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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Operation Thunderbolt

Flight 139 and the raid on Entebbe Airport


Saul David              Hodder & Staughton 2 June 2016 (PB)

This episode has perhaps faded from memory for most people. But David’s book recounts one of the most daring hostage-release operations ever mounted. It profoundly affected the way in which terrorists sought to exploit international airline travel.


The problem facing the Israeli government was that Air France 139 ended up landing (under the guidance of 4 PFLP terrorists ) at Entebbe in Uganda, which at that time was led by the lunatic Idi Amin, who, it soon became clear, was very much on the side of the terrorists - for reasons best known to himself.


Negotiations for the release of the hostages therefore never looked wholly promising. At the outset it was doubted whether a form of military rescue could be organised, the distances being overwhelming. But the Israeli military came up trumps, and David recounts the agonies of decision-making as the Israeli government debated whether to sanction it.


The author draws from a wide variety of sources to give the reader an impressive 360 degree view of the unfolding crisis, and its resolution. Although readers know that there is a (relatively) happy ending, this does nothing to diminish the drama of the narrative. Apart from the fascination of how a plan is developed and executed, there are multiple threads of human interest: David explores the different reactions of the hostages to their incarceration, and their interaction with each other, and indeed with the terrorists. The Israeli hostages had been separated from the other nationals early during their imprisonment in a rancid derelict terminal at the airport – causing waves of unease from all of them, and flashbacks for some.


David is a little unsure on aviation matters: how the Israeli Air Force C 130s are handled is tabloidesque, and their pilots use ‘Jeppson’ charts rather than the Jeppesen that the rest of the world knows…


A spell-binding book, although perhaps not one to read on an airliner!


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