- In the 25 years since a few dozen Israeli commandos freed 104 hostages in a remote Ugandan airfield, the name Entebbe has been a byword for worthy risk. The rescue was a startling success - a repudiation of the grim operational statistics, an heroic narrative of Hollywood order.
But none of the four movies that attempted to tell the story conveyed the Israeli hutzpa essential to the operation. Eschewing negotiations, Israel sent an elite unit into a country 3,200 km. away, surprising the terrorists with a combination of subterfuge and devastating force. Other than a French flight crew, the hostages were all Jewish - Israeli and otherwise. They had been kidnapped as Jews and freed as Jews. The diplomatic repercussions of committing a cross-border attack, in which many local soldiers died alongside the terrorists, were considered secondary.
The impact of Operation Yonatan - named after Lt.-Col. Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu who led the raid, but paid for its success with his life - went far beyond Israel. The success of the operation, and the conferences against terrorism held in Netanyahu's memory under the auspices of the Jonathan Institute, played an important role in strengthening Western resolve in the fight against international terrorism.
On another level, as former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky told this paper's Magazine last Friday, the operation also had immense symbolic importance for Russian Jews imprisoned in the Soviet gulag. "When I was in prison," he said, "when I heard the engine of some airplane, I immediately was thinking of Entebbe, and it gave me confidence that one day I would be released... So the image of Israel as a society which is built to be concerned about the saving of Jews, that every Jew who is in danger will be saved by Israel, had a very symbolic and powerful meaning."
Twenty-five years later, such comments are viewed as anachronistic by post-Zionist academics and journalists, who prefer to spend their time attempting to diminish the stature of yesterday's heroes and, if possible, blackening their names. Netanyahu, too, has not been spared such post-Zionist scrutiny, encouraged perhaps by the political rise of his younger brother, Binyamin. Thankfully, due to the good sense of the Israeli public, Yoni's detractors have failed to tarnish this particular Zionist hero, and the amazing success of the operation he commanded.
From today's perspective, the decisiveness of Operation Yonatan provides a sharp contrast to the present daily roster of Israelis dying in bombing, shooting, and stone-throwing attacks and the sense of a lack of an efficient Israeli response. But the reality of July 4, 1976 is not today's. Operation Yonatan was a spectacular, isolated response to a spectacular, isolated hijacking.
The battle today is against a Palestinian entity that is a palpable and ineluctable presence alongside us, and no single, drastic act will eliminate their hostility. The type of terror has also changed with Muslim fundamentalists, backed by Iran, taking the lead. The terrorism of a quarter century ago focused on providing publicity for the Palestinian cause; today's suicide bombers are aiming to inflict the maximum number of civilian casualties.
The fight against this round of terror has therefore to be fought differently - and yesterday's security cabinet decision to continue to target terrorist leaders is a correct move in this direction. Israel must show the Palestinian Authority that there can be no tolerance for terrorists. If the Palestinian Authority is not willing to arrest the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Tanzim extremists among them - and as US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said yesterday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was never sincere about renouncing the use of violence - then Israel must not hesitate to do so in its place.
While determined but prolonged pressure on the Palestinian Authority, accompanied by Israeli-initiated actions against individual terrorist leaders, lack the drama of an Entebbe, the lesson of Operation Yonatan - that the fight against terrorism must be fought - is still as vital today as it was 25 years ago.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post