Menachem Begin, a member of the opposition (to Rabin’s Labor government) in 1976, declared to the Knesset:
“We are no empire. We are but a small nation… but after all that has befallen our nation throughout all the generations and not the least the generation of the Holocaust – we declare that if there be anyone anywhere who is persecuted, or humiliated or threatened or abducted, is in any way endangered simply because he or she is a Jew then let the whole world know that we, Israel, the Jewish State, shall marshal all our strength to come to their aid and bring them to the safe haven of our homeland. This is the message of Entebbe.”
As we unpack current events each week, we want to utilize current events to teach history, and we want history to inform current events. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped foot in Uganda, I felt chills. This is not a political statement. It’s a statement about Jewish identity and an awareness of history.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Herman Wouk’s words following the operation in Entebbe, Uganda, still resonate with me.
“The exploit stunned the world. In the continuing struggle of civilized men against the mounting global crime of terrorism, Entebbe shines, a beacon in dense gloom.”
Maybe it was the movie I watched in summer camp with Yehoram Gaon cast as the heroic Yoni Netanyahu or The Letters of Yoni Netanyahu, which remains permanently on my nightstand. I don’t know, but seeing Yoni’s little brother, Bibi, standing in the same place where his big brother was killed, or seeing the current Israeli prime minister engage in any form of conversation with the Sudanese government, a land which hosted the infamous Three No’s. We knew we had to unpack this moment.
Let’s allow current events to remind us of our history — and let history inform how we internalize current events.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a very busy week. First, he stood next to US President Donald Trump as the latter presented the “Deal of the Century”, a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Immediately afterward, Netanyahu was indicted for corruption. Next, he flew to Entebbe, Uganda, to meet with government officials but — more importantly — to hold a secret meeting with the head of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan. Sudan does not recognize or have any diplomatic relations with Israel. By the end of the two-hour meeting, both leaders agreed to begin the process of normalizing ties between the two countries, much to the surprise and chagrin of the Palestinian leadership.
Zoom out. Why does this matter in the big picture of Israeli history?
In the annals of Israel’s history, Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is synonymous with the Khartoum Resolution. On September 1, 1967, soon after the end of the Six-Day War, the Arab League convened in the Sudanese capital and issued the infamous “Three No’s” – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. Israel had initially hoped that, after tripling in size during the Six-Day War, it would be able to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors in exchange for the territories conquered during the war, a strategy often referred to as “land for peace.” Watch our video, which gives the story of the Khartoum Resolution.
First, a bit of context: Leading up to Operation Entebbe (also called Operation Thunderbolt), Israel had failed in two previous rescue attempts. In May of 1974, 22 Israeli school children were killed by terrorists, and in March of 1975, 11 Israelis were killed by a Fatah squad. In both instances, the IDF attempted to save the hostages, but their missions were unsuccessful. Fast forward to June 26, 1976…and to learn the rest of the story of Entebbe, watch our videos here and here.
On July 4, 1976, as Americans were celebrating their bicentennial, Israeli commandos were busy executing the most daring mission in Israeli history. After a week of being held hostage by the German and Palestinian terrorists, 102 of the 106 hostages were saved by the Israeli elite commando unit “Sayeret Matkal,” which flew to the Entebbe airport in the middle of the night. The leader of the raid was none other than Yoni Netanyahu, the older brother of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yoni was killed in the operation that united the nation in many ways. Netanyahu’s visit to Uganda this week was all the more significant knowing what transpired in that very place 43 years ago, and how different the relationship between the two countries is today.
Diversity of perspectives within Israel?
Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted “History!”, referring to the meeting with Sudan as a major breakthrough and very good news for Israel. Moshe Ya’alon of the Blue and White party opposed the publication of the meeting, arguing that Israel’s national interests would have been better served by keeping the meeting secret and not publicizing it for short-term domestic gains.
Sudan’s Burhan, after publicly acknowledging the meeting, said that it was held out of his “responsibility on the need to work tirelessly for preserving and protecting the Sudanese national security and to achieve the highest interests of the Sudanese people.” The Palestinian Authority referred to the Israel-Sudan meeting as a “stab in the back” for the Palestinians.
After the Six-Day War in 1967 — an enormous victory over Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — Israel was eager to begin negotiating with the Arab states. Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan famously stated that Israel was “waiting for a telephone call” from the Arab leaders. Foreign Minister Abba Eban claimed that Israel would be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms” and that in negotiations, “everything is negotiable.”
In the meantime, the Arab League gathered in Khartoum, Sudan, in order to unite their political efforts and develop strategy going forward. Ultimately, the resolution called for “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser blamed the Israeli victory on alleged air support from the United States, arguing that “the Sixth Fleet runs on Arab Petroleum.” There were no negotiations with any of these countries until Israel ultimately made peace with Egypt in 1979.
Leading up to Operation Entebbe, the debate within the Israeli security cabinet was tense. Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin believed that if there wasn’t a viable military option, that Israel should conduct negotiations with the terrorists. On the other hand, then-Minister of Defense Shimon Peres argued for a military operation saying, “If we give in to the hijacker’s demand…everyone will understand us, but no one will respect us. If, on the other hand, we conduct a military operation to free hostages, it is possible that no one will understand us, but everyone will respect us”.
- After watching our video (specifically from 23:45 – 29:52) about the Six-Day War and discussing the Khartoum Resolution, ask the following questions:
- What were the implications of the “Three No’s”?
- Why do you think the Arab countries said no to peace, negotiations, and recognition of Israel?
- Who were the winners and losers of this decision?
- Now that many Muslim majority states (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, UAE) are beginning to normalize relations with Israel, what does this teach us about the future of the Middle East?
- Menachem Begin, a member of the opposition in 1976, is quoted as saying the following in The Prime Ministers:
Mr. Prime Minister, you who are the leader of the team, I say that while your colleagues have a share in the decision making responsibility, upon your shoulders rests an extra morsel of responsibility and who can weigh that extra morsel?
What can this tell us about leadership? What does it mean to be a leader?
- Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of Operation Entebbe, convened a “Fantasy Council” to help him come up with solutions. Peres wrote: “If leaders demand allegiance without creativity and outside inspiration, the odds of failure vastly increase.”
Why are collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork critical for good decision making?
Practical Classroom Tips
- In this episode of the Israel Story podcast, host Mishy Harman discusses four events that were major highlights for Israel in the mid-to-late 1970s. They were:
- 1976 – the raid on Entebbe
- 1976 – Israel wins Miss Universe
- 1977 – Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball won the Euro Championship
- 1978 and 1979 – Israel won the Eurovision song contest
With military, sports, Eurovision, and even Miss Universe victories, the mid-late 1970s were a golden era of sorts for Israeli history. It was truly a remarkable time to be a Jew and Israeli, as we felt like we had really “made it”. Divide your students into four groups to research and present each of the four topics. They should each make the argument why they believe their event was the most significant in Israeli history.
2. Watch our first video on Operation Entebbe and discuss the following questions with your students:
- Does a good decision depend on the outcome? If many hostages had been killed, would you still think the decision to rescue them was the right one, or think that Israel should have instead negotiated with the terrorists?
- Read the following Shimon Peres quote to your students:
“If we give in to the hijacker’s demand…everyone will understand us, but no one will respect us. If, on the other hand, we conduct a military operation to free hostages, it is possible that no one will understand us, but everyone will respect us.”
Ask your students: “Is it better to be understood or respected?” Which values are in conflict with one another when thinking this through?
3. Watch our second video about Operation Entebbe: Who Gets the Credit and utilize the attached educational resources.
4. Take a close look at the following image showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receiving a warm welcome when landing at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda this past week:
Can you imagine being Benjamin Netanyahu in 1976 and hearing that your brother was the lone military casualty in the rescue operation, and then receiving a warm welcome to the same place as Prime Minister of Israel 44 years later? How do you think Netanyahu felt during this visit?