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Narendra Modi mentions Yonatan Netanyahu on Israel visit: Here's all you need to know about the Operation Entebbe legend

Soon after he landed at the Ben Gurion airport, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned Yonatan Netanyahu in his inaugural speech, elder brother of Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was killed exactly 41 years ago during Operation Entebbe at the Entebbe airport in Uganda on 4 July, 1976.

"Today is 4 July. Exactly 41 years ago, since Operation Entebbe. The day, when your prime minister and my friend Bibi lost his elder brother Yonatan while saving the lives of so many Israeli hostages," Modi said in his brief address at the Ben Gurion airport in tel Aviv. As Modi recalled the incident, Netanyahu listened impassively.

Yonatan laid his life at the prime age of 30 during Israel's tactically brilliant overnight raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda to release 100 hostages held for a week by German and Arab terrorists. Around 102 out of 106 people, who were held hostage, were rescued by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) but Yonatan was the one defence personnel who lost his life.

File image of Yonatan Netanyahu. Screengrab from Youtube

File image of Yonatan Netanyahu. Screengrab from Youtube

The 99-minute operation had become a byword for military daring, the subject of three hit movies, taught and studied by armies around the world. Uganda, which had fallen out with Israel and turned their former embassy building in Uganda into a Palestine Liberation Organisation office, was quick to give the hijackers affiliated to the Palestinian group permission to land the plane at Entebbe. Uganda went ahead to take part in negotiations for the hijacker's demands.

The eight-day ordeal started on 27 June, 1976, when Air France flight 139 Airbus A300B4-2013, left the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for Paris. Planning for the rescue took a week and while there was a political and a military solution, in the end, the military rescue operation seized the day.

Here's all you need to know about the hero of the operation to rescue Israeli hostages held by pro-Palestinian terrorists onboard the Air France flight.

Country before college

As the Israeli prime minister mentioned in a Guardian article, as children, the younger brothers had idolised Yonatan, better known as 'Yoni'; he was the one who led their games, who, they felt, had raised them. In 1967, Yonatan had considered college, but the constant threat of war made him stay back in Israel: "This is my country and my homeland. It is here that I belong," Yonatan wrote. Yonatan had taken part in the Golan Heights battle and decided to return to Harvard for studies after he was injured. However, in 1973, he decided to return to Israel again to serve his country.

Born in New York City to a professor of Cornell University, Yonatan was always clear about his priorities, "I should be defending my country, Harvard is a luxury I cannot afford."

Netanyahu's decision to return to Israel despite outstanding grades, of re-enlistment as an officer who was to become the youngest commander of a tank battalion in the armored corps, of a difficult marriage, of the Yom Kippur War, and finally, of his return to the old commando unit that he led to Entebbe.

A shining career

In 1970, Yonatan was heading an anti-terrorist reconnaissance unit of the Sayeret Matkal (Israeli special forces), and in the summer of 1972 was appointed as the section's deputy commander. He led his unit to the Golan Heights battle successfully. Yonatan was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service, Israel's third highest military decoration, for his rescue of Ben Hanan in the Golan Heights battle.

When Israeli officials were planning the Entebbe operation, a key figure in forming it, former soldiers and officials said in New York Times' recent interviews, was Yonatan.

The Israeli army personnel had rushed in, shot all the terrorists, and saved more than 100 people who were being held at the airport. Three hostages were killed in the crossfire, and one person lay outside: Yoni, who had been shot in the chest.

A heroic funeral

The family flew in virtual silence from the US to Israel for the funeral of the son and brother who had already been garlanded as a military hero and was now about to enter the national mythology. The Netanyahu name would take its place in the Israeli pantheon and, in the process, open up a path that would take young Binyamin to the top of Israeli politics – a path that began in Entebbe.

After his death, a book published by siblings Benjamin and Ido compiled all the letters of Yonatan, the icon for Israel and Jewish diaspora across the world. ''To kill at such a very close range ... to the point of pressing the muzzle against the flesh and pulling the trigger for a single bullet to be released and kill accurately ... adds a whole dimension of sadness to a man's being. Not a momentary, transient sadness, but something that sinks in and is forgotten, yet is there and endures,'' Yonatan wrote in one of his letters.

Political legacy

As Benjamin Netanyahu told The New York Times about his brother, “There are few like him in history,” and “Entebbe is always with me. It is deep in my heart.”

As the article says, "The unusual partnership of the two brothers — one dead, one alive — has deeply changed the young country of Israel."

Benjamin, who rose as one of the longest serving prime ministers in Israel, has always maintained that his anti-terrorist stand is because of his brother's death. "Your heroes are an inspiration for the younger generations," Modi told Netanyahu, who was also a member of Sayeret Matkal.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Jul 04, 2017 20:34 PM

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