Benjamin Netanyahu and the Spirit of Entebbe

4 July, 1976, saw a military operation beyond compare.

102 Israeli hostages being held in the old terminal at Entebbe airport in Uganda were rescued by a crack troop of Israeli soldiers. If ever a real-life mission could be described as impossible this was it. The bravery might have spilled over into foolhardiness; but fortune favours the brave, and meticulous planning by those guys manufactured a lot of fortune. You can see a 45-minute jaw-dropping documentary here, featuring some of the men who took part.

The fortieth anniversary of the operation was marked at Entebbe airport, when President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to commemorate the event by attending a summit with many other African heads of state.  In my previous posting we watched Museveni’s speech of welcome.  Today we look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s reply.

This speech is less than six minutes long, and immensely important. I would have loved to have worked on it with him, releasing him from the tyranny of that bloody script for one thing (it caused at least two examples of word-stumbling), and for another making  everyone listen to this…

When terrorism succeeds in one place it spreads to other places; and when terrorism is defeated anywhere it’s weakened everywhere.

With those words Netanyahu has a message for the whole world, in particular to those who have turned appeasement into a lifestyle choice. It is quite difficult to find a western politician, mainstream news medium, or opinion former of any kind, who hasn’t.

Netanyahu uses this speech for two essential messages. Predictably he pays tribute to the soldiers who carried out the rescue in 1976. He has brought some of them with him on this visit – his brother, Yoni, commanded the mission and was the only fatality among the Israeli soldiers. But he concentrates less on lauding their heroism and more on the example they set to today’s battle with terrorism as a whole – hence that quote above.

The other message concerns his wish to strengthen trading relationships with African nations.

It seems to me that they should all be lining up to do business with Israel. The country may be a tiny sliver of land in the middle of a huge region of oil-rich nations who want to destroy her, but without any conspicuous natural resources she has succeeded in creating prosperity and order. She is the only working democracy in the region.

As a prospective trading partner she has a matchless reputation for scientific and technical innovation.  That is why India has forged such a strong political and commercial relationship with her.

You may have problems with some of her politics, but you are not alone. Her fiercest critics are among her own citizens. Nevertheless it is worth pointing out that she is the only country in that region that protects freedom of speech, politics, religion, and sexuality, whereas her neighbours officially practise quaint local customs like tossing offenders off high buildings.

She is not decadent – and there are few western countries of whom you can say that. Being constantly threatened on all sides has kept her lean and mean.

Most importantly she has repeatedly shown loyalty. The Entebbe rescue mission was a shining example. Compare it, for example, to the Benghazi attack on the US Embassy in September 2012, and reflect afresh on the western decadence I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Israel’s principal failing seems to be in allowing her neighbours to persuade the western intelligentsia that for all their barbaric aggression, for all their sponsoring of worldwide terrorist atrocities, they are somehow victims. Perhaps Israel sees the dark arts of PR as just another symptom of decadence, or they recognise the current crop of intelligentsia as a pitifully dim bunch.

At any rate, if the chips were down, there is no one I’d prefer to have on my side than Israel.

Yoweri Museveni is great fun

4 July, 2016 marked the fortieth anniversary of perhaps the most audacious and brilliant military operation that I remember occurring in my lifetime. I refer to Operation Entebbe, in which a crack squad of Israeli Special Forces somehow landed at night at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, rescued 102 heavily guarded hostages (Israeli passengers from an Air France airliner hijacked by Palestinians), and spirited them away. The operation took one week to plan and 90 minutes to execute. The hijackers, 3 hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. Five of the Israeli rescue unit were injured and one was killed.

The reason that Ugandan soldiers were involved was that Idi Amin, the brutal buffoon that was that country’s dictator, supported the Palestinian terrorist hijackers. Uganda’s current President, Yoweri Museveni, was part of the movement that overthrew Amin.

He invited Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Entebbe as part of the celebrations to mark this anniversary. That was an appropriate diplomatic gesture; and it had a poignant added layer. His elder brother, Lt Col Jonathan Netanyahu, was the rescue unit’s commander and the single Israeli killed.

President Museveni made a speech.

There is a short version of edited excerpts from this speech. They are compiled from Museveni’s attempts at a précis of Jewish history, and are posted on YouTube against the adjective ‘hilarious’. In truth it is very funny and no surprise that it has been viewed nearly 180,000 times. Nevertheless, wearing my rhetor hat, I want to examine this speech as a whole, in the context in which it was delivered.

He begins with a Hierarchical Hello. On occasions such as this these are de rigeur. For many reasons they are ghastly to do, and I have witnessed too many speakers racing to get the bloody things over and done with. That is a mistake, for both protocol and practical reasons. Protocol is obvious; but practically, you merely highlight your own uneasiness with this OBN catalogue. Museveni does exactly the opposite: he sticks huge pauses in there, and I salute him for it.

He goes on to stick huge pauses everywhere, and I am on his side here too. The subliminal message that accompanies many long pauses is one of supreme confidence. Even if you proceed to commit a series of gaffes (which he does) the conveying of an air of nonchalance over that, combined with a readiness to indulge in self-deprecating laughter (which he also does) is very appealing. He is not here to help anyone with their PhD in Holy Land history, and he will laugh as loud and as long as anyone at his own remarks like –

“Herod was a bad gentleman, or something like that.”

When he gets away from that subject matter he knows better whereof he speaks, and it shows. How many politicians at a high profile event such as this would take on the knotty distinction between freedom-fighting and terrorism? All terrorists would self-identify as freedom fighters, but Museveni has a succinct way of separating them out, and makes a reasonable case.

Then he goes back into the history of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu enjoys it, and I venture that he is laughing with Museveni, not at him. Camera shots of other people in the audience display a certain tight-lippage, but who cares about them? Museveni doesn’t: he and his mate Benjamin are enjoying their own jokey party.

There’s a long, rambling, hugely enjoyable story about a conversation he had had with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, concerning the whereabouts these days of the ‘Medians’. After a while I worked out that he spoke of the Medes – as in Medes-and-Persians. In that part of the old testament it’s one of those indivisible pairings, like gin and tonic. Where are the ‘Medians’ now? he asked Ahmadinejad. He had no answer, so an ancient professor from the university had to be summoned. Ultimately Museveni concludes that there exists a lot of ignorance, and so the speech meanders on in largely enjoyable fashion. Most particularly it concludes very well.

Let us consider the purpose of this speech. Museveni is a host, welcoming an honoured guest to his table and putting him at his ease. As an instrument for delivering that, this speech is first class. If you don’t believe me, look at how much the honoured guest is enjoying it. Rectally challenged students of diplomacy can ‘tut’ all they like about imagined faux pas, but who cares? In its way, and for what it is setting out to do this is a triumph.

It is not an easy act to follow, and guess who is following? I intend next to look at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reply.