Netanyahu as an Israeli Commando: I pulled off her wig and demanded to know where the explosives were
Forty-three years after IDF special forces carried out an intrepid operation to free passengers on a hijacked Sabena plane, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former prime minister Ehud Barak spoke of their involvement in the rescue mission.
On May 8, 1972, four Palestinian terrorists from Black September boarded Sabena Flight 571 from Vienna to Tel Aviv. Twenty minutes after taking off from a scheduled stop, the hijackers took control of the flight and instructed the captain to continue as planned to Israel’s Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion International Airport). Less than 24 hours later, Israeli commandos, among them Netanyahu and Barak, launched a daring operation to rescue the flight’s passengers and retake the plane.
Barak was the commander of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit and Netanyahu was a commander of the squad at the time of the operation.
Netanyahu, Barak and former president Shimon Peres attended the premier earlier this week of Nati Dinar and Rani Sa’ar’s movie Sabena that tells the story of the operation.
“I stood on the wing of the Sabena aircraft with my soldiers. We smashed into the plane and stormed in,” Netanyahu told Army Radio on Thursday.
“A woman was laying down with a bullet in her head and bullets were whistling around us. We saw the terrorists running to the front of the plane after they shot at us and I ran after them. Mordechai Rahamim killed one terrorist and another terrorist was killed by a different soldier,” the prime minister recounted.
Netanyahu said the entire operation lasted ninety seconds in total.
“We were looking for two female terrorists and our big concern was that they would detonate their explosives and the plane would blow up,” he said.
“During the search for one of the terrorists, one of the passengers got my attention and showed me where she [the terrorist] was. I found the terrorist, grabbed her by her head, pulled off her wig and demanded to know where the explosives were. Marco Ashkenazi ran to help with his gun cocked in order to help pressure the terrorist. He slapped her on the face and as a result a bullet discharged from his gun that hit me and the terrorist,” Netanyahu said.
Barak and Netanyahu told Army Radio that when Hamas held IDF soldier Gilad Schalit captive, there was no similar option to carry out a military operation which meant that Israel was forced to negotiate for his release.
Over 1000 prisoners were released in exchange for Schalit in 2011.
The Sabena hijacking story and rescue operation:
Soon after realizing the gravity of the hijacking, the captain of the Sabena plane, English-born Reginald Levy radioed ahead to Israel to notify authorities of the terrorist plot flying towards them at hundreds of miles per hour. Then-defense minister Moshe Dayan immediately began organizing a response, a perhaps far-fetched plan to rescue the passengers.
In initial contacts, the hijackers made their demands: They would free the passengers and crew in exchange for the release of over 300 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
After nightfall, hours after the plane had parked near Lod Airport’s lone terminal, Israeli forces carefully snuck under the plane to deflate its tires and disable its hydraulic systems. In an attempt to calm the terrorists after they discovered the plane had been disabled, Captain Levy kept them occupied through the night with constant chatter, discussing “everything under the sun … from navigation to sex,” he later recalled.
In the morning, the hijackers sent the plane’s captain to show the Israelis that they indeed possessed adequate explosives to destroy the plane. Levy, realizing that the only hope for him and the passengers (one of whom was his wife) lay in the hands of the Israelis, provided them with details about the hijackers’ whereabouts and the layout of the plane.
Armed with a better understanding of what they were up against, 16 commandos