Kenya Israel Relations: Remembering Entebbe Rescue of July 4th

This week Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu makes a historic visit to Kenya and Uganda to commemorate the Entebbe Rescue of 4th July, 1976. This was 40 years ago, when Israel launched one of the most daring and  complicated rescue assault in history. Palestinian terrorists had hijacked an Air France plane with more than 100 Israelis and commandeered it to the Entebbe airport in Uganda. Uganda dictator Idd Amin, in full support of the terrorists, provided soldiers to guard the airport. Israel was faced with a daunting task: either to release the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in swapping with the hostages or attempt a rescue. As diplomatic negotiations were underway, Israel planned to fly 4 Hercules planes at midnight 4000 km to Uganda. However, a problem arose.

There would be need for refueling, and so a friendly country was required in East Africa. While several EA countries sympathized with Israel, no country was willing to incur the wrath of  Amin, whose fighting capabilities were legend. Eventually, through much lobbying by Bruce McKenzie, Kenya’s Agriculture minister, Kenya accepted to shoulder the cross. In a surprising night action by Israel’s Sayeret Metkal commandos, the  hostages were rescued within an hour. The commandos killed several Uganda army officers and destroyed their air force planes on the tarmac.

In the attack, Israel lost Yonatan Netanyahu, the leader of the commandos.  Yonatan was the elder brother to Benjamin Netanyahu, who together with a third brother Iddo, were also members of the crack squad. The planes landed in Nairobi to refuel under tight security from Israeli trained GSU elite squads. Kenya was to pay the ultimate sacrifice: Amin vowed to attack Kenya in the morning and eat lunch in Nairobi at noon. He also laid claims on Kenyan land up to within a few km of Nairobi.

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Aware of Uganda’s military prowess, Jomo Kenyatta, who had allowed the Israelis, appealed to them for help. Consequently, Israel reached out to USA, who quickly scrambled a warship to the Indian Ocean near Mombasa as a warning to Uganda. With American support, a buoyed Kenyatta  promised to teach Amin a lesson, and sent military jets to roar along the border as a warning to Amin. Amin bucked, but it was not yet over. He ordered the murder of hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda.

However, this was the beginning of a strong and symbolic relationship between Israel and Kenya, and the rise of Kenya as an East African superpower. The symbolism is therefore not lost Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Kenya to meet Jomo’s son, and to thank Kenya for their sacrifice to help God’s chosen people.