24 June '16..
In retrospect, one can say that Brig. Gen. (ret.) Joshua Shani, the lead pilot who flew the first C-130 Hercules cargo plane in 1976's Operation Entebbe, emerged from the mission to Uganda somewhat worse for wear. The stress caused him to develop a stomach ulcer, his hair turned mostly gray, and his wife was furious with him for not telling her he would be taking part in one of the most famous hostage rescue operations in history.
Shani, who today heads aerospace giant Lockheed Martin's operations in Israel, does not necessarily see himself as a hero. In the 40 years since Operation Entebbe, he commanded the Israeli Air Force Lod Base and was the military attache to the Israeli Embassy in Washington. One has to ask: After countless books, movies, TV shows and interviews about the rescue mission, what else could be revealed?
As it turns out, many aspects of the story have been left untold, especially when it comes to the alternatives and contingencies outlined for the operation, such as using a Ugandan cargo plane, embedding El Al pilots with the troops to fly the abducted aircraft, and even a plan to have the pilots procure a backup sailboat for tens of thousands of dollars in cash.
Alongside the iconic status and heroism that have become synonymous with Operation Entebbe, over the years the mission has become a battleground where verbal wars over the versions of the event, as perceived by its architects and participants, take place.
Even Shani, in his quiet way, protests the fact that the IAF's part in the mission has been dwarfed.
"Every article you read focuses on Sayeret Matkal," he said, referring to the Israeli military's elite special forces unit, "but I can tell you that I believe the linchpin was my squadron. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came to me, to the squadron, to discuss things before the final decision was made. I was just a kid, an especially young squadron commander, and the prime minister of Israel walks into my office and says, 'Look me in the eye and tell me if it's doable. I've heard all the generals and experts, but I need you to tell me if it's doable. Why? Because Sayeret Matkal, which is the best in the world, incomparable for this kind of mission -- they don't really care whether it's Sde Dov or Entebbe.'"
The message, Shani recalled, was clear: "You're the Air Force -- you're in charge. Is this doable? I told him, 'Mr. Prime Minister, go home. We'll make sure the hostages are here by tomorrow.' It was Friday. I kept my word -- the next day all the hostages were free."
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