Saul David’s book ‘Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 And The Raid On Entebbe Airport’ (read by this writer) is an extremely informative, carefully researched and, at times, gripping account of one of the most daring hostage rescue missions of all time. David’s comprehensive, hour-by-hour retelling of the eight days in late June and early July 1976 – from the moment the Paris bound plane was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists to the stunning lightning raid by Israeli commandos on the airport in Uganda – was based on archival documents and interviews with major participants.
We say “almost”, because his postscript includes this extremely curious rumination:
Most Israelis are understandably proud of what their soldiers achieved at Entebbe. But are they aware of the raid’s long-term political consequences? Did it make peace with the Palestinian Arabs less likely because it convinced Israel’s political leaders – and the populace in general – that their intelligence services and soldiers could deal with any security threat. Did it make it harder for Israeli politicians to push through the compromises required for peace?
Interestingly, a 2015 review of David’s book in the Observer (sister site of the Guardian) by Ben Shephard echoed David’s questions:
Yet, if anything, the triumph at Entebbe contributed to a glorification of military might and a downgrading of political compromise in Israeli public life,…
More recently, Jonathan Freedland, in a 4500 word reflection on the 4oth anniversary of the raid (‘We thought this would be the end of us’: the raid on Entebbe 40 years on, Guardian, June 25th), raised similar concerns:
There is perhaps a more subtle legacy [of the raid], too. A year after Entebbe, Israel took the diplomatic path, engaging in direct negotiations – which led to an eventual peace treaty – with Egypt. Even so, the outrageous success of Operation Thunderbolt planted a thought among some on the Israeli right that proved hard to shift: the belief that there were few problems to which there was not a military solution, that the unglamorous business of compromise could be avoided, so long as the men in uniform were sufficiently creative, courageous or crazy to think of an alternative. Few Israeli politicians would admit they might be prone to an Entebbe syndrome, but that is often how it looks.
Ok, so let’s briefly examine the suggestion that the success of the raid made Israeli leaders less likely to make compromises for peace.
- Shimon Peres, Rabin’s Defense Minister at the time, was the strongest supporter within his cabinet of a military solution to the hostage crisis. Yet, Peres became the most vocal advocate for the peace process.
- As Freedland himself admits, a year after the raid, a diplomatic process began which led to a peace treaty with Egypt, signed by the right-wing Menachem Begin, and Israel’s relinquishing of Sinai.
- Yitzhak Rabin, who ordered the Entebbe raid, signed the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, and reached a peace agreement with Jordan a year later.
- The right-wing Binyamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni was killed in the raid, signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1988 which reinstated implementation of the Oslo II Agreement and set in motion a staged Israeli withdrawal from additional West Bank territory.
- Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, in a move initiated by right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
- Two Israeli leaders since Entebbe (including Ehud Barak, who helped plan the raid) entered into final status negotiations and offered Palestinians an independent state, in 2000 and 2008 – offers which included painful Israeli compromises for the sake of peace.
The arguments offered by David, Shephard and Freedland on the political aftermath of Entebbe clearly do not hold up to critical scrutiny.