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Film / Operation Thunderbolt

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Operation Thunderbolt is a 1977 film from Israel, directed by Menahem Golen, produced by The Cannon Group.

It is a dramatization of the Real Life raid on Entebbe Airport in 1976, more popularly known as Operation Entebbe. On June 27, 1976, a mixed German-Palestinian terrorist group hijacks Air France Flight 139, en route from Athens to New York after starting in Tel Aviv. The terrorists, led by Germans Wilhelm (Klaus Kinski) and Halima (Sybil Danning) take the plane to Benghazi for a pit stop, and thence to Entebbe Airport in Uganda. After they are welcomed with open arms by lunatic Ugandan leader Idi Amin, they issue an ultimatum. Either the Israeli government and other governments release 53 terrorists in their custody, or the terrorists would start killing the hostages (106 Jews, almost all Israeli citizens) two at a time.


The Israeli government, which held 40 of the 53 terrorists, seriously considers giving in to the hostage demand. But instead, they finally decide to risk a daring raid. A troop of commandos led by Col. Yonathan "Yoni" Netanyahu will land at the airport, kill the terrorists, and rescue the hostages. Netanyahu's men, given very little notice, hurriedly devise a plan for the raid, which is to take place a week after the hijacking and only a few hours before the terrorists are set to start murdering hostages.

The Entebbe raid inspired no fewer than three films within a year of the raid, and was also dramatized in 2018 film Entebbe, and was also a plot point in Idi Amin Sidelong Glance Biopic The Last King of Scotland. Yonathan Netanyahu was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, future Prime Minister of Israel.



  • Autobiographical Role: Israeli politicians Yitzhak Rabin (then Prime Minister), Shimon Peres, Yigal Allon, and Gad Yaccobi appear briefly as themselves.
  • Badass Israeli: An entire commando squad of them, going on the sort of daring raid that sometimes works (this raid, the 2011 SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden), and sometimes doesn't (the 1980 attempt to liberate American hostages in Tehran, which ended in fiasco when the helicopters crashed). Col. Yonathan Netanyahu became an Israeli national hero.
  • Based on a True Story: A highly accurate depiction of the Entebbe raid. One of the few things left out was the pit stop that the Israeli planes took in Kenya; this led Idi Amin to order the assassination of the Kenyan foreign minister as well as murder a couple hundred other Kenyans in Uganda.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Netanyahu dies in the raid. So do three of the hostages; we see one casualty's husband and another's parents receiving the tragic news while amongst the celebrating crowd at Tel Aviv Airport. But 102 of them get out safely and make it back to Israel thanks to the bravery of the commandos.
  • Blood from the Mouth: How we know that two of the three hostage casualties as well as Halima the hijacker were in fact killed in the raid.
  • Colonel Badass: Yoni Netanyahu, the fearless, dedicated leader who leads his men on the airport raid.
  • Description Cut: The commander back at headquarters, when told that the Israeli planes are flying into a storm as they approach the airport, asks "How bad is it?" Cut to one of the planes being buffeted by lightning and high winds.
  • Fake Action Prologue: The first scene shows the commando squad storming a plane. It's a training exercise.
  • Gilligan Cut: A non-comic example. An Israeli bureaucrat insists that they have gotten assurances that the Israelis will not be separated from the non-Israelis. Cut to Entebbe Airport, where William is doing precisely that.
  • Going Down with the Ship: The terrorists sort out the Jews from the non-Jews on the plane and release the non-Jews. However, the captain and his flight crew, despite being French and Gentile, insist on staying with the remaining hostages.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of them, although Brigitte Kuhlmann, the female terrorist played by Sybil Danning, was renamed "Halima" for some reason.
  • It Will Never Catch On: One of the Western journalists covering the story from Tel Aviv confidently says "Nothing is going to happen today," because it's the Jewish Sabbath, even as the commandos are in the air on their way to Uganda.
  • Properly Paranoid: The Israeli boy of about 12 or so sitting across the aisle from two dark, heavily bearded fellows decides that they're Arabs and they look suspicious. His mother shushes him. They do in fact turn out to be terrorists.
  • Repeat Cut: A Holocaust survivor is among the hostages; this is shown by a Repeat Cut of the number tattooed on his arm as he raises his hand to go to the bathroom.
  • Side Bet: A cynical commando bets Yoni a movie ticket that the government will call them back. When the plane receives the message that the raid is a go, Yoni turns to his buddy and says "You owe me a movie."
  • Stocking Filler: Halima has a gun and a grenade hidden in her stocking.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: As the hostages are being hustled onto a plane one asks about his mother, who earlier in the movie was taken out of the airport and to a hospital when she fell ill. A commando asks for her name, and that's the last we hear of it. In Real Life the woman, Dora Bloch, was murdered a few days after the raid on the direct orders of Idi Amin.
  • You Have 48 Hours: When Netanyahu is informed that the raid must be launched within two days, he says "We still have 48 hours left."