Few operations have held as much drama, courage, and strategic brilliance as “Operation Thunderbolt.” For those uninitiated, this was the daring rescue mission orchestrated by Israel in 1976 to save 102 hostages from an airplane hijacked and redirected to Entebbe Airport in Uganda. 

But what were the pivotal moments that made this operation a success? And how did they unfold in a tight sequence against all odds?

This exploration will dive deep into the chronological events that defined Operation Thunderbolt. We’ll piece together a narrative of bravery, meticulous planning, and a relentless pursuit of justice. 

We’ll journey through the tense hours and the high-stakes decisions. The goal is to provide a lens into the hearts and minds of those who embarked on what seemed like an impossible mission.

Commandos from Sayeret Matkal with the Mercedes they used to deceive the Ugandans (Wikimedia Commons)

It isn’t just an account of military prowess for the general reader. It’s a tale of human spirit, resilience, and the lengths a nation would go to ensure the safety of its citizens.

The Hijacking: A Crisis Begins

On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 took off from Tel Aviv, bound for Paris with a layover in Athens. The vacationers and crew aboard could never have fathomed that their journey would intersect with political intrigues. 

Shortly after the plane left Athens, four hijackers seized control. Two came from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO). The other two were from Germany’s Revolutionary Cells.

Their demands? The release of 40 Palestinians held in Israel and 13 other detainees incarcerated in Kenya, France, Germany, and Switzerland.