I have been to Israel 45 times, and every time my spiritual life has been enriched. I recently took a video cameraman with me and had him shoot on the fly as I led a pilgrimage group through the land. We began in Tel Aviv, and went from there to Tiberias in the north, and then back to Jerusalem.
I’ll continue to share some of the sermons I presented from that trip with you. As I do so, I think you’ll come to understand why a person once wrote, “A pilgrimage to the Holy Land converts the Bible from black and white into Technicolor.”
My next message was presented at the Herzl Cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. There we’ll hear a story of incredible bravery about how God’s hand empowers the Israeli Defense Forces.
Prophecy of Israel’s Military Power
One of the most interesting and yet somber places in all of Israel is the Herzl Cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. It is Israel’s equivalent to the United States’ Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a place that pilgrimage groups rarely visit, but it’s a place I always make a point to visit.
I want to focus on one grave in particular at the Herzl Cemetery. You’ll find it has a big wreath on it because this is the grave of the brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The grave is his oldest brother’s grave, that of Yoni Netanyahu.
I want to tell you the story of this man, and I’ll begin by reading a prophecy. This prophecy is taken from Zechariah 12 and it begins in verse 6 where it talks about the end times and the things that are going to happen in the land of Israel. The passage says, “In that day I will make the governors of Judah like a fire pan in the woodpile and like a fiery torch in the sheaves. They shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place in Jerusalem.”
And then in verse 8 it reads, “In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”
One of the prophecies about Israel in the end times is that the nation will become a great military power. That’s a prophecy that’s been fulfilled in our day and time. It’s hard to believe because we are talking about a nation the size of New Jersey, and yet it’s always ranked as one of the top 15 military powers in the world, and probably number one in the effective use of its military power. We’ve seen many examples of it’s military power. Just look at the 1967 War or the Yom Kippur War. Miraculous things have happened then!
The Rescue at Entebbe
I want to tell you about one of the military miracles that has to do with this man, Yoni Netanyahu.
Yoni was born in New York City in 1946 while his father was serving as a Professor of History at Cornell University. He was the eldest of three sons. He joined the IDF in 1964 when he was only 18 years old and volunteered for the Paratroopers Brigade where he excelled. Yoni was given command of a paratrooper company which he led into battle in the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War. He was only 20 years old.
After the war, Yoni married and he and his wife moved to the United States at the urging of his father, again who was a professor. He next attended Harvard University, but Yoni didn’t like the scholarly life, so he left Harvard after a year and then decided to come back to Israel. He had a military spirit about him. That’s all he wanted was to be in the military.
In the early 70’s, Yoni joined the Israeli Special Forces and led raids on terrorist groups and their leaders. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when he was only 27 years old, he commanded the Special Forces unit against Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. He earned the Medal of Distinguished Service which is the third highest medal given in the Israeli military. He then volunteered to serve as a tank commander and was given command of the tank forces in the Golan Heights.
In June of 1975, Yoni left the armored core and returned to the Special Forces as a unit commander. Hardly had he returned when we come to the greatest event in his life. In 1976, an Air France airliner took off from Tel Aviv loaded with people en route to Paris, France. The airliner stopped in Athens to pick up passengers and let others off. When it stopped in Athens four terrorists got on the plane. After it had taken off, the terrorists took over the plane and diverted it to Northern Africa where it was refueled. Then they took the plane to Entebbe, Uganda. All of this was prearranged by Idi Amin who was a conspirator in this plan. He knew the terrorists were going to abduct the planeload of passengers and he was fully cooperating in it.
So, the terrorists took the plane to Entebbe and there they got all the people off the plane and put them into an abandoned airport. Entebbe had just opened a new airport, and so they put all of their hostages all in the old abandoned airport. Then, after a few days, the terrorists demanded the release of 40 Palestinians and 13 other terrorists who were being held in various countries.
The terrorists released the non-Jews, which was about 85 of the 285 passengers. They also offered to let the crew of 12 go, but the crew members declared they wouldn’t leave their passengers behind. They refused to go home and so stayed with the Jews. The terrorists then threatened to kill all the Jews if their demands were not met.
Israel agreed to negotiate with the captors to the astonishment of many people. The reason the Israeli officials were negotiating with the terrorists was because they were delaying for time. While they were negotiating they began to consider their options.
One of the options that the Israeli officials considered was beyond anybody’s imagination. They were considering sending a rescue crew to Entebbe, Uganda to rescue the Jewish hostages. That was an eight hour flight one way!
The Israelis had three advantages. First, they were able to interview the released passengers and find out how many terrorists there were, which was a total of eight. They found out where the people had been put and how they were being kept. And so, they were able to get a lot of insider information.
Secondly, and this is unbelievable, an Israeli construction company was the one who built the old airport. This Israeli construction company had all the plans for the old airport. When Yoni was appointed to be the leader of the group, he took hay bales and put them on the ground and outlined the entire airport so that they could practice attacking the airport and know exactly how it was laid out, even every room.
The third advantage Israel had was that nobody under the sun, including any Israeli, ever thought of the possibility of a raid because it was simply too far away to reach.
Well, the raid did happen, and Yoni was the one who led it. On July 3, 1976, the rescue team left Tel Aviv for Uganda. They flew for eight hours at 100 feet, trying to invade all of the radar. They finally arrived at midnight on July 4, 1976, when we were celebrating American history, that’s when they arrived in Entebbe. The rescue team had four C-130 Hercules aircraft. Those planes carried the assault force, with Yoni and the medical and communication crews. They also carried a military unit whose sole purpose was to secure the perimeter of the airport. There was also another military unit whose only purpose was to destroy all the MiG Fighters on the ground at the airport so nobody could pursue them. And, there was also a crew that could refuel their planes once they landed in Uganda.
The first airplane carried Yoni’s assault group. What they had done is they had gone all over Israel looking for a very old black Mercedes like the one Idi Amin always traveled in. They took two Land Rovers which always accompanied him, too, and they filled the Land Rovers with soldiers. They filled the black Mercedes with Yoni and his assault crew. Before the plane even stopped at the end of the runway, they rolled out and started driving towards the abandoned airport.
Unfortunately, Yoni’s assault group didn’t know that the week before Idi Amin had bought a white Mercedes, so as they approached the airport in a black Mercedes, the guards knew right away that it wasn’t Idi Amin. They stepped out onto the road and told the Mercedes to halt. When they did so, one of the Israeli soldiers shot both of the guards with a pistol that had a silencer and killed one, but missed the second. As they drove by the guard who hadn’t died, he picked up his automatic weapon and started firing, which then alerted the people in the airport. Yoni then yelled, “We’ve got to get in there. We’ve got to go now!” His team started running towards the airport as fast as they could.
The results of the raid are literally amazing. Let me give them to you here precisely. The entire raid took only 53 minutes. All the hijackers were killed. Some 30 Ugandan soldiers were killed and 11 Uganda MiG’s were destroyed on the ground. Also, three hostages were killed, because when Yoni and his men rushed in, they immediately began yelling in Hebrew, “On the floor! On the floor! Do not stand up.” But, some of the hostages got confused and stood up and everybody who stood was shot. Also, only one Israeli soldier was killed in the entire raid, and that sadly was Yoni Netanyahu. At 30 years old, he died as the leader of the raid.
Later the next day, Idi Amin rushed to the area where all this happened. He was so enraged at what had happened that when he found out that one of the passengers, a 75 year old woman who had been taken to a hospital nearby, he ordered his soldiers to go and drag her out into the hospital yard and shoot her point blank, and they did. So, in total four hostages were lost.
The official book about the raid called, The Raid at Entebbe, was written by an Israeli Jew, and it ends amazingly with a quote from the New Testament. The book quotes John 15:13 which says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”
This was an amazing raid and it’s one of the most incredible military performances in modern day history. It’s also a fulfillment of the prophecy that in the end times the Israeli Armed Forces will be like a fire among sheaves of wood and like David against Goliath.