Saturday, February 24, 2007

On Eagles’ Wings

Early Sunday morning, July 4, 1976, before America awoke to her 200th year of independence, the lead Hercules flew low over Eilat, the southern most city of Israel. The crew, returning from a covert and still classified mission, was both apprehensive and amazed to see people in the streets waving and embracing and welcoming them home. Seven days earlier Air France 139, in route from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to Paris via Athens, was hijacked in air. Within minutes, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) operatives implemented pre-planned procedures and alerted army units. In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Rabin convened a congruous assortment of defense ministers as the France Airbus flew unexpectedly toward the African continent, eventually landing in Dictator Idi Amin’s Uganda. Shortly after arrival, a list of names was compiled, and as the passengers were separated according to the list “the German word Selektion was muttered around the room - a reminder of Dr. Josef Mengele on the Auschwitz ramp choosing who would live and who would die” (Maj. Louis Williams, Raid on Entebbe: Entebbe Diary)!

IDF Senior Press Officer Maj. Louis Williams documents the true "mission impossible" that was to follow. He describes the small but elite force of twenty-nine Israeli commandos, a gauntlet of “insurmountable” challenges, and flying into the "heart of Africa" and back again with the logistical precision of seconds. And in the excerpt to follow how even the forces of nature opposed the eventual return of Israel’s children “on eagles’ wings.”
Turning westward, the four Hercules headed into the African continent over Ethiopia. The weather was stormy, forcing the pilots to divert northwards close to the Sudanese frontier…. On the approaches to Lake Victoria, they hit storm clouds towering in a solid mass from ground level to 40,000 feet. There was no time to go around and no way to go above-so they ploughed on through. Conditions were so bad that the cockpit windows were blue with the flashes of static electricity.
The only assault force causality was the young commander of the Hercules squadron Lt. Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu. As his second in command exited the lead Hercules, Rabin and Peres inquired: “How was Yoni killed?” The succinct response: “He went first, he fell first.”

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