Biography of Jonathan Netanyahu

Jonathan Netanyahu


Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu or Jonathan Netanyahu (Hebrew: יונתן “יוני” נתניהו) , (March 13, 1946 – July 4, 1976) was a member of the Israel Defense Forces elite Sayeret Matkal unit. His younger brother Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister of Israel from 1996-1999, and currently serves as Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset.

Yoni was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service (Hebrew:עיטור המופת) for his conduct in the Yom Kippur War. He was killed in action during Operation Entebbe at Entebbe airport, by Ugandan soldiers, where the Israeli military rescued hostages after an aircraft hijacking. He was the leader of the assault, and the only Israeli military casualty of the raid.

Military career

Yonatan Netanyahu joined the Israeli Defence Forces in 1964 and excelled in the Officer Training Course. He was eventually given command of a paratroopers company. On June 5, 1967, during the Six Day War, his battalion fought the battle of Um Katef in Sinai then reinforced the Golan Heights. During the battle, Yonatan received a wound to his elbow while helping an injured fellow soldier.

After the Six Day War, Netanyahu went to the United States in order to study at Harvard University but returned a year later because of the War of Attrition. Instead, he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, returning to active military service after half a year.

In the early 1970’s he joined Sayeret Matkal (Israeli special forces) and in the summer of 1972 was appointed as the unit’s deputy commander. During that year, he commanded a raid (Operation Crate 3) in which senior Syrian officers were captured and exchanged in return for captive Israeli pilots. The following year he participated in Operation Spring of Youth (Hebrew: מבצע אביב נעורים) in which the terrorists and leadership of Black September (a PLO terrorist group which committed the 1972 Munich Massacre) were killed by Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet-13 and the Mossad.

During the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Netanyahu commanded a Sayeret Matkal force in the Golan Heights that killed more than 40 Syrian Commando officers in a battle which thwarted the Syrian commandos’ raid in the Golan’s heartland. During the same war, he also rescued Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hanan from Tel Shams, while Ben-Hanan was lying wounded behind Syrian lines.

Following the war, Netanyahu was awarded Medal of Distinguished Service (Hebrew: עיטור המופת), Israel’s third highest military decoration, for his wartime conduct. Netanyahu then volunteered to serve as armor commander due to the heavy casualties inflicted on the Israeli Armored Corps during the war, with a disproportionate number of these in the officer ranks. Netanyahu excelled in Tank Officers course and was given command of the Barak Armored Brigade, which was shattered during the war. Netanyahu turned his brigade into the leading military unit in the Golan Heights.

In June 1975 Netanyahu left the Armored Corps and returned to Sayeret Matkal as unit commander. He was killed in action on July 4, 1976 while commanding Operation Entebbe, his first big operation since returning to the unit. Netanyahu was the only Israeli soldier killed during the raid (along with 3 hostages and dozens of Ugandan and Palestinian fighters). The operation itself is considered a huge success with almost all of the hostages rescued unhurt. The operation was posthumously renamed Mivtsa Yonatan in honor of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was buried in Jerusalem’s Military Cemetery at Mount Herzl on July 6 following a military funeral attended by enormous crowds and top-ranking officials. Shimon Peres, then Defense Minister, said during the eulogy that “…a bullet had torn the young heart of one of Israel’s finest sons, one of its most couragous warriors, one of its most promising commanders – the magnificent Yonatan Netanyahu.”
Personal life

*Was a high school classmate of Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson at Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. *Yoni Netanyahu married Tirza (Tutti) Krasnoselsky on August 17, 1967. *Shortly after their wedding, they flew to the U.S. where Yoni enrolled at Harvard University. *He took classes in Philosophy and Mathematics. He excelled in both and was on the Dean’s List at the end of his first year. *However, feeling restless from being away from Israel, Yoni transferred to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in 1968. *In early 1969, he decided to leave his studies and return to the army to protect his country. *Military life took a strain on his marriage and in 1972 he and Tutti were divorced. *At the time of his death, Yoni was living with his girlfriend of two years, Bruria.


He has two brothers. Benjamin (nicknamed “Bibi”) would later become Prime Minister of Israel from 1996 to 1999. Iddo, youngest out of the three, is a radiologist and writer. Both served in Sayeret Matkal. Parents are Benzion and Cela Netanyahu. Benzion is a professor emeritus of history at Cornell University. He extensively researched the topic of the marranos.

Letters From Yoni

I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people. Any compromise will simply hasten the end, (A letter to his brother Benjamin on his decision to stay in Israel)

As you no doubt know from reading the papers, the situation in Israel is, in a word — catastrophic! Not a day passes, literally, without a border incident, sabotage, mine explosion, murder, ambushes, shootings and setting fire to fields. During all the years of my service and of my living here the situation has never been so tense. In the army, everyone is impatient — when are we finally going to strike back?!! We have complete confidence in our strength. We are capable of anything. (October 1966)

The real cause is the sense of helplessness in the face of a war that has no end. For the war has not ended, and it seems to me that it will go on and on… This is the ‘quiet’ before the next storm. I’ve no doubt that war will come. Nor do I doubt that we will win. But for how long? Until when?.. We’re young, and we were not born for wars alone. (A year after the Six Day War)

In another week I’ll be 23. On me, on us, the young men of Israel, rests the duty of keeping our country safe. This is a heavy responsibility, which matures us early… I do not regret what I have done and what I’m about to do. I’m convinced that what I am doing is right. I believe in myself, in my country and in my future. (1969, on his decision to return to enlist in the IDF)

Death — that’s the only thing that disturbs me. It doesn’t frighten me; it arouses my curiosity. It is a puzzle that I, like many others, have tried to solve without success. I do not fear it because I attribute little value to a life without a purpose. And if I should have to sacrifice my life to attain its goal, I’ll do so willingly. (At age 17)

Source : “Self-Portrait of a Hero: From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, 1963-1976”; Little, Brown and Company; ISBN-10: 0446674613.



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