This past week’s installment of the Military Channel’s “Black-OPS” recalled one of the most famous and daring Special Forces missions in modern history.
The “Operation Thunderbolt” episode reviewed a military action best known as the raid on Entebbe, the Israeli military’s daring rescue of more than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers taken hostage by terrorists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells after they hijacked an Air France jet in 1976.
This episode, by coincidence, happened to air just days after Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera made the preposterous argument that it took the Israelis seven days to mount their raid and therefore it was ridiculous to think the U.S. military could have rescued the CIA officers under fire in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
Watching “Operation Thunderbolt” reminded me of just how different the two incidents really were.
The Israelis were staging a hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda 2,000 miles away from Israel. They were faced with an ultimatum to either release Palestinian prisoners or have the terrorists execute the hostages. The Israelis broke their rule to never negotiate with terrorists to buy their most elite Special Forces team – known only as The Unit – the time they needed to plan and execute a mission they only believed had a 40 percent chance of success.
At the time, they didn’t have unmanned drones to provide them with real-time surveillance and intelligence. Nor did they have spies or operators on the ground in Uganda to offer them critical information. Plus, if not for the fact that the terrorists released 148 non-Israeli hostages whom the Israelis interviewed to get intelligence on the number of terrorists, the weapons they possessed, the layout of the airport terminal, where the hostages were being held and the disposition of the Ugandan Army at the airport, Prime Minister Shimon Peres might not have authorized the mission at all.
Despite the long odds, yes, it took the Israelis seven days to plan and execute an operation still studied by Special Forces all over the world. The fact is it took seven hours for the Israeli C-130 Hercules transports to fly from Israel to Uganda.
By contrast, on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya at the CIA annex there were highly trained former-Navy SEALs and other former special operators working for the CIA on the ground calling for air support.
Glenn Doherty was on the roof of one of the buildings lazing the mortar position that was shelling the complex. He called for AC-130 gunship support multiple times, support that never came. In addition, during the course of the seven-hour battle that ensued (the same time it took the Israeli transports to fly from Israel to Uganda), there were two drones overhead providing further real-time intelligence the Pentagon and the White House.
Assets were moved and staged that could have been deployed, but they never were. President Barack Obama claims he gave an order to “do whatever it took to secure” the Americans in Benghazi, yet nothing was done.
There is no question that US Air Force F-16s based at Aviano, Italy could have responded within an hour, and they could have at least eliminated the mortar position being painted by Doherty.
The Military Channel’s coincidental airing of “Operation Thunderbolt” was well timed to highlight just how wrongheaded Rivera’s comparison really was. Where the Israelis took incredible risks to rescue their people, it appears our government was completely risk averse, and it caused them not to act to rescue Americans under fire.
Perhaps Rivera should go back to doing what he does best, showboating and making himself part of the story like he did when he was in embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan or when he interfered in a rescue in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.