Israelis are outraged over a 30-year-old British conspiracy theory on the origins of the legendary Entebbe operation. Experts on the Entebbe rescue, including Benjamin Netanyahu, are weighing in to debunk the theory.
A BBC report published June 1 quoted a recently declassified British government memorandum as suggesting that Jerusalem secretly collaborated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorists who hijacked an Air France airliner full of Israeli passengers on June 27, 1976.
The plane was redirected to the Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where the hijackers demanded that Israel release Palestinian prisoners en masse. Israel refused, and its leaders stewed for days before finally dispatching commandos for a rescue mission 2,400 miles away that astonished the world.
But according to a theory advanced by D.H. Colvin, a British diplomat in Paris at the time of the crisis, the hijacking may have been staged as part of a bid by Israel to discredit the Palestinians in the West.
In a memorandum uncovered by the BBC, Colvin quoted an unnamed source as saying that the “the hijack was the work of the PFLP, with help from the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet.”
“The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO’s standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans,” Colvin wrote of the Israelis. “My contact said the PFLP had attracted all sorts of wild elements, some of whom had been planted by the Israelis.”
The emergence of the memorandum made the front page of Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper and drew incredulous responses from Entebbe veterans.
“It is simply implausible that someone in Israel collaborated with this hijacking, even partially or tangentially,” retired Gen. Yehoshua Shani, who commanded the airlift to and from Uganda, told the newspaper. “This theory is just absurd.”
Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, whose! brother Yoni was killed while leading the commando unit in Entebbe, described the BBC report as part of a longstanding tradition of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic slurs.
“This is an absolute lie, an evil lie,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. “It reminds me of those who after the attack on the Twin Towers by Arab terrorists said it was organized by the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad.”
Three hostages also were killed in the raid; 100 were freed. Six hijackers and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed.
The BBC report did not indicate how Colvin’s memorandum was received in London at the time. Some Israeli experts suggested that Colvin was simply doing his duty by discreetly relaying an intelligence tidbit for his superiors’ consumption.
Even if this were the case, said retired Israeli spy Gad Shimron, the BBC’s news judgment was still in question.
“There is no doubt that had Colvin’s report been about a collaboration between German secret service and the Baader Meinhof Gang in hijacking a Lufthansa jet to Mogadishu, the BBC would not have taken the trouble to report it, except perhaps in its ‘silliness and curious’ column,” said Shimron, who now writes on military affairs.
“But for reasons that trouble many media experts, whenever Israel is the subject, the British network and others forget the basic rules of editorial judgment.”
Shimron said the problem is “that when the BBC decides to report a stupid story like this, it gives it a sort of aura of authenticity.”