Netanyahu marks 40th anniversary of his Sayeret Matkal commando unit’s Sabena Rescue Operation

Today PM Netanyahu was at a conference marking 40 Years since the Sabena Rescue Operation. Lieutenant Benjamin Netanyahu participated in the valiant mission and was wounded.

On May 8, 1972, four Palestinian terrorists from Black September boarded Sabena Flight 571 from Vienna to Tel Aviv. Twenty minutes after taking off from a scheduled stop, the hijackers took control of the flight and instructed the captain to continue as planned to Israel’s Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion International Airport). Less than 24 hours later, Israeli commandos, among them today’s most prominent Israeli leaders, launched a daring operation to rescue the flight’s passengers and retake the plane.

16 commandos disguised as airplane technicians in white overalls were able to convince the terrorists that the aircraft needed repair. The commandos stormed the aircraft and took control of the plane in ten minutes, killing both male hijackers and capturing the two women. All the passengers were rescued. Three of the passengers, however, were wounded in the takeover, with one female passenger eventually dying from her wounds.

The two female surviving terrorists were sentenced to life imprisonment, but were later freed as part of a prisoner exchange following the 1982 Lebanon War.

Netanyahu stated at the event that Israel must continue to fight against terrorism, stating “Ultimately, no one will defend the Jews if the Jews do not protect themselves. This is the cardinal rule.”

PM Netanyahu at a Conference Marking 40 Years since the Sabena Operation, 5.4.2012, Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom.

More photos here.

Along with the Entebbe Operation four years later, the rescue of Sabena Flight 571 remains one of the most daring Sayeret Matkal operations known to the public. The operation has been studied and greatly praised by security forces the world over for its efficiency and success.

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PM Netanyahu as an IDF Soldier during an exercise in northern Israel.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – NOVEMBER 1, 1972: In this Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) file photo, Lieutenant Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Israeli President Zalman Shazar during a ceremony honoring the soldiers from the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit who freed the hostages in the Sabena Airlines hijacking, at the President’s reisdence November 1, 1972 in Jerusalem

More:
Israel Hayom – Netanyahu fondly recalls sibling rivalry in 1972 rescue operation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says both siblings fought over who would participate in the 1972 raid to release Sabena passengers • Eventually Ehud Barak had to intervene, to avoid having the two brothers hurt on the same day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his late brother, Yonatan (Yoni), could have both been hurt in a joint operation had it not been for then General Staff Reconnaissance Unit Commander (Sayeret Matkal) Ehud Barak’s insistence that one of them stays out.

When PLO terrorists hijacked a Sabena flight 571 from Vienna to Tel Aviv on May 8, 1972, and landed it at Lod Airport (later renamed Ben-Gurion International Airport) both brothers had been serving in Sayeret Matkal, the most prestigious IDF commando unit. Then unit commander (and current Defense Minister) Ehud Barak immediately began planning a rescue operation.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s eldest brother, Yonatan.

At Wednesday’s official ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the raid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled how his older brother, citing his unique qualifications, tried to convince him to stay out of the operation.

“I have to participate in the operation,” Netanyahu recalled his brother as saying to him. Asked why, he replied, “Because I am very experienced, I think I need to be there.” But the younger sibling refused, saying he would not let his subordinates fight without him. Yoni, who as deputy commander outranked the future prime minister, then suggested they both take part in the planned raid, saying, “We will both go.” This alarmed his brother, who dreaded the prospect of having his parents lose both sons on the same day. “We have a force of 14 people; if one of us or both of us are killed, what would we tell our parents?” he challenged his brother.

Netanyahu recalls how Yoni lashed out at him using “dramatic words that I cannot repeat,” declaring “I am in.” But Netanyahu retorted, saying, “You are not in, we shall go to Ehud.” Barak eventually overruled Yoni.

After receiving the go-ahead, Barak and his unit proceeded to overpower the hijackers. Dressed as flight technicians, they approached the aircraft and convinced the terrorists to let them in, only to then pull out their weapons and successfully free the passengers in 10 minutes. Netanyahu, who was wounded during the rescue operation, had to be evacuated to the tarmac, where he once again met his brother.

“I saw Yoni running toward me. When he saw that I have a big hole on the side of my face, a wide smile appeared on his,” Netanyahu recalled. “You see, I told you, you shouldn’t have gone.”

Four years later, as unit commander, Yoni would die in a daring IDF mission to rescue the Israeli passengers of an Air France plane hijacked by PLO terrorists in Uganda, an operation later renamed Operation Yonatan in his honor.

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6 comments on “Netanyahu marks 40th anniversary of his Sayeret Matkal commando unit’s Sabena Rescue Operation

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