can be no [single] formula for an operation like this one, just as there can be no one formula for finding a wife. I also say that if our plan failed we had better plans were not carried.

3:20 "The goal of the operation was to rescue most of the prisoners and bring them home. Or at least to evacuate the captives to a non-hostile country... All the other plans were rejected because they were unable to accomplish this, even though those who suggested them thought that they could accomplish these goals. But after checking, they found that they could not accomplish [these goals]. For example, I suggested send five guys to kill five or ten terrorists and to join the hostages... [but] it was not reasonable that we would rescue the hostages and bring them back [in this way]..."

The limits of the operation: The difficulty of landing in Entebbe without the enemy knowing, the weather, flying without lights.

6:27 "It was natural that the Chief of Staff specifically requested that Ehud Brog head the planning team. Ehud Brog ... was a well-known man who had the right qualifications... Only he forgot to tell the Operations Branch that he was working..."

7:20 "These proposals (the various suggestions for the operation) were submitted and rejected several times; sometimes [they were submitted] to the Prime Minister, until at one point the Defense Minister felt he was going to lose [it]... that Israel was going to lose face."

9:10 "The Chief of Staff was asked by the Minister to give his opinion of the operation. He said, 'I refuse to comment in the presence of [all these] people.' Everyone left [the room] and we alone stayed. His opinion was completely negative."

10:01 "Then we decided that we needed to persuade him... I said to the Minister, 'I request that tomorrow morning before you go to the government... let me tell you about Uganda... that what I'm suggesting will probably [work]...'"

12:41 "Head of Operations was stubborn. He said, 'I've stopped being a team player, I am now the operation. I'm giving them a deadline: 15:30'. If they do not bring a positive response the operation does not happen today... I told him that now everything is in God's hands..."

Other revelations from the Defense Ministry archive represent rare documentations from the reconstruction of the operation in 2001 by the pilots who had participated, 25 years after the operation