On July 4, 1976, as dazzling multi-colored fireworks burst high in the sky across the United States, Americans celebrated the 200th anniversary of their country’s freedom. Little did anyone in the land of the free and home of the brave — or anywhere else for that matter — realize that about 7,000 miles away a group of Jews were secretly celebrating their newly-won freedom. For shortly after the stroke of midnight, on that fateful morning 36 years ago, 102 Jewish hostages were being rushed into C-130 Hercules military planes by Israeli commandos who had just pulled off arguably the most stunning rescue mission in history.
It’s all in this month’s cover story. The tension. The drama. The shock. The outrage. The ecstasy. And the agony (four hostages and one commando were killed).
Even if you heard it before, you probably have not heard it in detail from the perspective of a Torah observant Jew who was one of the hostages. Gilbert Weill’s firsthand account breathes new life into the events. Ultimately, it confirms that a string of coincidences conspired to make the operation a phenomenal success, rather than a potential disaster.
In our vernacular, of course, there is no such thing as a coincidence. As someone so aptly put it: A coincidence is a letter from G-d… sent anonymously.
The hardened secular Israeli (or hardened anyone) will tell you it was not miraculous. It was meticulous planning. It was human effort. But how could planning account for the “coincidence” that Entebbe Airport had originally been constructed by an Israeli contracting firm, giving the Israelis exact blueprints, and allowing the construction of replica buildings for training the troops? Or the fact that a French-Jewish passenger who had been released by mistake had military training and “a phenomenal memory,” which provided detailed intelligence on the situation at Entebbe Airport?
Furthermore, even as meticulous as the Israelis were they missed some vital details, such as the fact that the color of Idi Amin’s new Mercedes was white, not black, and therefore when disguised Israeli commandos drove up to the first roadblock in the wrong-colored car, rather than lulling the guards it alerted them that something was amiss.
And even if all the details had been worked out they had to be executed to near perfection. Yet they were not. One of the lead commandos, Muki Betser, in his autobiography, Secret Soldier, details numerous potentially fatal flaws in training, planning and execution, including the one that led to the death of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the end, of course, it was a sensational success. For the person sensitive to the way Hashem delivers anonymous letters it was nothing short of miraculous. Such is the sensitivity of our interviewee, Gilbert Weill. Beyond the excitement, drama and joy – and tragedy – his account confirms that it was nothing less than the Hidden Hand of the One Above that made Entebbe a success.