Operation Thunderbolt

Title:                      Operation Thunderbolt

Author:                  Saul David

David, Saul (2015). Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 And The Raid on Entebbe Airport, The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History. New York: Little, Brown and Company

LCCN:    2015946917

DS119.7 .D2977 2015


  • “The definitive account of one of the greatest Special Forces missions ever, the Raid on Entebbe, by acclaimed military historian Saul David”–Book jacket.
  • “On June 27, 1976, a group of Arab and German terrorists hijacked Air France flight 139 en route from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was diverted to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where the terrorists demanded the release of fifty-three “freedom fighters” in Israeli, Kenyan, and European jails in return for the safe release of the 253 passengers and crew. Idi Amin, whose murderous rule of Uganda was then in its fifth year, made no attempt to intervene. After most of the non-Israeli hostages had been released, Israel faced an impossible choice: give in to terrorism or risk a rescue that had a high chance of failure. In the wake of the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, this decision was almost incalculably difficult. As Saul David recounts in this reconstruction of one of the most complex Special Forces missions ever, Operation Thunderbolt required more than just tactical audacity. In a mere two days, three of the most important men in Israeli history–Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin–marshaled resources, secured necessary international partners, and masterminded the raid that would astonish the world. This book gives us the first comprehensive account, using classified documents from archives in tour countries and interviews with key participants, including Israeli soldiers and politicians, hostages, and a former terrorist. The result brings to life the role that ingenuity and bravery can play against even the most impossible odds and the most committed opponents.”–Book jacket.


  • Day 1. Sunday, 27 June 1976 — Day 2. Monday, 28 June 1976 — Day 3. Tuesday, 29 June 1976 — Day 4. Wednesday, 30 June 1976 — Day 5. Thursday, 1 July 1976 — Day 6. Friday, 2 July 1976 — Day 7. Saturday, 3 July 1976 — Day 8. Sunday, 4 July 1976 — Aftermath.



  • Originally published in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton, July 2015

Date Updated:  March 27, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

On Sunday 27 June 1976, Air France flight 139 left Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel, where security was notoriously tight and landed in Athens, Greece, where security was notoriously light. By the time the plane left for Paris, the 283 passengers had been joined by a team of hijackers led by two German terrorists linked to the anti-fascist Baader-Meinhof gang. Once airborne, they forced the pilot to divert to the Entebbe airport in Uganda. There, the Jewish passengers became hostages, while the others were sent on to Paris. With Ugandan President Idi Amin’s complicity, the terrorists demanded the release of colleagues already in Israeli jails. Israel’s policy was not to negotiate with terrorists. Seven days later, the hostage takers were dead and all but three of the Jewish hostages were back in Israel. Operation Thunderbolt fills in the details.

If this sequence of events rings a bell, it is because a movie was made of the event and many books have been written about the operation—five in the past six years alone. What, then, justifies this one? There are several reasons. It is an exciting, well-told story that keeps a reader’s attention through the step-by-step planning and execution of the rescue attempt. More important, historian Saul David better illuminates the political controversies among Israeli president Yitzhak Rabin and his defense minister, Shimon Peres, and other participants in the operation. And finally, David supports his story with diaries, interviews with the surviving hostages, and official documents recently released.

As might be imagined, worldwide public reaction to the rescue was positive, except, of course, in Muslim and some African countries; official government responses, however, were not. David discusses attempts to condemn the operation in the UN and Britain’s refusal to send a message of congratulations, as had Germany, France, and Switzerland, among others. The United States, writes David, had it both ways: President Ford sent a message expressing his “great satisfaction,” while the State Department was upset that Israel had broken its agreement not to use military equipment supplied by the United States, in this case the C-130 aircraft, outside Israel. (p. 349)

David provides hints at the role Israeli intelligence played. He notes that an “informant” drew a “map to mark the spot” where the murdered hostage Dora Bloch was buried; a copy of the map is included in the book. (p. 360) Then evidence surfaced that Amin had ordered her execution while at the same time claiming she had been returned with the other hostages. At this point, Britain broke relations with Uganda. The mysterious death of Wadie Haddad—the sponsor of the hijacking—was not due to an incurable disease (as was claimed), but rather, according to one account, the work of Mossad and a box of poisoned Belgian chocolates (his favorites) he consumed.[2]

In the end, David asks, did Operation Thunderbolt “make it harder for Israeli politicians to push through compromises required for peace”—even though it saved lives? (p. 373) He leaves the answer to history.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, p. 123).  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at  www.cia.gov.

[2] Pedahzur, Ami v(2009). The Israeli Secret Services And The Struggle Against Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press


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