Lt. Gen. Dan Shamron, a former Chief of Staff for the Israeli Defence Forces, died yesterday. The 13th Chief of Staff, he was a highly decorated soldier, having received a Medal of Distinguished Service for being the first paratrooper to reach the Suez Canal during the Six Day War. However, his name will live on history as the paratroop commander who planned and led the audacious Entebbe Raid in 1976, which successfully freed 103 hijacked hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Without a doubt it was one of the most daring counter-terrorism operations ever conducted.
The incident began on 27 June 1976 when an Air France jet travelling from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by four terrorists, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Badder-Meinhof terrorist group. The plane was eventually forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda and the Israeli government determined on a military solution when it became clear that no Israeli, Jewish or aircrew hostages would be released without the demands being met. The final plan, put forward by Shamron together with the Israeli Special Forces (the Syaret Matkal), was daring and imaginative, but extremely risky.
Thirty-two Israeli Special Forces troops as well as paratroopers, were to fly the 2,500 miles to Entebbe Airport in four C130 Hercules transports, each leaving Israel in a different direction, staying below 100 feet for much of the eight and half hour flight to avoid being detected on radar. On landing, the raiders would then try to fool the terrorists into thinking that the Ugandan President Idi Amin was visiting by approaching in a black Mercedes sedan with two Land Rover escorts which Amin favoured, while the rest of the force were dressed in captured Syrian Special Forces uniforms that were similar to those worn by the PFLP terrorists. The rescue team touched down at 23:01 on 3 July. The ensuing firefight was brief and brutal, lasting just minutes. All the terrorists were killed as well as almost 50 Ugandan troops out of the 80 who were guarding the airport. Although three hostages were killed in the cross fire, the remaining 221 passengers and crew were safely evacuated. The raiders returned to Israel to a tumultuous welcome.
I have been fascinated by the story of this astonishing raid for years and I am pleased to say that we will be covering it when we launch our new Raid series in 2009 (more details to follow closer to the time). Shamron himself was more uncomfortable with the fame that came as a result of the raid, as he remarked in a 2006 interview “I also felt some kind of envy from the military and it was not comfortable for me. Around the world… they look at me like something from a different world, a super super-hero, something not natural. I don\'t like that feeling of being an advertisement.” Though on a lighter note he did mention that he liked the Charles Bronson portrayal of himself in the movie Raid on Entebbe (1977).
Dan Shamron, heralded by Simon Peres as “one of the greatest commanders” the Israeli military had ever known, passed away on the 26 February 2008 as a result of complications from a stroke. He was seventy years old.