Within a few months of the stunning July 4, 1976, Israeli raid on the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, to free hostages taken by pro-Palestinian terrorists who had hijacked a commercial airliner, three books had been written about the operation. That was just the beginning, as more books followed, along with multiple movies and documentaries.
So, other than to commemorate the upcoming 40th anniversary of the raid, why do we need another book? In Saul David's view, the story "had not yet been properly told"—and he set out to fix that. With Operation Thunderbolt, he has succeeded.
David, a military historian and broadcaster, set out to chronicle the event from multiple perspectives: the Israeli commandos who posed as Ugandan soldiers for the surprise attack, the politicians in Tel Aviv who gave the go-ahead after much deliberation (and more than a little dissension), the hostages themselves and their German and Arab captors. The story unfolds in real time, mostly jumping between Tel Aviv and Entebbe but also ranging to European capitals and, coincidentally with recent news developments, Benghazi. David takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, which is tricky because he was present for none of the developments. But with the help of dozens of sources, he pulls it off.
We are reminded that the operation, historically viewed as an unqualified success, was not without its setbacks. The commandos suffered one fatality—Yoni Netanyahu, brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and three hostages were killed in the crossfire. (A fourth hostage, an elderly woman who had been hospitalized before the raid, was murdered on orders of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who had been personally and politically embarrassed by the raid.)
In a book filled with facts, David also manages to weave in some perspective—and closes on the sobering note that as much as it's celebrated, the raid on Entebbe may have actually harmed long-term prospects for peace in the Mideast.