Yoni’s Last Days – The Raid at Entebbe

(+) Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu


In the early part of the critical week beginning Sunday June 27, Yoni was engaged in a military operation which is still to this day classified, shuttling twice from Sinai to central Israel. Early Monday morning he spent a few hours with his troops at Lod airport. A hijacked Air France plane, with scores of Israelis on board, had just taken off from Libya after a brief stopover there, and it was not known whether the hijackers might land the plane in Israel.

The plane, however, did not proceed to Israel but turned southeast, in the direction of East Africa, and landed that morning at Entebbe airport in Uganda.There, the four terrorists who had hijacked the plane, two Germans and two Arabs, were met by several other Arab terrorists. The hostages were taken to the airport’s old terminal building.There they were held under guard by the army of Uganda, whose head, the notorious Idid Amin, colluded with the Arab terrorist organizations. The terrorists demanded the release from jail of over fifty of their colleagues, most of whom were behind bars in Israel, a few in other countries. The deadline for their release was set for Thursday afternoon. Israel was warned that if by that date the jailed terrorists were not released, the hostages would be killed.

Late Tuesday and Wednesday, some low-key discussions took place among Israeli army strategists about the possibility of rescuing the hostages. Yoni was kept informed of these discussions, although he was still tied up with other operations of his Unit (the Sayeret Matkal). For the time being, the discussions led nowhere. But on Wednesday night Yoni received word that the talks seemed to have taken on a more meaningful tone.

“On Wednesday evening the phone calls began to come in,” recalls Avi, the Unit’s head of intelligence, who was with Yoni in Sinai, “informing us that a directive had been issued for the Unit to start planing [a rescue operation]. During the night there were quite a few calls…mostly from Muki [an officer of the Unit who was to be Yoni’s number-two man in the raid]. Muki was pressing us to return to Israel, because he was repeatedly asked: ‘When can Yoni get here?’…With every phone call you said to yourself, ‘Maybe there’s a chance that something will happen after all.’ The pressure was pretty serious, and we understood that by the next day, first thing, we’d have to fly back.”

Yoni did indeed fly north on Thursday once he could manage it, probably late in the morning. That morning, however, with the ultimatum nearing its deadline and with no acceptable rescue plan available, the government of Israel decided to negotiate with the terrorists, stating its willingness to release terrorists for hostages. By then, most of the non-Israeli hostages had been released and flown from Entebbe to Paris. Of the 106 hostages remaining in Entebbe, most were Israelis. “My intention was not to use a ruse or a tactical ploy to gain time,” Prime Minister Rabin wrote of his government’s decision, “but to enter into serious negotiations, with Israel fulfilling whatever commitments it made.”

With the release of the non-Israeli hostages, important information started to come in on the state of affairs in the old terminal at Entebbe. Such information was crucial for planning any rescue, and so the military option had acquired momentum. By evening, Yoni received the formal order to start planning and preparing the Unit for a possible raid on Entebbe.

Landing C-130 transports directly at the airport of Entebbe was considered a feasible way of bringing in the rescue force. Sayeret Matkal, the Unit that Yoni commanded, was given the brunt of the job. It had been ordered to take control of the old terminal building, where the hostages were being held and where the terrorists and the Ugandan troops were positioned, and was also to seal off the whole area from any possible counterattack by the Ugandan army until the planes could take off.

“The instructions were extremely general,” says Biran, the intelligence officer of Dan Shomron, the man who was given overall command of the ground operation. “Yoni had logistical questions … for which we as yet had no answers. Everything was still up in the air.” In the meeting between Yoni and Shomron and their staffs, “we still did not go into specifics about who, how many, how, and what. It was obvious that all this would have to be studied and developed. As for the Unit’s plan of action, Shomron did not get involved. He said: ‘These are men who know their job. There’s no point for me to interfere.’ ”

Planning The Unit’s Action

Yoni returned to his Unit, gathered a few of his officers at his office, and started formulating with them the Unit’s plan of action for the rescue at Entebbe. For a while, Colonel Ehud Barak, who left the following day for Kenia to coordinate the eventual landing of the planes there, also sat in at the meeting.

All the while, intelligence information concerning the hostages and terrorists, as well as about the layout of the old terminal building, was filtering in. After several hours of brain-storming, some of which Yoni did by himself later, in the middle of the night, the Unit’s preliminary plan of action was formed. Altough certain revisions would be made by Yoni during the following day and a half, the plan for the most part remained unchanged. In fact, it was carried out almost to the letter.

The plan called for the Unit’s initial force of twenty nine men to be flown to Entebbe and to land at night near the new terminal. From there the men were to proceed to the old terminal, arriving in a Mercedes and two Land Rover jeeps, the kind of vehicles frequently used by the Ugandan army. It was hoped that the Ugandan guards surrounding the building would assume that this was a force of their own, perhaps the one that accompanied President Idi Amin on his occasional visits to the hostages. In this manner, it was hoped that the Unit’s men would be able to approach the Ugandan guards without first being fired upon.

“According to the intelligence we had at the time, there were dozens of Ugandan guards,” explains Avi. “Yoni was adamant that we had to find some sort of solution to the problem concerning the Ugandan security belt.” Thus they came upon the idea of the Mercedes and jeeps, which was meant to “delay opening of fire by the Ugandans as long as possible.” Ideally, the guards might even wave the vehicles through. However, should they want to check the vehicles and their passengers, “our men would have to open fire,” continued Avi. “They would be at the point of no return anyway.”

The remainder of the plan was as follows After the possible encounter with the guards, the force would proceed rapidly to the building, get out of the vehicles, and run to the various entrances, the squads entering their assigned entrances simultaneously. Several squads were assigned to the two main halls on the ground floor where the hostages were thought to be held; other squads were assigned to the top floor, where Ugandan soldiers were stationed; while some commandos were to clear the other rooms on the ground floor that were occupied by the terrorists. Yoni and his command team would position themselves outside the main entrance in order to be able to control the flow of men and, in case of a hitch, go in. At the second stage of the mission, a second force of the Unit, driving in four APC’s, would land and quickly proceed to the old terminal, cordoning its environs from any possible counterattack by the Ugandan army. Besides the large Ugandan force believed to be stationed in the old terminal, there was an Ugandan regimental air force base some 200 yards from the building.

Day Of Preparations

As more information came in, however, Yoni changed certain points in the plan. He gave briefings to the soldiers and officers, supervised some of the rehearsals, took care of numerous matters that cropped up, held a meeting in his office with the commander of the C-130 transport squadron, and went over to the Kirya, the military headquarters of the IDF, several times for meetings and briefings.

His most important meeting at the Kirya was, without a doubt, the one he had with Defense Minister Shimon Peres.

“I asked somebody what the meeting was about,” says Rachel, the secretary to Motta Gur, the chief of staff. When she saw Yoni waiting to go into Peres’s office, she “was told that Shimon had asked Yoni to come so that he could look him in the eyes and ask him straight, ‘Yoni, can it be done?’ That was the whole purpose of the meeting. Yoni stood there [outside Peres’s door] with maps in his hands, very preoccupied….He was pressed for time and said that he was in a terrible hurry and they should let him in already.”

“He presented the plan to me in detail,” recalls Peres, “and I liked it very much. The two of us sat alone…My impression was one of exactness and imagination…and complete self-confidence…which without a doubt influenced me. We had a problem with lack of intelligence. But Yoni said: ‘Do you know of any oepration that wasn’t carried out half blind? Every operation is half blind.’ But Yoni was well aware of the problem, and he told me that the operation was absolutely doable. And as to the cost, he said we had every chance of coming out of it with almost no losses.”

That night, with Chief of Staff Motta Gur looking on, the various forces, including that of the Unit, conducted a full model exercise. “We practiced according to the plan,” says Muki. “We placed two soldiers who acted as ‘guards’ on the runway. They ordered us to stop. We did, and Yoni ‘shot’ at them with a silencers. We then continued toward the terminal.” Several years later Muki also explained: “During the preparations for the raid Yoni foresaw a situation whereby we encountered two Ugandan guards…and our response in such a case was to take out the two guards with silencers.”

This encounter with the guards was followed by a dash to the old terminal building and a rapid run from the vehicles to the entrances. Speed was now considered critical. The purpose was to reach the entrances before the terrorists realized what was going on and started to kill off the hostages with automatic-weapons fire and grenades.

Following the exercise, the Chief of Staff met with the various commanders and wanted to know their opinion about the chances of succes. He spent the longest amount of time with Yoni.

“Yoni said to Motta that he had every reason to believe that if the hostages were in fact still there, the Unit, with the methods and men at its disposal, could pull it off,” recalls Muki. “It was fairly natural for Yoni to think so, but he [also] had good reason [for saying that]. The bottom line of what he said was: ‘It can be done.’ I saw Motta’s reaction, and I’m convinced that Yoni’s words gave Motta…the required confidence to push on and get the go-ahead from the cabinet.”

Following his discussion with Yoni, Dan Shomron, and other officers, Motta Gur said that he had reached a decision in favor of the operation and was going to recommend it to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Peres.

Final Preparations

A few hours later Yoni went home for a brief nap. Early the following morning, Saturday July 3, he said goodbye to his girlfriend Bruria and rushed back to the Unit. He held one last inspection of the men, then conducted an hour-long tactics session with the officers.

“It was a productive hour,” says Giora, one of the leading officers. “There was a lot of discussion about how things would be done under that kind of pressure. Different questions came up….[We considered] what would happen if a team was knocked out, who would replace it, and so on. We raised these questions, and Yoni answered them on the spot: ‘We’ll do it this way or that.’ It was an excellent meeting.”

Yoni then left his men and went with some of his officers to Lod airport for the final general briefing, headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Yekutiel Adam, who during the last two days had been pushing indefatigably for the execution of the raid.

There, in the squadron briefing room at Lod, Yoni met again with Joshua Shani, the lead pilot and comander of the Hercules transport squadron. He spent some time with him going over the joint plan of action. Yoni also took aside Amnon Halivni, the pilot of the hostage evacuation plane, who had spent some time in Uganda and was acquainted with the old terminal and the Ugandan army. “Yoni wanted to know details about the building, from the shed for firefighting equipment on the right end to the control tower on the left,” Halivni says. “He wanted to know where the stairs were, what kind of windows there were, what the approach to the entrances was like and more….He asked me one more thing: ‘How do you think the Ugandan sentries will react to the Mercedes and jeeps?’ I told him: ‘They’ll yell ‘Stop!’ or something like that, and they’ll point their bayoneted rifles at you. And if you don’t stop, they’ll shoot.”

By the time the general briefing with Adam was over, Yoni’s men had arrived at the airport with their vehicles. At noon four planes took off for Sharm-el-Shekh, at the southern tip of the Sinai desert. There they would await word as to whether the government had given them the go-ahead to continue on to Entebbe.

The flight to Sharm-el-Sheikh was rocky, causing much discomfort among the men. After landing at Sharm, the men got off, refreshed themselves a bit, and then gathered to hear Yoni’s final briefing.

“It was a speech I’ll never forget,” says Alex, one of the assault soldiers. “He gave us confidence that we could do it. His leadership and his ability to affect us were simply above and beyond anything.”

The government was still in session and had not yet decided whether to approve the operation. But if the raid was to be executed at all, the planes would now have to take off for their destination, since Entebbe was eight hours away, and the plan called for landing at what was considered the optimal hour: midnight Ugandan time. Thus, with the understanding that if the government did not approve the operation the planes would turn around midway and head back to Israel, the force was instructed to take off.

“Yoni told the men to get on board the plane, and they were surprised to hear they were actually going,” says Shlomo. “Not that he was raring to fight but he didn’t look at all worried by the go-ahead either. You could see that he felt very comfortable, that he was finally starting to breathe easily.”

Take-Off From The Sinai Desert

The lead plane was crowded. It carried Yoni’s assault party with its three vehicles and a paratrooper force, intended for taking control of the civilian new terminal. They were flying over the Red Sea, just a few yards above water to avoid radar detection by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Yoni and Muki sat down with Amos, a soldier of the Unit who had been transferred at the last moment from the peripheral APC force to the assault force. Amos had replaced a soldier who had become ill on the flight to Sharm and could not participate in the raid. Yoni sketched for him (on the back of an air sickness bag) the plan othe terminal and the assault routes, indicating to him the various entrances and the task of each squad, including that of Amos.

“While Yoni was explaining all this to me,” says Amos, “we were informed that the government had given us the green light to carry on to Entebbe, that we were going to do it…Yet he stayed completely calm…and went on explaining to me my job as though we were going to perform an exercise.”

On the way some of the men slept while sitting on their seats in the vehicles. Some were sprawled over the car hoods or lying on the floor beneath the jeeps. For a while Yoni sat next to Muki in the Mercedes, reading a book. Yoni too was exhausted after a week during which he had hardly slept a wink. At a certain stage he went to the cockpit, where some of the officers were gathered, and lay down on the bunk bed. A little while later the lead pilot wanted to grab a nap as well.

“I looked back and saw Yoni sleeping in that bed,” says Shani. “Under normal conditions, if some battalion commander is resting there, I tell him politely but firmly to go rest in the rear of the plane. This time I couldn’t bring myself to do it, because my theory was that the chances of the first group that would storm that building to stay alive were fifty-fifty. I said to myself: ‘He’s taking a huge personal risk in this, that’s for sure. He’s grabbing some sleep here. So am I going to wake him up?’ On the other hand, I also wanted to lie down. He was curled up on the edge. I lay down next to him, getting closer little by little till I was a few millimeters away from him. I myself was afraid of a failure on a national level…that we simply wouldn’t succeed, that we’d cause a disaster. I looked at Yoni from about an inch away, nose to nose, and he was sleeping like a baby, utterly at peace. I asked Tzvika, the navigator, when Yoni had gone to sleep, and he said, ‘He went to sleep [a while ago] and asked me to wake him up a little while before the landing.’ And the thought flitted through my mind: Where does this calmness of his come from? Soon you’re going into battle, and here you are, sleeping as if nothing is happening! I myself couldn’t fall asleep. I got up ad went back to my seat.”

By this time the planes were already flying high over the skies of Africa, first over Ethiopia, then over Kenia. Night had fallen and the planes were now cruising in the dark with their lights turned off. Finally they reached Lake Victoria, on whose shores lay Entebbe airport. A tremendous lightning storm caught them as they entered the lake.

Yoni got up. He went back to the hold, where his men were about to get ready, and woke up some of those who were still asleep. The men put on their ammo vests. Each took his place in his vehicle.

Yoni then proceeded to move among his men.

“There was this reddish light, and I remember that we saw his face,” relates Shlomo, one of the soldiers. “He wasn’t wearing his beret, or his ammo vest or gun…He spoke to the men, smiled at us, said a few words of encouragement to each one. It was as though he were leaving us, as though he knew what was going to happen to him. He didn’t issue any orders but just tried to instill confidence. I remember that he shook hands with the youngest guy on the force…He acted more like a friend…I sensed that he felt that from here on everything, or at least nearly everything, depended on us. He’d seen a lot of combat, and quite a few of the soldiers there had seen none at all, or a lot less than he had. And I remember him going by, joking a little, exchanging a few words, easing the men’s tension before battle.”

They had already reached a small island on the lake, just south of Entebbe. The other three planes of the convoy now stayed behind, flying in circles, while the lead plane headed north. The storm was behind them. All of a sudden the airport could be seen at a distance, with its runway lights fully lit. Yoni proceeded to get into the passenger seat of the Mercedes. The back ramp was being lowered as the plane was descending toward the runway, and Yoni told Amitsur, the driver, to start the car’s engine.

The Unit’s officers convened around 1 A.M. to receive an initial briefing from Yoni and instructions on preparations. “Yoni was very tired,” recalls Muki. “You could see it by looking at him. Actually we were all tired from the whole week we had just finished, the officers in particular. So at a certain point I suggested that we stop and get some sleep. This was around 2 or 3 A.M. on Friday morning. Yoni agreed, and the small planning team went to sleep, but it turned out later that Yoni remained alone at his office and continued to work on the plan. And in fact, when he presented the plan at 7 A.M. the following morning, after sleeping at most one or two hours, I saw how far he had carried the work from where we left off. There were many points in the plan that we had not considered, which Yoni had thought through to the end. That morning he presented the plan complete, perfect, down to the last detail.”


As the plane landed on the tarmac, the Ugandans in the main control tower probably did not understand what was going on. Some paratroop soldiers jumped off while the plane was taxiing, placing lighted markers on the runway, so that the other three planes would be able to land in case the runway lights were switched off by the men in the control tower. The Hercules transport came to a halt at the designated point.

The vehicles got out quickly. Yoni turned around to verify that the two jeeps were behind him and told Amitsur to head along the diagonal runway. After a mile or so, the three vehicles turned left onto the approach runway. This runway led directly to the old terminal building, where the hostages were being held. However, they now saw two Ugandan guards – at exactly the spot that had been envisaged during the rehearsal in Israel. One of the guards shouted at them to stop. “When I saw those two guards waiting for us, like the guards that Yoni had placed in the rehearsal, I knew that this operation would succeed,” says Bukhris, the youngest soldier on the force.

“We were sitting in the jeep,” recalls Amir. “We saw it as if in a movie. The Mercedes was advancing, and at a certain point we were approaching the terminal….We saw a Ugandan soldier to the right and another one to the left. The runway lights were on either side…and we were driving in the middle. This was aboug 200 meters from the building…The guard on the left disappeared from view. Suddenly the one from the right came toward us. He approached the Mercedes and made a threatening movement with his weapon…He cocked his rifle…It was obvious to me that the guard had to be taken out.”

“The guard shouted something,” related Rani, one of the officers who sat in the first jeep. “He then moved into a shooting position, raised the rifle to his shouder. I was sure he was about to fire – no ‘ifs’ about it.”

“If the guard had fired first, the whole operation might have sunk,” explains Amitsur, one of the Unit’s officers and the man who was driving the Mercedes. “Yoni told me: ‘Slow down a little, we’ll approach them.’ He told me to slow down so that we wouldn’t frighten them, as if we’re about to identify ourselves…Yoni was quite calm.”

Yoni and Giora, another officer of the Unit who sat behind him, had their silenced pistols ready in hand. When the Ugandan soldier who was aiming his rifle at them was only several yards away, they both fired. The Ugandan recoiled and wobbled. He was probably hit but was not totally incapacitated. It was then that loud shots were heard. It is impossible to say what the origin of these shots was. Some claim it came from one of the two Ugandan guards. Some men in the Mercedes say that it came from the jeeps, while one or two men in the jeeps thought it came from the Mercedes. In any case, once the loud shots were heard, the men in the Land Rovers fired freely on the two Ugandan guards (the one on the left had reappeared), knocking them out. “One does not leave behind an armed soldier…who would use his weapon once he realized what you were going to do,” explains Yiftach, the deputy commander of the Unit.

“We could not have approached the terminal building silently any closer than we did,” sums up Amir. “We started shooting heavy fire, and had we not done that, I’m sure they would have fired on us.”

“Yoni told me now to speed up,” recalls Amitsur. “We went at full speed…for about 200 meters or so….He instructed me to stop in front of the control tower…It was a spot that was relatively sheltered and that is why he chose it. He then gave an order to get out of the car and start running, and they all started running toward the terminal.”

The jeeps were right on the heels of the Mercedes. They too had stopped and the men got out quickly, the first ones running on the heels of those who had gotten out of the Mercedes.

“When I got out of the jeep, I saw Yonout of the corner of my eye going a bit sideways, slightly at an angle…so that he could be in a position of control… We ran to the near corner of the terminal building,” related Rani.

“I saw the lead man running and shooting, I don’t know at what, and then he pulled to the left, to the buiding, and stopped,” recalls Amos. “Yoni was then a little bit behind him. The men didn’t understand what was going on, why the lead man had stopped. Most of the men congregated and stopped behind him. So Yoni shouted to run forward…All of us understood that it was a matter of seconds before the terrorists came to their senses.”

“Yoni stood apart from us…and kept shouting: ‘Forward! Come on!’ calling the lead man by his name,” recalls Alex.

The pause in the assault could have had disastrous consequences had it continued longer than it did. Every second’s delay increased the chances that the terrorists would begin to kill the hostages. When Yoni saw that the lead man did not respond to his commands, he lurched ahead, thereby signaling the men to follow him.

“Yoni shouted to run forward,” explains Amos, “and I remember him running forward himself…He passed [the lead man who had stopped]…The one who was first out of the corner of the buiding was Yoni…He then ran a bit to the right, to let the men [who were meant to go inside the building] pass him…Right afterward Amnon and Amir passed Yoni… The pause in the assault had lasted a few seconds.”

Amir by then had come from behind, after having gotten out of the jeep relatively late. He kept on running forward, passing Yoni and thus becoming the first in line of the assault force. The men were running now exposed in front of the mostly glass wall of the terminal building, with the terrorists positioned inside behind that wall.

“At some point [as we were running in front of the entrances],” continued Amos, “I think I caught up with Yoni, so that Yoni was just to my right…At this stage, while I was running to the entrance, I saw Yoni fall. This was while Amir was at his entrance, about to burst in. I think that this was the point in time when Yoni was hit…At that stage there was already shooting, some shots were fired into the building [through the glass wall], and we had just fired on a Ugandan soldier outside it.”

“I looked to my left,” says Shlomo, “because I wanted to see where I was supposed to go in. At that stage I saw Yoni, and I think that that’s when he got hit, because I saw him make half a turn, with his face contorted…sinking down a little bit, with his knees bent.”

Someone had shouted that Yoni was hit, but the men of the force continued in their tasks, following Yoni’s orders not to take care of the wounded until the hostages were freed. Each of them realized that time was of the essence, as it would have taken only seconds for the terrorists, once they fully realized what was going on, to have sprayed automatic fire on the huddled hostages.

“When I was about ten yards from the door I saw the glass break and understood that someone was shooting at me,” says Amir. “Without thinking twice I shot him through the glass and saw that he was hit.”

After shooting at the terrorist in the buiding who had fired more than half a magazine at the force, Amir entered the main hall, where the hostages were being held. He discovered that he was the first soldier inside. Immediately upon his footsteps came his commander, Amnon, who, once he entered the room, saw two terrorists crouching, a man and a woman, aiming their Kalashnikovs at Amir. He quickly fired at them and killed them. Next Muki and Amos entered, apparently together. Amos was scanning the room, looking for more terrorists. “First thing I saw Amnon,” says Amos. “Then I looked to my left and saw the two terrorists who were shot. I also saw the fully lit room with all the hostages lying on the floor. And after a short time, from the left, a terrorist suddenly leaped up, holding a weapon. I shot him. The first bullet hit his Kalashnikov, went through his weapon, and entered his chest. I shot three bullets that hit him and finished him off.”

With that, the four terrorists who were inside the main hall and posed the most immediate threat to the hostages were killed. The hostages were still in a daze, flattened out on the floor. Almost all of them were unhurt; three of them, however, were hit by the gunfire and would later die of their wounds. Another hostage, Dora Bloch, was in a Ugandan hospital during the raid, and would be executed the following day by Idi Amin’s men.

Simultaneously, other teams from the Unit entered the rest of the building, killing three more terrorists and encountering several dozen Ugandan soldiers, most of whom were killed in the ensuing gunfire. Some of the Ugandan soldiers who were stationed on the upper floor had quickily scuttled from the building and fled.

Yoni was lying on the tarmac. He was still alive but rapidly losing blood. He had been hit by a burst from Kalashnikov in his arm and, more seriously, in his chest. The bullet had entered the front of the chest and exited from the back. “At the end of the fighting,” says the Unit’s doctor, “somebody came to help me place him on a stretcher. It was then that some consciousness returned to him…He was perhaps roused by a soldierly instinct. There was a lot of shooting toward the control tower, which made a lot of noise, and he tried to get up.”

Yoni was transferred by jeep to the evacuation plane,which was positioned close to the old terminal. There a team of doctors tried to resuscitate him, but their lengthy attempts were of no avail. Yoni was pronounced dead.

The Landing At Kenia And Return Home

Shortly thereafter, the evacuation plane, loaded with the hostages and Yoni’s body, took off from Entebbe. Half an hour later it landed at Nairobi, Kenia, Uganda’s neighbor. Kenia had earlier agreed to let the Israeli planes refuel on their way back.

The other three planes carrying the soldiers landed one by one. The Unit’s soldiers, who knew that Yoni was hurt, did not yet know of his death. They were instructed to remain inside their plane while it was refueling.

“On our plane there had been endless chatter,” recalls Shlomo, “everyone telling what happened to him. It seemed that everything was going great, that we’d succeeded. And then someone had turned off the entire plane. Everybody was silent…We were hit hard, and each of us withdrew into himself.”

Matan vilnai, the head of the paratrooper contingent in the raid, went over to the hostages’ plane. “I saw Yoni’s body lying in the lane, wrapped in one of those awful aluminum blankets the doctors use,” says Matan. “I saw the hostages completely stunned, shadows of men. They were very depressed. And what hit me then was a kind of feeling that was, for an army man like myself, totally illogical: that if Yoni was dead, then the whole thing wasn’t worth it.”

When the planes left Kenia a short time later, no report had yet arrived in Israel of any dead among the force. “When the last plane took off from Nairobi,” says Rachel, Gur’s secretary, “there was a wave of rejoicing [at the Kirya headquarters]. The chief of staff’s driver brought in a few bottles of champagne, and everyone celebrated. In the end, they left. It got quiet, and Motta was left alone in the room with his aide Hagai Regev. I went to the kitchen to make some coffee. Suddenly the other secretaries came over, grabbed me, and said: ‘Yoni was killed.’ I dropped everything and went to the chief of staff’s office. I opened the door of the room I’d left two minutes before, when it had been full of happiness over the success…and I saw the chief of staff sitting, face fallen, terribly sad. Not to mention Hagai, who was just crushed. In one minute, all the joy had been erased…It was as though nothing else mattered. Everything took on a different meaning.”

Gur went over to Peres’s office, where the defense minister had laid down to rest, to inform him of Yoni’s death. “He got up to open the door,” says Gur. “When he heard of Yoni’s death, was clearly shocked. I could see he was taking it personally. He said, ‘My God,’ or something like that. He took it very hard – not like a defense minister hearing about an officer who had been hit.”

Peres wrote in his diary the following lines: “At four in the morning, Motta Gur came into my office, and I could tell he was very upset. ‘Shimon, Yoni’s gone. A bullet hit him in the heart…’ This is the first time this whole crazy week, that I cannot hold back the tears.”

The planes carrying the soldiers landed in Israel in the morning, at the military base at Tel Nof. Rabin and Peres were there to greet them. When Muki came out of the plane, Peres turned to him and asked: “How was Yoni killed?”

“He went first, he fell first,” Muki answered.

Two days later Yoni was brought to burial at Mount Herzl, at Jerusalem’s military cemetery. Thousands attended his funeral. Peres delivered the eulogy. Yoni, who was unknow to the public because of the secret nature of his work, overnight became known throughout Israel. His loss was widely felt as a bitter blow to the nation, injecting a lasting note of tragedy into the great achievement at Entebbe. (*)





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