When to use force and when to negotiate a prisoner exchange?

Most of us have read books or seen movie/ TV series about the Raid at Entebbe. It was a successful hostage-rescue mission carried out by the Special Forces of the Israel Defense Forces at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976, and has been held as an example of how real tough countries should deal with kidnappers. Now, here are more details on how the decision was arrived upon by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

On the afternoon of June 27, 1976, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France flight originating from Israel and directed it eventually to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where most of the non-Israelis on board were immediately released. More than 100 hostages remained, 83 of whom were Israeli. They were held for the next six days, until an elite team of Israel Defense Force commandos freed them in the famous raid known as Operation Entebbe. The name of the mission became synonymous with Israel’s refusal to give in to the demands of terrorists and its willingness to go to extraordinary lengths, and risk many lives, to free Israeli hostages.

Despite Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s final decision to use a military operation to rescue the Entebbe hostages, recently declassified documents tell a more complex story, one that reveals Rabin’s doubts about the mission and exposes the inescapable dilemma, which has only intensified over the years, at the heart of Israel’s policy toward its own captured citizens. We now know that even as the raid was being planned, the Rabin government was making contact with various international middlemen to obtain a list of the hijackers’ demands, and Rabin himself privately said he was willing to release the 53 prisoners the terrorists had named. During the secret discussions prior to the Entebbe operation, Rabin, who agreed to the mission after much persuasion by intelligence and ministry planners, effectively established the principle that is still followed by all Israeli leaders facing hostage situations: if the necessary intelligence is available and the operational circumstances allow, force — even a great deal of it — will be used to free hostages; if not, Israel will negotiate a prisoner exchange.

Rabin signed off on the Entebbe plan only after intelligence agents assured him that aerial surveillance showed Ugandan soldiers guarding the terminal where the hostages were being held, indicating that the building was not booby-trapped. (These same documents also reveal the orders to follow if the commandos ran into Idi Amin himself. “He isn’t a factor,” Rabin said. “If he interferes, the orders are to kill him.” To which the foreign minister, Yigal Allon, added, “Also if he doesn’t interfere.”)

Amos Eiran, who was then director general of Rabin’s office, told me recently: “On the morning of the operation, Rabin summoned me and went over the wording of the resolution he was going to propose to the cabinet on the subject of the operation. He was wearing a dressing gown and was very tense. He accompanied me to the elevator and said: ‘Prepare for me a draft letter of resignation. I give the operation a 50-50 chance. If it fails, I’ll accept all the responsibility and resign.’ I asked, ‘What will you see as a failure?’ and he replied, ‘Twenty-five or more dead.’ ” When the mission was completed, three passengers and one Israeli soldier were killed.[NYT]

…if the necessary intelligence is available and the operational circumstances allow, force — even a great deal of it — will be used to free hostages; if not, Israel will negotiate a prisoner exchange.

That is PGP for Indian government to follow in any hostage crisis. PGP, as in Pretty Good Principle.

From the archives: Chest-thumping as hostage policy

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.