Fallout over raid on Entebbe

Sunday July 05 2009
mago index pix

The old control tower where the hostages were held. (Note the bullet marks on the upper section, 33 years after). That night, an Israeli plane circled overhead continuously, claiming to be bringing the pro-Palestinian prisoners whose release the hijackers had demanded, but actually serving as a flying communications centre for the covert strike force. Now the communication tower could be converted into an aviation museum, says the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority.

President Amin blamed those who assisted Israel to raid Entebbe, pointing out neighbouring Kenya, France, West Germany and the US. He was particularly angry with Kenya.

He said: “This decision (to raid Entebbe) was communicated to Kenya authorities, whose consent and assistance was obtained. This collaboration has been confirmed by the fact that Israeli planes, on their way to and from Uganda, stopped at Nairobi where, for example, a mobile operating theatre was set up to take care of the invaders’ casualties.”

He added: “The OAU summit meeting in Mauritius yesterday (July 4) condemned the Israeli air raid. Members who joined in the condemnation expressed “utter shock” at the invasion of Ugandan territory. They included Egypt, Libya and Gabon, among others.”

OAU spokesman Peter Onu said a message of sympathy and condolence — proposed by President Leopold Senghor — was sent to President Amin on behalf of the OAU.

Mr Onu said a message from President Amin, giving full details of the attack, was delivered to the assembly by Lt Col Juma Oris, head of the Uganda delegation. The message partly stated that the attack, by a special Israeli commando airborne force, was launched from Kenya in violation of the OAU Charter.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister, Dr Munyua Waiyaki, said he had just heard the news. He said he would reserve his comments until he received more information from Kenya.


Later, Kenyan Vice President Daniel arap Moi rejected charges by Lt. Col Oris.

He said Kenya was not responsible for the attack and asked the assembly to condemn the Israeli action, Voice of Uganda reported on July 5, 1976.

While addressing military commandos at Entebbe airbase on Sunday (July 4) after the raid, President Amin directed the immediate re-opening of the airport.

“The President told the commanding officers that Israelis killed our people instead of thanking us for the hospitality we had accorded their hostages, spending over Ush50,000 (about $30) every day on food for each of them...” Voice of Uganda reported on July 5, 1976.

On July 6, 1976, Voice of Uganda reported that Uganda had made an official presentation to the UN Security Council, the OAU and the UN Secretary General on the raid. The presentation called on the two to condemn the aggression.

The protest message signed by President Amin read in part: “At 21.20 GMT, on July 3-4, 1976, three Zionist transport planes landed at Entebbe by surprise and without any authority from the Uganda government.

Soon after, the two proceeded to the old airport building where the hostages and the crew of the hijacked French airbus were being held by Palestinian commandos.

“Out of the two aircraft, two military Jeeps drove out. The invaders, using machine guns and bazookas, started shooting indiscriminately at the airport building and at Ugandan soldiers who had surrounded the building and who had only light arms, in accordance with the conditions set by the hijackers.”

“The Israeli invaders quickly mounted an attack on the hijackers, killing seven of them and some hostages, as well as a number of Ugandan soldiers, and injured many others. The Israelis also blasted the old airport building, inflicting considerable damage, and destroyed a number of Ugandan aircraft parked there, and other equipment.”

“The Israeli invasion had been well planned and rehearsed, with the full collaboration of some other countries. According to available information, the plan to invade Entebbe was decided on Thursday, July 1,” President Amin said.

“Further aspects of this plot to invade Uganda have been revealed by the international press, notably the Voice of America, which announced the invasion barely two hours after it had been mounted. The leading Sunday newspapers, which came out barely hours after the incident, carried on their front pages details of the operation.

President Amin added: “It is further reported that the foreign minister of Israel on July 4, made direct reports on the invasion to the American Secretary of State and to Foreign Ministers of France and West Germany. These are reports clearly revealing well planned international collaboration in a plot to violate and abuse the territorial integrity of Uganda.

In conclusion, he added: “Uganda reserves her right to retaliate in whatever way she can to redress the aggression.”

Quoting the Sunday Nation newspaper, Voice of Uganda reported on July 20, 1976: “As early as Monday, the second day of the hijacking, discussions had started on the possibility of staging a military rescue of the hostages. Lt Gen. Mordechai Gur, the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Force, had already set up what amounted to military think-tank teams of his brightest staff officers, charged with conjuring up a plan that would enable a force to travel across half a continent undetected, take Entebbe by surprise and bring the hostages home.”

Newsweek edition of July 19, 1976, quoting Voice of Uganda said: As each hour passed, the idea of a successful military strike became ever more tempting to Israel, and the government sought information from every possible source. Officials checked with the Israeli construction company, Soleh Boneh, which had built Entebbe Airport — only to learn that it had been enlarged so greatly in recent years that old blueprints were useless.”

“...They booked Major-Gen Rehavam Zeevi, the government’s special adviser on counter-terror action, aboard Al Al’s flight 023 to Paris in case the commandos released any hostage. They slipped agents into Uganda. All the while the briefing books grew thicker.”

Newsweek continued: “On July 2 came three pivotal developments: the Pentagon supplied Israel with aerial-reconnaissance and satellite photographs of Entebbe Airport. Clandestine Israeli agents penetrated Entebbe and brought out vital information, and Kenya gave secret assurances that an Israeli strike force would be permitted to land in Nairobi to refuel and care for the wounded on its return trip from Uganda.”

“The field commander of the force was Lt-Col Yonatan Netanyahu, a 30-year-old officer (wounded at Entebbe and died later)... Gur gave his men the go-ahead and at 3pm on July 2, the commandos took off from a desert airbase deep in the Sinai, and headed for Africa.”

Newsweek continues, “The strike aircraft were two huge Unites States built Hercules C130 cargo planes and two Boeing 707 jets, one of them a hospital plane. With Israeli phantom jets protecting them part of the way, the four planes followed El-Al Airline’s usual route to South Africa; down the Red Sea and over Ethiopia and Kenya.

“The hospital plane landed at Nairobi. The three military aircraft slipped out of the Nairobi landing pattern and descended sharply for the run on Entebbe. Over the air field, the first Hercules announced that it was an Air France plane bringing the pro-Palestinian prisoners whose release the hijackers had demanded. The second identified itself as an East African Airways flight expected at about that time. They (the) tower okayed their landing,” Newsweek added.

“At 11pm, in the half dark of a moonlight, the Israeli Herculeses skimmed over the shores of Lake Victoria and began to descend into Entebbe to attempt the rescue mission. The 707 continued to circle overhead, functioning as a flying communications centre. There were between 100 and 200 commandos in the strike force; the Jerusalem government has kept the exact number classified...”

Newsweek further writes that Israel insisted that Kenya had not been informed of the raid or about the intention to land in Nairobi enroute home.

Nonetheless, the Israeli hospital plane — with 33 doctors and two field surgical units — had been protected by Kenyan security forces for the duration of the raid. Two wounded hostages were taken to Nairobi Hospital for treatment, and all the aircraft were refuelled for the trip back to Israel.

Newsweek also says that later Kenya secretly issued a call for United States help and Washington promptly responded by putting a navy C-3 patrol plane at Kenya’s service to provide military reconnaissance on the Uganda border. Washington ordered the frigate USS Beary to head for the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

President Idi Amin later gave another version of the events to his Defence Council in Kampala — different from the one he presented to the United Nations Security Council.

He said a German Lufthansa airline was scheduled to land at Entebbe, but it cancelled its landing, and instead three Israeli planes landed, Voice of Uganda reported on July 6, 1976.

This, he said, confused the security personnel, because they thought the planes were bringing the demands of the PFLP, and did not want to shoot at them.

President Amin also told of a collaboration between Israel and Kenya, and advised the council to cool its tempers. He said Uganda would continue to accord good hospitality to all countries.

Later, President Amin claimed he had full details of the invasion. “The Israelis jammed our radar system, and had standby forces in Kenya, so that they would continue fighting in case the first group was defeated.”

At the function to pay the last respects to the dead Ugandan soldiers and the hijackers held at Kololo airstrip in Kampala, Somali Ambassador to Uganda Farah read a message from PFLP: “We wish to convey our deep condolence to the relations and families of those Uganda comrades who, while fighting, were killed by the imperialist and Zionist attack at Entebbe airport on July 3, 1976.”

“Further, we request the President of Uganda, Field Marshal Amin Dada and the Uganda people to let our freedom fighters be buried in Uganda, side by side with their PFLP comrades.”

A message from the French Ambassador to Uganda, Henri-Pierre Renard, read: “I am bent on associating myself with the tribute which has been paid to members of the Uganda army, fallen on July 4, 1976. I am very sensible to the fact that following Your Excellency’s orders, these gallant soldiers have done the utmost to save the lives of the hostages, under very difficult conditions, indeed...”

The government also opened a bank account to which Ugandans donated money to support families of the Ugandan soldiers who died in the raid.

Now the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority is in the process of turning the Old Entebbe Airport Control Tower into an aviation museum. “We are trying to create the story of air transport in Uganda in this museum and the story of the Entebbe raid will be part of the story,” the authority’s communications manager, Ignie Igunduura, told The EastAfrican.”

The raid has been dramatised in films such as Victory at Entebbe (1976) directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and Raid On Entebbe (1977) directed by Irvin Kershner, among others. Books include William Stevenson’s Ninety Minutes at Entebbe and Yoni’sLast Battle: The Rescue at Entebbe by Iddo Netanyahu.

During his stopover in Cairo and Dar es Salaam on his way to New York after attending the OAU Summit in Mauritius, the United Nations Secretary General, Dr Kurt Waldheim, said the Israeli commando raid was “a flagrant aggression against the sovereignty of a member state of the United Nations,” Voice of Uganda reported on July 7, 1976.

Mauritius broke diplomatic ties with Israel following the raid. Condemnations also came from as far away as Thailand and Malaysia. Meanwhile, several messages of sympathy and condolences to President Amin, members of the armed forces and Ugandans continued to be received from around the world.

The French Embassy brought the following points to the attention of the Uganda Foreign Ministry on the invasion: “France was only informed by Israeli authorities of the raid on Entebbe after it ended…,” Voice of Uganda reported on July 8, 1976.

“At that moment, we were waiting for answers from the German and Swiss governments on the demands made by the hijackers,” the French said.

They said they expected much from President Amin on his return to Kampala from Mauritius.

They deplored the death of innocent victims both among the hostages (one French citizen was killed) and among Ugandan soldiers.

A Ministry of Health spokesman denied an Israeli report alleging the presence in a Ugandan hospital of an Israeli hostage — Mrs Dora Bloch. “…It will be recalled that the government of Uganda did its best to see to it that the lives of all hostages held at Entebbe airport were spared,” the spokesman was quoted by Voice of Uganda on July 8, 1976.

The spokesman further said Mrs Dora Bloch had earlier been discharged from hospital after treatment to rejoin the other hostages before the deadline, as had been demanded by the hijackers. However, when Israel invaded Entebbe airport, Israel assumed by force the responsibility for all the hostages.

It emerged later that Dora Bloch, a 75-year-old hostage, was dragged from her hospital bed and killed by two army officers on the orders of President Amin. Bloch’s remains were recovered in 1979 after the Tanzanian-Ugandan war which ended Amin’s rule.

On July 22, 1976, Voice of Uganda reported: The hijacked French airbus has been released. It has been at the airport since the hijack drama, and French officials have been asked to make arrangements to fly it out at their convenience.

President Amin told the French envoy to Uganda, Pierre-Henri Renard, that he was releasing the airbus without any condition.

He said the French government was free to choose either to pay for the expenses incurred by the hostages on food and lodging, or not. He told the ambassador that the hostages had spent over Ush1.3 million from June 28, 1976, to July 4, 1976, when Israelis invaded Entebbe.

A government spokesman has quoted President Amin as having had contact with the government of Israel, through Col Bar Lev, who informed him that some hostages who were released from the old airport had spoken very highly of him.

Consequently, the Israeli government has praised President Amin’s release of the French Airbus, Voice of Uganda reported on July 26, 1976.

The government spokesman said President Amin told Bar Lev that although during their murderous action at Entebbe the Israelis destroyed 12 MiG-21 and three MiG-17, he was not worried.

An Israeli aircraft, the Jet Commander that was given to Uganda on loan in 1971 was flown back to Israel over the weekend.

Yesterday it arrived in Tel Aviv, Voice of Uganda reported on September 7, 1976. President Amin said he had decided to give back the aircraft to show that in Uganda, “we do not take anybody’s property without compensation.”

On August 17, 1976, Voice of Uganda reported that members of the Defence Council had visited the Old Entebbe Airport to see the destruction made during the raid.

President Amin told them he was awaiting the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the raid after which he would inform them accordingly.

A telegram quoted by Voice of Uganda on August 19, 1976, sent by President Amin to Israel Premier Yitshak Rabin, read: “...I am sending this message and giving you seven days, with effect from today, to inform me whether Israel will compensate Uganda for life and property destroyed, as well as for the expenses Uganda incurred on maintenance of the hostages on the French Airbus.”

“I wish you to understand that I am not joking, like (do) the Arabs who, because of quarrels among themselves, have lost sight of their real enemy and are now killing themselves in Lebanon. You should give this matter all the consideration it deserves and communicate by cable to me, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, Life President of the Republic of Uganda, directly. We reserve the right and are determined to do everything within our power, including shedding our blood, to pay back.”

On August 28, 1976 ‘Voice of Uganda’ reported Amin sending a message to the President of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mr Yasser Araft, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Mr Mahmoud Riad, and the Secretary General of OAU, Dr Eteki Mboumoua, over Israel’s failure to reply to Uganda’s requests.

“Instead of sending a direct reply to me, Prime Minister Rabin has chosen to use the British imperialist media, BBC, to inform the world that Israel will not pay any compensation for the innocent lives lost and the property destroyed during the barbaric invasion of Entebbe airport...,” Amin’s message read in part.

At least, President Amin did receive a congratulations letter from a 20-year-old student, Miss Louise Kauvitis, one of the passengers on the hijacked airbus.

“I am deeply indebted to you for my wellbeing. If not for you, I feel I would not have survived the dramatic experience of the hijack... I hope you will regard this letter as my personal thanks. You are a great man and I am again deeply grateful to you for my being back home in Canada...”

Miss Kauvitis’ letter was quoted by Voice of Uganda on August 26, 1976.