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One Brother Recalls Family Loss at Entebbe
That's the day -- which just happened to correspond to the American bicentennial -- when Israel pulled off one of the most daring and successful military operations in its short history, a day in which counterterrorism proved the clear victor over terror.
Three planes carrying more than 200 Israeli commandos rescued 101 Israelis and Jews who were being held hostage at Uganda's Entebbe airport by Palestinian and European terrorists.
But the anniversary of that date is not a celebration for everyone. Three hostages were killed in the fighting, and another, an elderly woman, was believed to have been murdered in a Ugandan hospital. And there was one famous military casualty: Lt. Col. Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu -- the older brother of former Israeli prime minster and current opposition leader of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu -- commanded the mission and was killed in the fighting.
"For my family, Entebbe is an open wound," said Netanyahu, speaking in Philadelphia Sept. 7 at a community event marking the 30th anniversary of "Operation Thunderbolt."
Both Yonatan and Benjamin Netanyahu attended Cheltenham High School in the 1960s; at the time, their father, Benzion Netanyahu, taught history at Dropsie College in Philadelphia.
In 1986, a memorial to Yonatan was erected outside the National Museum of American Jewish History in Old City. A small, 30th-anniversary commemoration event was held on July 4; a much larger one took place last week to coincide with the former premier's visit to the United States.
More than 400 people gathered outside the museum building near the sculpture that honors Yonatan Netanyahu's legacy. Mayor John F. Street and Israel Consul General Uriel Palti attended the ceremony, during which Mikveh Israel Rabbi Albert Gabbai recited the Sephardic version of the memorial prayer for the dead.
In an emotional speech delivered in the fading sunlight, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the night -- at the time, he was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- when he received the call from Israel, and learned that his brother had been shot and killed by a Ugandan soldier.
"I know you might think this was the worst moment of my life, but it wasn't. It was the second worst moment of my life," he said, adding that he drove through the night to Ithaca, N.Y., where his parents were living, to deliver the news in person.
"A brother's pain, however piercing, is a distant second to the grief of parents who lost their child," he said. "I've met many parents who have lost their children. I grieve for them as I grieved for my own parents.
"The rescue at Entebbe symbolized the remarkable transformation of the Jewish people," he continued. "It represented our refusal to die, our refusal to be victims."
The ceremony was not Netanyahu's only stop, locally or regionally.
He flew into Washington, D.C., the previous day, where he met with Vice President Dick Cheney, and reportedly urged the United States to remain vigilant in efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The dangers posed by the Shi'ite Islamic regime in Tehran proved a recurring theme at three public appearances Netanyahu had in Philadelphia on Sept. 6. He gave a lunchtime lecture at the Union League of Philadelphia, and later spoke before an auditorium full of students and professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.
A Second Chance at the Top Spot?
Very much an active player in Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu -- who emerged on the international stage more than 20 years ago as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations -- seemed to be an early favorite to follow Ariel Sharon as prime minister. But in the March 28 elections, voters delivered the right-leaning Likud Party a crushing blow, seemingly dashing Netanyahu's dreams of regaining the top post.
But now that events in Gaza and Lebanon have put Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's realignment plan on hold, and since Olmert has been roundly criticized -- in part by Netanyahu himself, as well as other Likudniks -- for his handling of the recent war with Hezbollah, Netanyahu's political future seems more of an open-ended question.
Following the memorial program, hundreds of people filed into the Mikveh Israel sanctuary for a panel discussion aptly titled "Entebbe to Today: Terrorism in Transition."
Moderated by CBS news anchor Mark Howard, the panel featured Netanyahu and R. James Woolsey, who from 1993 to 1995 served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Bill Clinton.
Much of the talk centered on Iran -- a backer of Hezbollah in the recent war against Israel -- and whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for destroying the Jewish state.
"It takes a lot to make the Whahabists look like moderates," said Woolsey, adding that Sunni extremist groups want to establish Islamic rule from Iran to Spain, but Ahmadinejad hopes that by destroying Israel, he can bring back the "Hidden Imam," a messianic figure whose appearance Shi'ites would view as a precursor to an end-of-the-world type of scenario.
For his part, Netanyahu admitted that American and Israeli intelligence officials did some guesswork regarding Saddam Hussein and his unconventional weapons program, but, he argued, the evidence on Iranian nuclear ambitions is clear-cut.
"If the president is committed to that goal, then everybody in his right mind should support him," Netanyahu said with regard to President George W. Bush's expressed policy of blocking Iran's uranium-enrichment program.
During a question-and-answer session, Netanyahu was asked about news reports that Israel was considering freeing Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the release of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two soldiers kidnapped on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah. According to reports, Israel would negotiate with the Lebanese government and not directly with Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization.
"No, I don't want to speculate on a rumor. I've always opposed releasing people with blood on their hands," he replied. "If we do, we will condemn unto death or kidnapping" a lot more Israelis.
Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, got up in front of the audience at the end of the program and said that he, too, was opposed to an exchange in which prisoners convicted of killing Israelis would be set free. And he said he was prepared to speak out against it, even if it resulted in a dismissal from his post.
Economics at a Glance
Earlier at Wharton, Netanyahu spoke of his views on global economics, and spent much of the time defending his tenure as finance minister, where he said he worked to create more free- market competition and shrink the cost of operating the government. He was both hailed and panned for his measures to cut welfare and social-service benefits.
"You have to lower the cost of government. The global economy is telling you to do that. You have to lower taxes," he said, taking time to draw his own charts and graphs on the electronic blackboard.
Of his views on the global economy -- a subject he'll examine in a new book he's writing -- a rising tide lifts all boats.
"Politicians think of economics as a zero-sum game. If all economics were a zero-sum game, we would still be in the caves," he said. "Everybody can win." u