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Israeli PM to visit Africa for Operation Thunderbolt anniversary

Tony Ofungi, eTN Uganda Correspondent  Mar 03, 2016

ENTEBBE, Uganda (eTN) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a landmark visit to Uganda and Kenya this summer to mark 40 years since the July 4, 1976, Entebbe raid.

Movie poster of Charles Bronson in “Raid on Entebbe”

This would be the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Sub-Saharan Africa since Yitzhak Shamir visited four West African states in 1987.

This visit is personal for Netanyahu, because forty years before on June 27, 1976, Air France flight 139 bound for Paris from Tel Aviv was hijacked in Athens by Palestinian and German terrorists and diverted to Entebbe International Airport in the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

"I intend to do so around the 40th anniversary of the raid at Entebbe that was for us a very dramatic national experience. For me, obviously, one of great personal consequence,” he said on confirming his invitation by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta who was recently in Israel.

After a week’s ordeal in which the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, bought time in negotiations with Uganda's then President, Idi Amin Dada, a daring rescue mission code named "Operation Thunderbolt" was carried out.

All the hostages were rescued except for three of them and the Israeli commander of the operation, Yonatan Netanyahu (elder brother to Benjamin) who were killed.

In addition, scores of Ugandan soldiers manning the airport who had engaged the Israeli soldiers and all seven terrorists were killed in the raid.

July 4, the day of the rescue, has since become a national day of remembrance in Israel as well as the operation renamed "Operation Jonathan" in honor of the fallen commander.

The raid has been dramatized in films such as Victory at Entebbe (1976) directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, Raid On Entebbe (1977) directed by Irvin Kershner, and Academy Award-nominated Operation Thunderbolt (1977) directed by Manahem Golan. Books include William Stevenson’s Ninety Minutes at Entebbe, and Yoni’s Last Battle: The Rescue at Entebbe by Iddo Netanyahu.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Uganda has since then proposed to turn 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, was quoted as saying in the East African weekly.

The old airport has become an attraction for Israeli tourists to the country. Netanyahu’s visit shall only increase its significance since he first visited in 2005 and dedicated a plaque in his brother’s memory on the wall of the old terminal building at the Entebbe International Airport.

Uganda also hosts a homegrown “Jewish Community” in Eastern Uganda known as the Abayudaya. Living in virtual isolation until the early 1990s, these struggling subsistence farmers have observed Jewish customs and celebrated the Sabbath and festivals of the Jewish calendar together as families for four generations. Guided by their faith in the Jewish laws of the Torah, they pray together in mud huts designated as synagogues and chant Hebrew prayers to an Afro beat. Spread out over many miles, the 600 members of this community have held on to their beliefs through civil wars and periods of religious intolerance.

Perhaps Netanyahu shall spare time in his schedule to visit them, especially since he is keen to renew ties with Africa in the areas of health, science, agriculture, science, cyber technology, and tourism.

Israeli PM to visit Africa for Operation Thunderbolt anniversary
L-R: Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and Israel’s PM Benyamin Netanyahu

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