Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sayeret Matkal in Entebbe

Last week, I finished Iddo Netanyahu's latest book סיירת מטכ"ל באנטבה (Book's title in English: Sayeret Matkal in Entebbe). The first part of the book goes into great detail about the planning, drills and execution of the operation. What sets this book apart from other books I've read is that instead of telling the story of Entebbe through the author's eyes, the story is told through in-depth interviews with all the soldiers who participated in the greatest hostage rescue operation of our time. The reader gets an in depth understanding of all the details from the day of the kidnapping to the 'made for the big screen' rescue operation. After writing "Yoni's Last Battle," what was Iddo's reasoning for yet another book about the operation?

Within a month of the operation, Muki Betser - who was 2nd in command during the operation - started mudding Yoni Netanyahu's role in planning and executing the operation before he was killed. Interview after interview given by Muki have shown him as the leading man in this operation, from its start to the exhilarating finale. With his lies sadly becoming the 'facts' even the IDF presents in their official report on the raid (not to mention Muki's book, "Secret Soldier: The True Life Story of Israel's greatest Commando"), Iddo's book tries to set the record straight. His method is simple and devastating: it takes Muki's testimonies (from August 1976 till 2003, including excerpts from his book), and shows how Muki constantly tweaks his testimonies, always contradicting his original report (Given a few days after the raid) and the testimonies of the soldiers who ran side by side with him on Uganda's soil.

Below are a few of the lies Muki has passed as facts over the years ... followed by the truth (in bold):

- Muki was instrumental in the operation's planning. From the moment Yoni returned from the Sinai on Wednesday (29.6.1976), he was the key figure in planning the operation. Muki confirms this in his original testimony after the operation. Muki had little, if anything, to do with any of the planning (some of his testimony clearly show this, be it not knowing the reason for using the Mercedes or when the soldier counts for the vehicles were altered)

- Muki requested to be at the head of his unit when storming the terminal, something he states he had to demand from Yoni. This is the norm in the IDF - commanders lead. There was most likely no request ...

- On the way to the terminal, Muki states that the two Ugandan troops that approached the Mercedes should not have been killed, but bypassed as per the original plan. The drills for the operation included two 'guards', an addition made by Yoni. In the drills, as per various soldiers' testimonies, the guards were always shot at. They had to be killed - had they been left alive or even bypassed, their fire may have killed/injured the troops before they got to the terminal (which was still 150-200 meters away). Some soldiers remember the Ugandan troops cocking their guns - a sign that 'bypassing them' as Muki had requested in the car would probably have had tragic consequences.

- Yoni was at the back of the Mercedes and the orders came from Muki. No soldier interviewed remembers Yoni anywhere but the front of the Mercedes and giving all the orders.

- On the way to the control tower, Muki killed two Ugandans - emptying his clip in the process. The lag this caused as the soldiers waited behind the tower did not delay the storming of the terminal. There is no evidence from the soldiers that Muki actually killed any Ugandan soldiers. That he fired, no one denies. That he stopped and delayed the storming of the terminal, no one denies (including himself). That Yoni screamed at him to advance (a few soldiers mention him screaming, "מוקי קדימה" - "Muki Advance"), no one denies. That Yoni overtook Muki and other soldiers followed suit, no one denies (including Muki). Muki's stalling could have cost many lives (soldiers and hostages) were it not for Yoni's actions. There is testimony from two soldiers who said Muki explained on the plane ride home that his gun had jammed, and that he had not bought a 'double clip,' which was a requirement for the operation, and that forced his 'lengthy' (a matter of seconds) stop.

- Muki missed his entrance (1st of the 4) due to faulty intelligence. Muki, and other soldiers, report that they got updated photos of the terminal (courtesy of the Mossad) in Sharm El Sheikh where they had time to review them. Muki claims the door was sealed shut - it wasn't. The door was just closed and Muki never attempted to open it, instead running to the next entrance.

- Muki entered the main hall side by side with Amir Ofer and Amnon Peled, and had a hand in killing 3 (at times, he claims all 4) of the terrorists in the main terminal. By the time Muki had entered the hall AFTER Amir and Amnon, 3 of the 4 terrorists had been shot and their guns kicked away. Muki, it seems, confirmed the kill on 2 of them. Amos Goren, as per Muki's original testimony, killed the 4th terrorist while entering the main entrance with Muki. Muki did shoot when he entered the hall, but unlike most of his testimonies, his bullets hit lifeless or incapacitated terrorists.

- Muki, in his book, claims that all four aforementioned soldier shot Jean-Jacques Maimoni as he jumped up to celebrate the Israeli arrival. The 3 other soldiers never mention firing at Maimoni, only Muki does. It is important to note that Muki's actions were 100% correct, he had to react and couldn't take a chance that Maimoni was an armed terrorist. That doesn't mean he needs to 'share the blame' of killing the hostage with the other soldiers in the room.

Iddo's work is impeccable. Any reader can not help but be angered by Muki's muddying of the truth and continuous attacks on his dead commander's actions (I only touched on this briefly with the two Ugandan guards). In order to show how this is sadly the norm with Muki, Iddo brings Muki's testimony on various operations:

- Operation Spring of Youth

Muki's unit, which included Yoni under his command, stormed one of the rooms. Muki entered the room at the same time as Zvi Livna and they both killed the terrorist. While Muki was SUPPOSED to storm the room first, it was Zvi who entered the room first and shot the terrorist. Muki confirmed the kill.

- Yom Kippur War

a) 40 Syrian commandos ambushed a group of Sayeret Matkal soldiers. Muki and Yoni led both their squads in storming the Syrian position, killing all 40 commandos. After they were ambushed, Yoni organized his squad under heavy fire and stormed the Syrian position. Muki and his squad provided critical cover fire and the Syrian threat was neutralized.

b) When Yossi Ben Hanan's squadron of tanks was obliterated by Syrian forces within Syrian territory, Muki talked with Yanush Ben Gal and volunteered to lead a squad to rescue Ben Hanan and another survivor. Yoni, as per Yanush's testimony, volunteered Sayeret Matkal for the dangerous rescue operation. He led it successfully and as per Ben Hanan's testimony, was the one giving out the orders throughout the operation.

There is a re-occuring theme here ... Muki volunteers & initiates operations, planning them to perfection and then carries them out flawlessly while others make mistakes that contribute to endangering the mission's success. Yoni, his commander, is a lethargic and disinterested figure, always being 'led' by Muki. It's sad that Muki's testimonies have been accepted as 'truth,' so much so that the few revealed parts of the official IDF report on Entebbe (printed by Haaretz in the early 1990s) follow his stories and hence, are completely inconsistent* with the testimonies of the soldiers who were there! One can only hope that the truth can outlast the many lies of Muki, and that Yoni's essential role in planning and executing this mission will not be taken away from him. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the truth about Operation Entebbe.

* Due to the many holes Muki's 'facts' created, even Dan Shomron got in on the lies. Shomron claimed to have provided Sayeret Matkal on the Thursday night (30.6.1976) with a detailed plan on the storming of the old terminal. This is a pure lie, not even supported by any of Muki's forever changing testimonies. Shomron did present Sayeret Matkal with a plan of storming the old terminal, but it was just another line in the list of potential operations (For example, landing rubber rafts on Lake Victoria) Shomron wanted the Unit to look into.

Click here for a Ynet article about Muki's falsification of history.


Anonymous said...

I have read three of the books written about Entebbe. Iddo's story seems to be the exact account of events. Yoni was, is and will be the hero of this daring rescue. He showed from earlier war events how corageous and committed to the welfare of the jewish nation he was. I guess with Muki, jealousy is a factor here. Made me so sad to read how, brave Yoni lost his life. I always wondered why he was not wearing a bullet proof vest.His story brought tears to my eyes. God bless his soul.

Lori Low said...

This unique tenderhearted but inmensely brave elite soldier of Sayeret Matkal, is something of the Book of Joshua. Perhaps a Joshua of modern Israel.He has left an impression so deep in many of us that,I look at young people in the world today and say: Why could you not learn from the heroes who, trying to make a better world but using harsh force to stop terrorism, have left a legacy so impressive that they will never be forgotten. Such person was Yoni, the soft son and husband, but the selfless israeli fighter who led by example. My salute to this very, very special soul. Rest in peace Yoni, your legacy lives on!!

Anonymous said...

The truth will always come out. Although am not Israeli, I consider Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu to be one of the greatest soldiers of all time. Why should anyone muddy the legacy of a dead soldier who died to save others?

Anonymous said...

Amos likes to claim he missed the fourth terrorist, so perhaps Muki did tag that one.