Yoni Netanyahu: the story of a hero



Last known photo of Netanyahu, taken shortly before his death as the head of Operation Entebbe. (Wikimedia Commons)

Yoni Netanyahu was a living example to the statesman of the world that terrorism can be defeated – if the nations of the world have the will to fight back.

Yesoni Netanyahu, the famous hero of the Entebbe operation, was killed in action 45 years ago on July 4. Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother was called Jonathan (Yonatan) and is commonly remembered as Yoni. He died fighting anti-Israel terrorists on July 4, 1976, just as the world’s oldest democracy was celebrating its bicentenary. Yoni died in a heroic effort that succeeded in freeing more than 100 hijacked Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.

America’s commemoration of freedom shared world headlines with Israel’s celebration of the release of the hostages.

The audacity of the Israeli commandos has captured the imagination of the world like no other counterterrorism action in history. The books and movies are reminiscent of Entebbe’s rescue, but there is more to the story. Much more.

Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips

Everyone knows that Yoni Netanyahu was a hero long before he commanded the Entebbe operation. He played a key role in many other crucial Israeli security operations, demonstrating courage and bravery under the most dangerous of circumstances. He was a living example to the statesman of the world that terrorism can be defeated – if the nations of the world are willing to fight back.

Yoni was born in New York City to a family of dedicated Zionists who greeted the news of Israel’s creation by packing and settling there in 1948. He returned to the United States in 1963 where his father, a Prominent scholar of Jewish studies, Benzion Netanyahu, (1910-2012), accepted a professorship in Philadelphia.

After graduating from high school in a Philadelphia suburb in 1964, Yoni returned to Israel to join the military, and it didn’t take long for him to rise through the ranks to lead a unit of elite paratroopers.

The mid-1960s were a time of increasing danger for Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization, created in 1964 with the aim of “liberating” all of “Palestine” from the Israelis, had started organizing terrorist attacks across Israel’s borders – and they were indeed borders. precarious. At that time, before the 1967 war, Israel was only 15 kilometers wide at its strategic midsection, and all major Israeli cities were within striking distance of Yasser Arafat terrorists.

Yoni did not fear the possibility of losing his life in the war to protect Israel from its enemies.

“Death does not scare me,” he wrote to a friend. “I’m not afraid of it because I attribute little to a life without a goal. And if it is necessary for me to give my life to achieve an important goal, I will gladly do so.

Fight Black September

The path that led to Yoni’s fame within the ranks of the Israeli commandos may have started in 1971 by fighting the Black September Organization, founded by Arafat’s Fatah faction. One of the first attacks in Black September was the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tal. One of the assassins has earned a permanent place in the history of savagery by drinking the blood of his victim in full view of photographers.

In 1972, a unit of Black September committed the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich.

Yoni was a member of a commando unit sent on the night of April 19, 1973 to Beirut to attack the planners of the Munich massacre.

Israeli commandos have landed on a Lebanese beach and slipped into Beirut. Yoni and his unit visited the apartment of Black September leader Muhammad Youssef Al-Najjar (Abou Youssef). He was not originally assigned to the mission; Yoni volunteered.

The last to leave the apartment, Yoni grabbed a bag of papers just as the Lebanese police jeeps arrived. The documents contained operational plans for the PLO terrorist network across Israel. Yoni’s discovery undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives.

More heroism

Details of another example of Yoni’s heroism can be found in Moshe Dayan’s autobiography. The story of my life. Dayan remembers how Yoni suffered a serious injury during the Six Day War and yet returned to his military unit and fought valiantly in the Yom Kippur War, despite his permanent injuries.

Yoni and his unit “tracked down and killed over 40 Syrian commandos who had landed behind our lines,” Dayan wrote.

After that, Yoni was in charge of an extraordinary mission that saved Lt. Col. Yossi Ben Hanan from behind enemy lines. Again, Yoni volunteered. He had heard a radio transmission about a seriously injured tank officer and led his men on foot, braving a non-stop artillery barrage.

Recalling the rescue of Ben Hanan, Dayan wrote, “I don’t know how many young men there are like Yoni. But, I am convinced that there is enough to ensure that Israel can meet the grim tests it will face in the future. “

Dayan’s memoir was published before the Entebbe operation. Yoni’s last name is not revealed by Dayan in the book. His interpretation of Yoni seems visionary in retrospect.

Self-portrait of a hero is a must read; it contains Yoni’s letters to family and friends from 1963, when he entered high school in suburban Philadelphia, just days before the hostage rescue at Entebbe. His intellect, patriotism, compassion, dedication to duty and leadership are all in the spotlight, amplifying the loss of a person who had just turned 30.

The book has had a profound effect on its readers for decades. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and get a copy. You too will be forever changed.

Moshe Phillips is the national director of the US division of Herut North America.


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