Today, July 4th, is Yonatan Netanyahu's 36th Yahrzeit. Pictured above is his 'baby brother', present Prime Minister of Eretz Yisrael, Binyamin Netanyahu at his brothers graveside.
Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu ( יונתן "יוני" נתניהו) ~ March 13th, 1946 ~ July 4th, 1976 ~ was commander of the elite Israeli army commando unit Sayeret Matkal. He was killed in action, the only military casualty of Operation Thunderbolt in Entebbe, Uganda, where the Israeli military rescued hostages after an aircraft hijacking. He was the leader of the assault, later renamed 'Operation Yonatan' in his honour. He was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for his conduct in the Yom Kippur War. Yoni Netanyahu joined the Israeli Defence Forces in 1964. He volunteered to serve in the Paratroopers Brigade, and excelled in the Officer Training Course. He was eventually given command of a paratroopers company. On June 5th, 1967, during the Six Day War, his battalion fought the battle of Um Katef in Sinai, then reinforced the Golan Heights. During the battle, Yonatan received a wound to his elbow while helping rescue a fellow soldier who lay wounded deep behind enemy lines.
After the Six Day War, Yoni Netanyahu went to the United States to study at Harvard University, but returned a year later because of the War of Attrition. Instead, he studied at the Hebrew University of Y'rushalayim, returning to active military service after half a year. In the early 1970's he joined Sayeret Matkal (Israeli special forces), and in the summer of 1972 was appointed as the unit's deputy commander. During that year, he commanded a raid (Operation Crate 3) in which senior Syrian officers were captured and exchanged in return for captive Israeli pilots. The following year he participated in Operation Spring of Youth ( מבצע אביב נעורים) in which the alleged terrorists and leadership of Black September were selectively killed by Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet-13 and the Mossad. During the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Netanyahu commanded a Sayeret Matkal force in the Golan Heights that killed more than 40 Syrian Commando officers in a battle which thwarted the Syrian commandos' raid in the Golan's heartland. During the same war, he also rescued Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hanan from Tel Shams, while Ben Hanan was lying wounded behind Syrian lines.
Following the war, Yoni was awarded Medal of Distinguished Service ( עיטור המופת), Israel's third highest military decoration, for his wartime conduct. He then volunteered to serve as armour commander, due to the heavy casualties inflicted on the Israeli Armored Corps during the war, with a disproportionate number of these in the officer ranks. Yoni Netanyahu excelled in Tank Officers course. and was given command of the Barak Armored Brigade, which had been shattered during the war. Netanyahu turned his brigade into the leading military unit in the Golan Heights.
In June 1975, Yoni Netanyahu left the Armoured Corps and returned to Sayeret Matkal as unit commander. He was killed in action on July 4th, 1976. while commanding Operation Entebbe, his first big operation since returning to the unit. Netanyahu was the only Israeli soldier killed during the raid (along with three hostages, all of the Popular Front for the Liberation of palestine members, and dozens of Ugandan soldiers). He was shot outside the building being stormed, and would soon die in the arms of Ephraim Sneh, commander of the mission's medical unit. The operation itself was considered a success by Israel, and was posthumously renamed Mivtsa Yonatan (Operation Yonatan) in honour of Yoni Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was buried in Jerusalem's Military Cemetery at Mount Herzl on July 6th following a military funeral attended by enormous crowds and top-ranking officials. Shimon Peres, then Defence Minister, said during the eulogy that “a bullet had torn the young heart of one of Israel’s finest sons, one of its most courageous warriors, one of its most promising commanders ~ the magnificent Yonatan Netanyahu.”
In 1980 many of Netanyahu's personal letters were published. Author Herman Wouk describes them as a "remarkable work of literature, possibly one of the great documents of our time." Many of his letters were written hurriedly under trying conditions in the field, but according to a review in the New York Times, give a "convincing portrayal of a talented, sensitive man of our times who might have excelled at many things yet chose clearsightedly to devote himself to the practice and mastery of the art of war, not because he liked to kill or wanted to, but because he knew that, as always in human history, good is no match for evil without the power to physically defend itself."
And, as it seems this is now a book review ... so, some excerpts from "The Letters of Yoni Netanyahu" .... Yonatan Netanyahu's Page at Amazon!!
"I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people. Any compromise will simply hasten the end," (A letter to his brother Benyamin Netanyahu on his decision to stay in Israel)
"As you no doubt know from reading the papers, the situation in Israel is, in a word catastrophic! Not a day passes, literally, without a border incident, sabotage, mine explosion, murder, ambushes, shootings and setting fire to fields. During all the years of my service and of my living here the situation has never been so tense. In the army, everyone is impatient ~ when are we finally going to strike back?!! We have complete confidence in our strength. We are capable of anything". (October 1966)
"The real cause is the sense of helplessness in the face of a war that has no end. For the war has not ended, and it seems to me that it will go on and on… This is the 'quiet' before the next storm. I've no doubt that war will come. Nor do I doubt that we will win. But for how long? Until when?.. We're young, and we were not born for wars alone". (A year after the Six Days War)
"In another week I'll be 23. On me, on us, the young men of Israel, rests the duty of keeping our country safe. This is a heavy responsibility, which matures us early... I do not regret what I have done and what I'm about to do. I'm convinced that what I am doing is right. I believe in myself, in my country and in my future". (1969, on his decision to return to enlist in the IDF)
On Death ~ "that's the only thing that disturbs me. It doesn't frighten me; it arouses my curiosity. It is a puzzle that I, like many others, have tried to solve without success. I do not fear it because I attribute little value to a life without a purpose. And if I should have to sacrifice my life to attain its goal, I'll do so willingly". (At age 17)
Author Herman Wouk noted that "Yoni" Netanyahu was already a legend in Israel even before his death at the age of 30. He wrote ...."He was a taciturn philosopher-soldier of terrific endurance, a hard-fibred, charismatic young leader, a magnificent fighting man. On the Golan Heights, in the Yom Kippur War, the unit he led was part of the force that held back a sea of Soviet tanks manned by Syrians, in a celebrated stand; and after Entebbe, "Yoni" became in Israel almost a symbol of the nation itself. Today his name is spoken there with sombre reverence."
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said his "hard line against all terrorists" came as a result of the death of his brother. I'm not going to comment on that, but I'm instead going to say I Love Yoni Netanyahu, who is for me the very definition of a Hero. He sacrificed his life at age 30 in Israel's defence...determined that terrorism would not succeed. Terrorists become 'martyrs' so that other people can die. Yoni died so that other people could live. I wish I had better words to honour his memory, which I choose to do on this Independance Day. Yoni gave his life for Freedom for Captured Jews at Entebbe and their return to the Jewish State. It is fitting that today is his yahrzeit.