TEL AVIV – Entebbe marked a turning point for the Jewish state, proving to the world that Jews were “powerless no more,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a ceremony marking 40 years since Israel stunned the world in a daring operation to save over 100 hostages from terrorists held in Uganda’s international airport.
Hailed as one of the most remarkable counter-terrorist rescue operations ever conducted, Netanyahu and a host of Israeli dignitaries were invited to return to where the nail-biting events of July 4, 1976 transpired – the tarmac of Entebbe’s airport.
Calling Entebbe a “watershed moment for my people,” Netanyahu noted that the operation wiped away the image of the helpless Jew.
While the Holocaust saw Jews “murdered by the millions, stateless, the State of Israel has changed that.”
“It was perhaps in Entebbe where this transformation was seen by the world. We were powerless no more,” he added.
“Terrorism suffered a stinging defeat,” Netanyahu noted, adding that the rescue mission proved that “good can triumph over evil.”
Today, the world needs to remember two things when combating terrorism, the prime minister said:
“Clarity to distinguish good from evil, and courage to fight back against terrorism. We must condemn all acts of terrorism, regardless of where they are committed.”
The actions of Idi Amin, the volatile Ugandan dictator who allowed German and Palestinian terrorists to harbor 106 Israeli and Jewish passengers in the terminals of Entebbe airport, were lambasted by Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni.
Reassuring the Israeli delegation that the operation was the correct move, Museveni said Amin’s “hobnobbing with the terrorists was a crime in itself.”
A group of Israeli commandos managed to rescue nearly all of the hostages. Four people died during the operation, including the prime minister’s own brother Yoni Netanyahu, who led the elite Sayeret Matkal unit into Entebbe.
“Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, my consciousness, and deep in my heart,” the prime minister said.
Addressing the former Entebbe commandos who were part of the delegation, Netanyahu said, “You didn’t know whether you would come home. You came to rescue, but you knew that if something went wrong there was no certainty that someone would come to rescue you.”
Apart from the soldiers, surviving hostages and their families were also part of the delegation, as were MKs and IDF officials.
Netanyahu noted that being in Entebbe was “extremely moving,” but that he remembers the “terrible pain” he felt upon hearing that his brother had been killed. After the ceremony, the prime minister laid a wreath at the airport in Yoni’s memory and in the memory of the hostages who died.
The Uganda trip kicks off Netanyahu’s African tour, which will also include diplomatic visits to Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, with the aim of strengthening African-Israeli relations.
Watch the speech below: