Entebbe’s 1st Boots on Ground

Entebbe’s 1st Boots on Ground

By Michael A. Morris / michael@atljewishtimes.com

In just 25 minutes nearly 40 years ago, Sassy Reuven secured his place in history.

Chabad of North Fulton Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz hosts Entebbe raider Sassy Reuven on Jan. 20. (photo by Michael A. Morris)

About 70 people joined Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz at Chabad of North Fulton on Jan. 20 to listen to Reuven recount his part in the Raid at Entebbe on July 4, 1976, while America was celebrating its bicentennial. It was one of the most dynamic hostage rescues ever and established that the Israel Defense Forces could strike anywhere.

A hijacking June 27, 1976, put events in motion. “The moment Israel knew that an Air France flight had been hijacked,” Reuven said, “diplomatic and military options were set into motion.”

Reuven was a seasoned commando in the IDF’s elite Red Beret paratrooper unit when he and 28 others were picked for the rescue effort.

The hijacked plane spent four hours at the Benghazi airport before being invited to leave by the Libyan government. Through the next six days while the Jewish hostages and the plane’s pilots sat in the old terminal of the Entebbe airport in Ethiopia, the IDF prepared for a rescue if negotiations failed.

About 70 people listen to the Jan. 20 presentation on the Raid at Entebbe. (by Michael A. Morris)

The French bought the hostages time. Mossad agents posed as transportation business owners seeking to expand into the Entebbe airport to ensure that the rescue planes could refuel. The Israeli air force took detailed pictures of the airport in a commercial jet while pretending to attempt several emergency landings (failing to land, of course, and returning to a neighboring country).

In addition, as luck would have it, an Israeli firm built the old terminal in Entebbe.

Reuven was made second in command of his unit, under Nechemya Tamari (who had attained the rank of major general when he died in a helicopter accident in 1994). The unit was cut to 15 soldiers and was told the mission the day before the rescue attempt. “Every man in my unit was given two years and one day of special operations training for this mission.”

The unit was first on the ground in Entebbe, and Reuven led the way as the first man to step onto Ugandan soil at 11:30 p.m. The plane was still moving down the runway when the last man in his unit jumped off.

The unit’s job was to neutralize any terrorists and any of Idi Amin’s military who engaged from the new terminal and to secure the tower. Within 25 minutes, the mission was accomplished with one (serious) injury, and Reuven and his men were racing to assist the unit rescuing the hostages.

“The most amazing thing that happened in my part of the raid: 10,000 bullets were fired in an incredibly short period of time,” Reuven said. “No hostages or civilians were hit. We only sustained one injury, and no plane that was taking us home was damaged. That seems impossible.”

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