Yoni, the ill-fated hero of Entebbe | Culture


It was watching the Batsheva Dance Company dance the other day and thinking again of Yoni, Yonatan Netanyahu, the young, heroic and ill-fated Israeli special operations colonel, the Sayeret or Ha Yehida, Unity, as they call it, who was killed by a Ugandan sniper in Entebbe (he was the only Israeli soldier to die in the attack). What is logical - to link the dance and Yoni - because the Batsheva is also from Israel and one of the emblematic choreographies of its director Ohad Naharin, his hypnotic version of the traditional Jewish song Cast My Yodea, the company dances surprisingly in the latest film about the audacious hostage rescue operation at the Ugandan airport (7 days in Entebbe, 2018). The core of the film is the 51 minutes of vertigo of the attack of the Israeli commandos (paratroopers of the Unit and members of the elite brigade Golan) after landing at dawn on July 4, 1976 aboard their aircraft C-130 Hercules in a show of excellence of special operations, if you can describe an action in which 35 people died: three hostages, the six terrorists, twenty Ugandan soldiers, four air traffic controllers executed later by Idi Amin, who also made one person disappear. hostage who was hospitalized in a hospital, and Yoni, Ha Mefaked, "The commander" of the raid. The attackers destroyed the entire Ugandan air force (11 Mig fighters).

For years, since I saw the first film version of those dramatic events, Victoria in Entebbe (1976) my favorite character was Wilfried Bose, Boni (Boni against Yoni!), the tormented German terrorist recruited by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who led the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 (246 passengers and 10 crew members) and which he embodied in the film Helmunt Berger, then still on the crest of the wave after of his work with Visconti. Burt Lancaster also appeared in the film, by the way. Actually the casting was the repera because they also appeared Elizabeth Taylor, Anthony Hopkins (as Yizhak Rabin) and the former girl of The Exorcist, Linda Blair, who would have liked Father Merrin to deal with Idi Amin. The fact that in another immediately subsequent production, Operation Thunderbolt (1977), the German terrorist interpreted by my then venerated Klaus Kinski, did nothing but increase my interest in the character. In a third film, Raid on Entebbe, also from 1977, the kidnapper was the least known - despite being part of the legendary 7 magnificent- Horst Buchhollz-, but of course Peter Finch (Rabin) and solid Charles Bronson shadowed him, as did the general who directed the operation, Dan Shomron. In the new movie of last year the actor who plays Bose is Daniel Brühl.

However, Yoni, as he was called by everyone, including his soldiers, Yonatan Netanyahu (elder brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu). It's easy for me to overlook at first because in Victoria in Entebbe he interpreted it with remarkable lack of epic and in an obvious case of miscasting, Richard Dreyfuss !, the same year of Goodbye girl.

An image of the film '7 days in Entebbe'.
An image of the film '7 days in Entebbe'.

The arrogant command chief took me the good friend Max Hastings, author of the biography Yoni, Hero of Entebbe (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979). I read it compulsively trying to understand how such a character develops and hoping to discover also the fractures and weaknesses of a man with whom, initially, I did not identify more than that he also loved lemon cake and read Alistair McLean. Israel found in Yoni (and in his sacrifice) an excellent figure to promote his armed forces. An Ari Ben Canaan (the protagonist of Exodus, of Leon Uris, embodied in the cinema by Paul Newman) of flesh and bone, a true will know that essentialized the old virtues of Palmach and the ideal of kibbutznik. Prototype of the introspective warrior and lover of his country, Yoni was attractive-he even had curls-brave and before entering combat he reminded his soldiers of the feats of the Maccabees. With his death he also exemplified the fundamental principle of the Israeli army that officers should always be in the lead, even if it costs them the same ("the first went and the first fell").

In his biography, for which he interviewed the family, friends, commanders and soldiers of the character, in addition to touring the places of their battles and reading their correspondence, Hastings follows the life of Yoni from his childhood to his agony on the airport runway in Entebbe, aged 31, after haranguing his men telling them that they were going to be the best and reminding them of the essential factor of special operations: "Speed, speed!". Born in New York on March 12, 1946, Yoni was the eldest of the three children (all three served in Unity) of a Jewish intellectual committed to the most radical Zionism and who supported the Irgun. From the cradle he was destined to adventure and fight for Israel because his godfather was none other than Colonel John Henry Patterson, the killer of the lions devouring men of the Tsavo and commander of the Jewish Legion, the germ of the Haganah and the IDF.

Helmunt Berger in 'Victoria en Entebbe'.
Helmunt Berger in 'Victoria en Entebbe'.

In 1964, Yoni entered the Israeli army to perform military service and joined the paratroopers, where he soon became known for his physical skills and courage. He participated in confrontations with the fedayeen and in the Six Day War (1967) he fought in the Sinai and was wounded in the Golan Heights when rescuing a wounded man. He returned to the US to study at Harvard but returned to military life already as a lieutenant in a unit of the Sayeret, the tough Israeli special operations corps. He fought in missions against the Palestinian guerrillas and in the Yom Kippur war he carried out heroic actions against the Syrians and won the coveted Medal of Distinguished Services. In 1973 he reinvented himself as a tanker, taking advantage of the vacancies in the weapon left by the bloody Yom Kippur war (it is known that the Israeli tank commanders always keep their heads out of the turret), and commanded a company of the legendary tanks. Centurion, from where he jumped to send a paratrooper unit. And from there, to Entebbe, where the bullet fired from the control tower of the airport was waiting for him, which obliquely pierced his torso, tearing organs and arteries and leaving him in the back. Yoni, Achilles de la Sayeret, fell precisely because he stopped for a moment and became a target for the Ugandan snipers.

Hastings does not deny that he was a very brave man, but also observes some dark points in his command capacity

Hasting draws up in his book about Yoni the portrait of a complex type, but gives the sensation of not finishing the job and some elements are only suggested. What is explained very well if you remember the ordeal that happened with that biography. He tells it in the chapter that he dedicates to Yoni in his own memories Going to the wars (Macmillan, 2000). The family and the Israeli army retreated (in the meantime the government of Shimon Peres had fallen) and menacingly disavowed the biography; the editor was wrinkled and the book could only see the light quite expurgated materials that could affect national security and the image of the hero. Hastings considers that one of the darkest chapters of his life.

The Yoni that he discovered - and that he liked less than Avigdor Kalahani, the star of the tanquistas, burned as The English Patient in Khan Yunis in 1967 and who stands out in his compendium of great fighters Warriors (Harper Collins, 2005) -, was a culturally and intellectually limited man, who abandoned his studies at Harvard not only out of a sense of duty but because of a lack of skills and rejection of the liberal environment of the hippy era; that he was a soldier because it was easier for him to be anything else; that he had a hectic sentimental life, he separated from his wife, he had many relationships here, and when he died he was involved with a 19-year-old military assistant. Hastings does not deny that he was a very brave man, but he also observes some obscure points in his command and that he was not as loved by his men as he maintains the official version. For the historian, who also suggests that the family and especially the politician Bibi have taken advantage of the popularity of the firstborn, Yoni is "a tragic figure", indoctrinated his whole life to respond to the ideal of Zionist militant of his father and take the weapons like he did not, and that he only managed to find inner peace in the war. The year of Entebbe was felt in an impasse and in a melancholic state that was his second nature. To me, honestly, I like that portrait more than the one-piece soldier and the hagiography. But, of course, I'm not Bibi Netanyahu, thank God.

Finally, recommend the splendid book of another old friend, Saul David, the specialist in the Zulu war and in general the Victorian wars, who has written the most exciting version in my opinion about the operation, 7 days in Entebbe (Peninsula, 2018), and that he was military advisor to the film. David offers a detailed account of the successful operation (without which many others would probably not have been made, such as killing Bin Laden, the historian points out that the Delta Force was created thereafter), and with its characteristic amenity It puts us in the scrubbing as if we were living it. To retain the image of the parachutist running through the track of Entebbe between the bullets with a stewardess loaded on the shoulder dressed only in a shirt and red panties ...

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