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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

40 years ago: Israeli commandos storm hijacked Sabena flight

From the IDF Blog:
On May 8, 1972, a flight from Belgian airline Sabena set off from Vienna towards Tel Aviv, named Flight 571. Twenty minutes after takeoff, it was hijacked by four terrorists–two men, two women–from the Black September terror group. This set off a series of events leading up to Operation Isotope–one of the most daring rescue operations in the history of Israel.

Following the terrorists’ attempt to break into the cockpit, Reginald Levy, the plane’s captain, kept his cool and attempted to relax his passengers by entertaining them through a loudspeaker conversation with the terrorists, about everything from navigation to sex.

Aboard the plane, the terrorists were demanding the release of 315 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails, claiming they would blow up the plane if their demands were not met.

Captain Levy sent in distress signals, which were received by Israeli Security Minister Moshe Dayan. Dayan immediately began negotiations with the terrorists, while simultaneously planning a covert rescue operation: Operation Isotope.

The Sabena flight reached Tel-Aviv, landing in Lod Airport (now Ben-Gurion Airport). Captain Levy was sent out to show the waiting Israelis a sample of the explosives on the plane, to convince them of the threat. Aboard the plane, passengers were crying or hysterical.

A team of 16 elite commandos (Hebrew: Sayeret Matkal) approached the grounded aircraft in white overalls, disguised as airplane technicians. They convinced the terrorists that the aircraft was in desperate need of repairs.

Within ten minutes of boarding the plane, the squad of elite commandos managed to kill the two male terrorists, arrest the two female terrorists, and neutralize the threat to the passengers. Nearly all civilians on board were unharmed, except for three, one of whom later died from her injuries. Among the commandos were Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu–both of whom eventually became Israeli prime ministers
Netanyahu was slightly injured during the rescue, seemingly from friendly fire. Here he is being congratulated by Israel's president Zalman Shazar: