Legal Implications of Israel’s Rescue Mission Are Under Study
Menu JTA Search

Legal Implications of Israel’s Rescue Mission Are Under Study

Download PDF for this date

Far-flung legal ramifications of Israel’s rescue operation in Uganda are being probed on various levels here and abroad. (See related story P. 3)

Among the questions under scrutiny are whether Israel acted within the internationally accepted right of self-defense or whether it violated the sovereignty of Uganda; whether the Ugandan regime collaborated with the Air France hijackers in violation of United Nations statutes; and whether Israel may have contravened terms of its arms purchases from the United States by using American-made military transports and equipment to carry out the rescue of more than 100 hostages held by terrorists at Entebbe Airport last week.

United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, questioned Monday by reporters in Dar es Salaam and Cairo, replied affirmatively when asked if he thought Israel had committed a violation of the national sovereignty of Uganda and, according to a report released by the UN here, warned that the incident was likely to have serious international repercussions, especially in Africa.

Waldheim’s position prompted Paul O’Dwyer, president of the New York City Council, to consult experts on international law at New York University and Columbia University, on the question of possible violation of Ugandan sovereignty. The opinion of the experts. O’Dwyer reported in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and in a news release from his office, was unanimous that Israel had acted legally under the doctrine of self-defense.


It was reported from Washington, meanwhile, that State Department legal experts are studying both the question of alleged Israeli violation of Ugandan sovereignty and whether Israel flouted the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Act of 1961 by employing three C-130 military transports to carry the rescue assault party to Entebbe and return the hostages to Israel.

The 1961 act directs that all U.S.-supplied military equipment, either sold or given in grant, must be used solely for internal security and legitimate self-defense. Failure to abide by that provision would entitle the U.S. to demand return of the equipment and would make the violator ineligible for future arms deliveries.

Sources in Washington cited, as an example, the U.S. arms embargo imposed on Turkey after its 1974 invasion of Cyprus. The sources pointed out, however, that while the Turks still maintain forces in Cyprus, Israeli forces remained in Uganda for about one hour, just long enough to accomplish their rescue mission.

There was no indication today of who precipitated the State Department probe of the Israeli action. President Ford himself was among the first heads of state to congratulate Israel on the successful outcome of the Uganda mission.

The Times of London suggested in an editorial yesterday that President Idi Amin of Uganda may himself have breached the General Assembly’s resolution of 1970 which stated that every nation has the duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts. Although Amin denies complicity with the Air France hijackers, eye-witness accounts by the returned hostages and Israeli commandos who took part in the rescue operation indicated that Ugandan troops, acting on Amin’s orders, cooperated with the hijackers and assisted them in guarding the hostages.


O’Dwyer, reporting on his inquiry, said “The most profound scholars in international law proclaim that under the doctrine of self-defense, every nation has the right and, indeed, the obligation to protect its own citizens. If those nationals are to be found in another country, there is a conflicting obligation to honor the independence and sovereignty of that nation in which the citizens of the first nation are physically located….If the circumstances of their endangerment reveal that the only way in which the lives of the citizens can be saved is through the intrusion by the mother country, then direct rescue action is legally justifiable.”

The NYU and Columbia scholars who rendered that opinion asked not to be identified, O’Dwyer told the JTA. He added that “There is another exception which I believe equally applies to the Uganda rescue. It is based on humanitarian considerations. It was upon that theory that we, the United States, sent expeditionary forces into Congo a few years ago to rescue some missionaries and nuns.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund