Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, a former chief of Israel’s general staff and the paratroop commander who planned and led the storied 1976 raid in which Israeli troops freed 103 hijacked hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, died yesterday in Israel. He was 70.
The cause was the effects of a stroke he suffered three weeks ago, a spokeswoman at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, where General Shomron had first been treated, told The Associated Press. He died at the Beit Lowenstein Rehabilitation Center in Raanana, The Jerusalem Post said.
On the night of July 3, 1976, Israeli commandos and paratroopers flew 2,500 miles in transport planes to the Entebee airport, surprised and killed hijackers who had demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners, rescued the captives taken from a hijacked Air France plane, and flew back to Israel with them.
The raid was punctuated by what seemed like a Hollywood touch. Several commandos rolled out of one of the planes in a black Mercedes carrying a Ugandan flag in the hopes that soldiers at the airport loyal to the Ugandan ruler Idi Amin would think he was in the car and fail to realize that a rescue operation was under way.
The Israeli soldiers and General Shomron were greeted as heroes when they returned home, and the raid gained a legendary aura.
But the operation did not succeed without cost. Three Israelis who were among the hostages died in the raid, as did Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, the commander of a special forces unit in the raid and the brother of a future Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a 2006 interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv, General Shomron, the chief infantry and paratroop officer when he led the raid, acknowledged, “I like in particular the movie in which Charles Bronson portrayed me,” recalling “Raid on Entebbe” (1977).
But, he said: “I also felt some kind of envy from the military and it was not comfortable for me. Around the world, until today, 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.”
General Shomron was born on a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley. He fought as a paratrooper in the Sinai campaign in 1956 and was recognized as the first Israeli paratrooper to reach the Suez Canal in the 1967 war. He was picked as the chief of the general staff in 1987 and held the post until he retired from military service in 1991.
In October 2006, General Shomron was appointed to investigate the performance of Israel’s armed forces during the fighting in southern Lebanon against Hezbollah guerrillas. In a report, he criticized Israeli commanders for poor organization.
General Shomron, who was chairman of Israel Military Industries after he retired, is survived by his wife and two children.
The Entebbe raid ended a harrowing week for the remaining captives who had been aboard an Air France airbus bound from Tel Aviv to Paris that had been hijacked shortly after a stop in Athens.
The plane, which originally carried 244 passengers and 12 crew members, had been flown to Libya for refueling, then on to Entebbe Airport, where the remaining hostages were held in a dusty, unused old terminal.
In his interview with Maariv, General Shomron reflected on the significance of the Entebbe raid, putting aside for the moment the spectacular manner in which it was carried out.
“The hijacking of the Air France plane and the demands of the hijackers to release Palestinian terrorists came during a difficult period for the war on terror, which operated then on the system of hostage-taking,” he said, citing the heavy toll from past attacks on the Israeli city of Maalot and the seizure of the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv.
“We were busy in those days to convince the world that one does not bow to terrorism,” he said.
After learning of the general’s death, the Israeli president, Simon Peres, called him “one of the greatest commanders” the Israeli military had ever known and said the Entebbe raid “earned its mythic status since we all saw it as impossible.”
General Shomron was asked in 2006 about his most vivid recollection of the rescue.
“When the hostages board the evacuation plane, are helped up, each one checking his family that everyone is present,” he said. “That was a strong moment that I can’t forget.”