Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently visiting Africa to mark 40 years since Israel rescued more than 100 hostages held for a week by terrorist hijackers in a Ugandan airport, and to strengthen ties between Israel and the continent.
In June 1976, a group of Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France flight to Paris from Tel Aviv with 250 people on board. The hijackers diverted the plane to Entebbe Airport, where the passengers were held hostage. Many of the hostages were later freed, but the hijackers continued to hold captive over 100 Israelis and non-Israeli Jews.
Uganda’s then-President and dictator Idi Amin declared his support for the hijackers, supplying them with extra troops and weapons.
Israeli commandos launched a surprise attack on the airport, resulting in the rescue of 102 hostages. Four hostages died during the exchange of fire, as well as Yoni Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brother, who led the rescue mission. All of the terrorists were killed.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara began their trip in Uganda with a ceremony marking the 1976 operation. At the ceremony, which was attended by members of the IDF and survivors of the ordeal as well as African leaders, Mr Netanyahu explained that “Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, my consciousness and deep in my heart”.
He praised the soldiers who took part in the operation, and expressed his sympathy for the families of those who had died in the raid.
Mr Netanyahu described the rescue as “a watershed moment for my people”, and said that in Entebbe the world saw that Jews “were powerless no more” following the killing of six million Jews in the Holocaust.
At the ceremony, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declared that it was right for Israel to have launched its operation to free the hostages at Entebbe, with Prime Minister Netanyahu commenting that this was a striking admission: “It’s amazing that the president of a country that we entered, and where we killed soldiers from that country, justified our actions and even held a ceremony to commemorate it”.
Mr Netanyahu later laid a wreath at Entebbe Airport commemorating his brother and the hostages who died in the raid, before attending a dinner at the presidential palace in Kampala with President Museveni.
Earlier today, Mr Netanyahu met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi, where the president announced that Kenya is backing Israel’s bid to regain observer status at the African Union.
President Kenyatta said: “We believe that there is need for us as a continent once again to reengage Israel on a more positive basis, with an understanding that our partnership can help make this world that much more secure”.
Mr Netanyahu, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Kenya, thanked Kenyatta for advocating Israel’s return to the union.
He also said that Israel remembers Kenya’s assistance in the rescue mission in Entebbe: “Our pilots landed here afterwards, and in retrospect we know that was not merely an act to save innocent Israeli hostages, but it was an act that dealt a devastating blow to international terror at the time”.
The Israeli Prime Minister will visit Rwanda and Ethiopia tomorrow.