Sassy Reuven will speak about his role in the Entebbe rescue
Event hosted by Chabad Park City
On June 27, 1976, an Air France airbus with 248 passengers en route from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine External Operations.
The hijacking set the stage for one of the biggest counter-terrorist hostage rescue missions in modern history.
One of the commandos involved in the mission, Sassy Reuven of the Israeli Defense Force, will tell the story when Chabad Park City brings him in on Tuesday, Feb. 28, for a presentation at Montage Deer Valley.
Chabad Park City is grateful to Montage Deer Valley for housing the event that will be the venue for Reuven’s presentation.
Reuven plans to talk about the mission and what it meant and still means to the worldwide Jewish community.
“I will talk about everything from the beginning, including the hijacking, all the way to the rescue and arriving in Israel,” Reuven told The Park Record during a telephone interview from Calimesa, California. “When I talk, I bring in a different angle. I bring my personal experience of what my mission was.”
At the time of the rescue, Reuven, who was one of about 100 commandos involved, had been with the IDF for a little more than two years. He was six months away from the end of his service.
“I had been involved with other missions prior to this, but I’m not allowed to talk about them,” he said.
The difference between those other missions and the Entebbe rescue, which is known historically as Operation Thunderbolt, is most of the information can be found on the Internet and a number of filmmakers have made documentaries and feature films inspired by the mission that saved 102 of the 106 hostages.
“We had absolutely no idea of how big of an impact the mission would have on the world and the Jewish community,” Reuven said. “While we were told that this thing was big, and that we would bring pride to Jews all over the world, I thought it would be just another operation for me. As a professional soldier, I just knew this was a mission I needed to accomplish, but I didn’t look beyond that.”
Shortly after the airbus was seized, it was diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, and welcomed by then leader Idi Amin, who supported the hijackers.
The passengers were separated into groups, including native Israelis and non-Israeli Jews and held in a deserted area of the airport.
After the non-Israeli Jews were eventually set free, the PFLPEO retained the native Israelis and plane crew as hostages.
Reuven remembered the flight from Israel to Entebbe, which happened covertly to prevent radar detection.
“I had a very long time to think about the mission because the flight took seven long hours,” he said. “[Our destination] was more than 2,500 miles away. It wasn’t just on the other side of the Syrian border or the Lebanese or Egyptian borders. It was in Uganda.”
During one point of the flight, Reuven let his mind drift into “what-ifs.”
“I said to myself, ‘What if something goes wrong? How would we react? We are only a handful of people, so how would we hold positions against a big army?’” he said. “I didn’t, however, think about that for very long.”
Reuven forced himself instead to think about completing the mission.
“I will compare this to a basketball team,” he said. “Teams are not concerned about the other teams. They are concerned about their own roles in how to win the game.”
Once in Entebbe, the commandos separated to their different posts.
“It was carried out in complete, let me repeat, complete surprise,” Reuven said. “On my side of the airport the challenges weren’t that big, but one of my friends who was in the same area I was got shot and injured badly.”
During the raid, 102 hostages were rescued. Ten were wounded and three were killed.
The rescuers suffered one death and five were wounded. Seven hijackers and 45 Ugandans were killed.
“I do need to say this from the bottom of my heart and looking back that although the IDF was such a great military force, everything worked so smoothly because of the hand of God.” Reuven said. “Something from way above had directed the mission and made it successful. One of the generals told me the same thing. He said, ‘God worked overtime that night.’”
Reuven knows the importance of telling this story doesn’t just lie in the fact the rescue was a success.
“This is a message for the younger generation, and that message is bullying,” he said. “Jews and my little country of Israel have been bullied by terrorists and armies throughout the years from the inception of time.
“Now, look how relevant this is. The hijacking was an act of anti-Semitism. And, still, in this day, we still have a lot of anti-Semitism. So, Jews have needed to stand on our toes continually in order to resist attacks.”
The message to stand up against terrorism doesn’t just pertain to Jews.
“Unfortunately, there are attacks on Christians, different colored people and many ethnic groups,” he said. “This is extremely upsetting, and people need to stand tall and resist this.”
Reuven doesn’t see a final solution to these attacks.
“When I proposed to my wife 30 years ago, my future mother-in-law held my hand, looked into my eyes and asked me a question,” he said. “She asked if the Israelis would ever have peace with the Arab countries. And I didn’t think so back then, but it is unfortunate that we still don’t have peace.”
“I don’t think there is a solution. I think there will be war forever. And I think anyone who can create a more vicious organization will follow the plans of what has come in the past. That is unfortunate.”
Reuven’s thoughts on the conflict doesn’t mean he’s thinking about stopping his presentations.
“I am happy even if one person, one single person, comes to me and tells me that because of the presentation he or she has become a stronger Jew,” he said. “I get satisfaction if a group of youngsters can hear the history of the Jews, learn about the mission and understand the importance of being a Jew.
“Looking back, I would be very, very upset if I wasn’t part of that mission.”
Chabad of Park City will host a presentation titled “Operation Thunderbolt” by retired Elite Israeli Defense Force Commander Sassy Reuven at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Montage Deer Valley, 9100 Marsac Avenue. Advanced tickets are $25 for adults and $18 for children and students. Sponsor and preferred section is $180. Tickets will be $30 at the door. To register, visit http://www.jewishparkcity.com/entebbe or call 435-714-8590.
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