THE ISRAELIS HAVE LANDED: The IDF elite commandos prepare to rescure the hostages in “The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History”. . ‘Of the four hostages who died during the rescue, three were mowed down in the shootout between the Israeli commandos and the terrorists. An old woman hostage hospitalized earlier in a Ugandan hospital was reportedly later shot dead by President Amin himself as revenge for his total humiliation.’
Revealed: Njonjo’s key role in ‘Operation Thunderbolt’
A new and authoritative book, Operation Thunderbolt, celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Israeli commando raid on Entebbe Airport and the killing of all the terrorists who had taken 260 hostages.
Thunderbolt rescued 256 of the hostages.
Operation Thunderbolt has the subtitles, “Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport”, and “The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History”.
Written by British military historian and broadcaster Saul David, Thunderbolt reveals for the first time that the raid was planned at two secret meetings held at then Kenyan Attorney General Njonjo’s Nairobi home.
Prof David is also the author of Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 and Victoria’s Wars: The Rise of Empire.
The hijacking of Air France Flight 139
Twenty-four years before 9/11, one of history’s most iconic terror events unfolded in next-door Uganda, when a group of German and Palestinian terrorists hijacked Air France’s Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris.
First they took Flight 139 to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, where they refueled, and then to General Idi Amin’s Uganda, where they held the 260 passengers and crew hostage in the old terminal building at Entebbe Airport.
President Amin had full foreknowledge of the terror event. And Uganda Army troops actually participated in the holding of the hostages at Entebbe.
A sensational, eight-day drama unfolded, culminating in the spectacular raid on Entebbe.
Although they emphasized that their main grievance was against Israel, the terrorists made the most outrageous demands of three other countries. Among the ultimatums was the immediate release of more than 50 terrorists of several nationalities imprisoned by Israel, Germany, France and Switzerland.
The terrorists included Palestinians and members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, also known as the Red Army Faction.
The RAF had terrorized the Western democracies for three decades with spectacularly violent bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and bank robberies.
The hijackers indicated that they would free their hostages only when the terrorists on their lengthy list were released.
The world had never seen anything like the hostage taking at Entebbe Airport, involving both state and non-state players acting in concert. But neither had it seen anything like the totally unexpected response from Israel, which had such a huge element of surprise and daring it took people’s breath away right around the world.
For those whose memories of the event may be fading – 40 years is a long time in individual human lives – and those who were not then born but have come of age in a world dominated by the terrorist threats of entities such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, Prof David’s book fills in all the gaps and discloses never before published details.
The Kenyan connection
The Israeli commandos arrived in Entebbe in four transport aircraft that had overflown Kenya with Njonjo’s secret permission and very specific words of advice.
Among the Kenyan participants at the planning meetings in Njonjo’s house were the host himself; the enigmatic Bruce McKenzie, a one-time Cabinet minister and friend of more than a couple of Intelligence agencies; Commissioner of Police Bernard Hinga and GSU Commandant Ben Gethi.
The Israeli team at the meetings in Njonjo’s house included Intelligence officer Ehud Barak (later Prime Minister of Israel) and the famed Mike Harari of Israel’s dreaded Mossad secret service, leader of Operation Wrath of God, the Israeli response to the Munich Massacre of her sportsmen at the 1972 Olympiad.
Kenyan film buffs are great admirers of the cinematic version of Wrath of God, entitled simply Munich and released in 2005, directed by Steven Spielberg (of Schindler’s List fame).
Njonjo’s close ties to the Israelis were for the most part unknown in Kenya, even to the Special Branch and the rest of the national security apparatus of the day. The Israelis and McKenzie consulted him on crucially
important strategic matters and valued his input.
David reports Njonjo saying, “We are happy to assist you, but you must realize that we can never admit publicly that this meeting took place. It would not make us popular with the other members of the OAU who, as you know, have a strong anti-Israel bias. When we are asked if we knew about your plans in advance, we’ll deny any knowledge. We’ll simply say that you asked permission to refuel at Nairobi at the last minute, and that we agreed out of humanitarian considerations. The fewer people that know about this the better, which is why I haven’t even consulted my Cabinet colleagues.”
“I see,” responded the Israeli. “Well, thank you, Mr Njonjo, you’re doing us a great service. Is there anything we can do for you?”
‘Killing Amin would be a bonus’
Njonjo paused, the first faint trace of a smile on his lips. “There is one thing you can do for us. If Amin gets wind of we’ve done, he might try a revenge attack. But it will have much less chance of success if you’ve already destroyed his air force.
“You mean his MiGs?”
“I think we can manage that.”
“And if, of course, Amin happens to be at the airport and is killed during the operation, that would be a bonus.”
“For us too,” the Israeli said.
This breathtaking exchange of views and suggestions between Barak and Njonjo has not been made public for 40 years – until now. By speaking to Barak and Harari in these terms and making these very specific requests, Njonjo was actually speaking directly to the much admired but also dreaded, because super-efficient, Israeli secret service, the Mossad.
David explains the context and the implications in the following words:
“The two sides shook hands on a deal that, had it been made public, would have badly damaged Kenya’s credibility in the eyes of its fellow OAU members: not only was Kenya plotting with a country that had been blacklisted by the OAU but the chief target of the plot, President Idi Amin of Uganda,
was the serving [chairman] of the OAU (albeit one who was coming to the end of his year in office). . . .
“For the Kenyans, the agreement promised sweet revenge for Amin’s recent hostility . . . in the form of an Israeli attack on his international airport and the destruction of his air force which would tip the local military balance in Kenya’s favour. Amin’s assassination would be the icing on the case.”
Of the four hostages who died during the rescue, three were mowed down in the shootout between the Israeli commandos and the terrorists. An old woman hostage hospitalized earlier in a Ugandan hospital was reportedly later shot dead by President Amin himself as revenge for his total humiliation.
Following Njonjo’s advice, the Israelis left 11 Uganda Air Force planes ablaze in Entebbe.
Operation Thunderbolt’s commander, Yoni Netanyahu, was the only casualty among the Israeli forces. He was today’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother.
Two years later in May 1978, Operation Thunderbolt claimed another high value casualty – former Cabinet minister McKenzie. Just before he left Entebbe Airport after visiting President Amin, McKenzie was given the gift of a mounted lion’s head from State House. His small plane, an Aztec Piper, crashed into the Ngong Hills and there were no survivors. Saul writes, “The most likely explanation is that Amin’s gift, the lion’s head, contained a time bomb.”
Operation Thunderbolt by Saul David, 446pp, Non-fiction, Hodder & Stoughton, 2015