Yonatan Netanyahu: A Hero's Journey

Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu (March 13, 1946 – July 4, 1976) was a hero of Israel, an officer in the Sayeret Matkal, and a commander known for his exemplary leadership. He tragically lost his life during Operation Entebbe, a mission to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda. Following his death, the operation was named "Operation Yonatan" in his honor.

Early Life and Youth

Yonatan Netanyahu was born in New York in 1946, where his parents were actively involved in supporting the establishment of the State of Israel. He was the eldest son of Tzila and Professor Benzion Netanyahu and the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, who later became the Prime Minister of Israel, and Iddo Netanyahu, a doctor and writer. He was named after John Peterson, the commander of the Hebrew Battalion, who had a close connection with Yonatan's family, especially his father's side.

When Yonatan was two years old, his parents returned to Israel, settling in Jerusalem. He attended the "Beit Drom" school (now "Sald") and later the Geimah Hazira High School. The family temporarily left Israel for research purposes when Yonatan was in the 11th grade, requiring him to part ways with his school friends and the "Modi'in" Scout group. He completed his high school studies in the United States.

Military Service

In August 1964, Yonatan returned to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He volunteered for the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, where he underwent rigorous training as a combatant and participated in various training exercises and operational missions. He also completed the Paratroopers' Course. Due to his outstanding performance, Yonatan was appointed as a squad commander in Sayeret Matkal, leading them in special operations.

Even before his release from the IDF, Yonatan registered for physics studies at Harvard University in the United States and was accepted. However, he was called up for reserve duty shortly before starting his studies due to the impending Yom Kippur War. During the war, he fought with Sayeret Matkal in the Sinai, where he was injured, leaving him partially disabled in his chest.

Post-Yom Kippur War and Service in Sayeret Matkal

After the Yom Kippur War, Yonatan decided to help rehabilitate the IDF's Sayeret units. He excelled in a course for armor officers and was appointed as the commander of the 71st Battalion in Brigade 188. This battalion was a remnant from the Yom Kippur War, and Yonatan played a crucial role in rebuilding it.

In April 1974, he participated in a deep penetration operation into Syria with a Sayeret Matkal team. In 1975, he left the Armored Corps and returned to Sayeret Matkal. In June, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and appointed as the unit's commander.

Operation Entebbe

On July 3, 1976, Yonatan Netanyahu led the assault team during Operation Entebbe, a daring rescue mission to free hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. During the operation, Yonatan was injured in the chest while helping a wounded soldier. Despite the team's efforts to save him, Yonatan passed away before the hostages and the rescue team could leave Ugandan soil.

The successful conclusion of Operation Entebbe led to its renaming in honor of Yonatan Netanyahu, becoming known as "Operation Yonatan."

Yonatan Netanyahu was buried at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, next to the grave of General David Elazar.

Personal Life

After his first marriage, which ended in divorce, Yonatan Netanyahu was in a relationship with Bruria Shaked-Accon, whom he was planning to marry. Just five days before his death, he wrote his final letter to her.


Yonatan Netanyahu's name is immortalized throughout Israel in the form of neighborhoods, streets, schools, and pre-military academies. His bravery and leadership continue to inspire future generations of leaders in Israel.

In the realm of popular culture, his character was portrayed by actor Yehoram Gaon in the 1977 film "Operation Thunderbolt," directed by Menachem Golan, which depicted the events of Operation Entebbe.

Yonatan Netanyahu's memory lives on as a symbol of courage, dedication, and self-sacrifice in the service of Israel's security and values.

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