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|Other name(s)||Jonathan Netanyahu|
|Born||March 13, 1946
New York City, United States
|Died||July 4, 1976
|Years of service||1964–1976|
|Awards||Medal of Distinguished Service|
Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu (Hebrew: יונתן נתניהו; March 13, 1946 – July 4, 1976) was an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer who commanded the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal during Operation Entebbe, an operation to rescue hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. The mission was successful, with 102 of the 106 hostages rescued, but Netanyahu was killed in action—the only IDF fatality during the operation.
The eldest son of the Israeli professor Benzion Netanyahu, Yonatan was born in New York City and spent much of his youth in the United States, where he attended high school. After serving in the IDF during the Six-Day War of 1967, he briefly attended Harvard University before transferring to Jerusalem's Hebrew University in 1968; soon thereafter he left his studies and returned to the IDF. He joined Sayeret Matkal in the early 1970s and was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for his conduct in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. After his death Operation Entebbe was renamed "Operation Yonatan" in his honour.
Netanyahu's younger brother, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been Prime Minister of Israel since 2009, and also served in that office between 1996 and 1999. Both Benjamin and a third brother, Iddo Netanyahu, served in Sayeret Matkal.
Yonatan Netanyahu was born in New York City, the eldest son of Zila (née Segal; 1912–2000) and Benzion Netanyahu (1910–2012), a professor emeritus of history at Cornell University. He was named after his paternal grandfather, rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky, and Colonel John Henry Patterson, who formerly commanded the Jewish Legion and attended his circumcision. His two brothers are Benjamin and Iddo. Benjamin (nicknamed "Bibi") was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1996, in 2009 and reelected in both 2013 and 2015. Iddo, the youngest of the three, is a radiologist and writer. All three brothers served in Sayeret Matkal.
Netanyahu married his long-time girlfriend Tirza ("Tuti") on August 17, 1967. Shortly after their wedding, they flew to the U.S., where Yoni enrolled at Harvard University. He took classes in philosophy and mathematics, excelling in both, and was on the Dean's List at the end of his first year. However, feeling restless at being away from Israel, especially with Israel skirmishing against Egypt during the War of Attrition, Yoni transferred to Jerusalem's Hebrew University in 1968. In early 1969, he left his studies and returned to the army.
In 1972, he and Tuti were divorced. Netanyahu was living with his girlfriend of two years, Bruria, at the time of his death.
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Netanyahu joined the Israeli Defense 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 5, 1967, during the Six Day War, his battalion fought the battle of Um Katef in Sinai, then reinforced the Golan Heights battle. During the Golan Heights battle, Yonatan received a wound to his elbow while helping rescue a fellow soldier who lay wounded deep behind enemy lines.
In the early 1970s 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 as a bargaining chip to be later exchanged in return for captive Israeli pilots. The following year he participated in Operation Spring of Youth (Hebrew: 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 commandos 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, Netanyahu was awarded Medal of Distinguished Service (Hebrew: עיטור המופת), Israel's third highest military decoration, for his rescue of Ben Hanan. Netanyahu then volunteered to serve as an armor 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. 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, Netanyahu left the Armored Corps and returned to Sayeret Matkal as unit commander. He was killed in action on July 4, 1976, while commanding an assault unit in Operation Entebbe, his first major 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). Netanyahu was shot outside the building being stormed, and would soon die in the arms of Efraim Sneh, commander of the mission's medical unit. The operation itself was considered a success by Israel, and was renamed as Mivtsa Yonatan (Operation Yonatan) in honor of Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was buried in Jerusalem's Military Cemetery at Mount Herzl on July 6 following a military funeral attended by enormous crowds and top-ranking officials. Shimon Peres, then Defense 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."
Letter to his parents, March 6, 1969:
- "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":121
Letter to his brother Benjamin, December 2, 1973:
- "We're preparing for war, and it's hard to know what to expect. What I'm positive of is that there will be a next round, and others after that. But 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. As I don't intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode in thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.":230
Letter to his parents, April 13, 1974:
- "I have no real girl friend at the moment. My last romance is over, and as I don't have time to run around anyway, it looks as if I'll remain on my own for the time being. . . On the whole, I've nothing to complain of. I'm up to my neck in my army work, and during leaves I move about a lot in our lovely land.
- The whole world marvels at the Inca and Aztec civilizations and such—and they do indeed deserve admiration. Nevertheless almost all of these came into being after the start of the Christian Era (not that this detracts from their value), whereas here it seems that the cradle of world civilization is all around us, everything dating back thousands and thousands of years. A few Saturdays ago I visited the Biblical Gibeon, and saw the remarkable ancient pool there (I'll take you to see it when you come). It's this pool that's mentioned in II Samuel in connection with Abner ben Ner and Joab ben Zeruiah, who 'met together by the pool of Gibeon' and let 'the young men arise and play before them.' And the country is all like that!":238
Letter to his girlfriend Bruria, Dec., 1974:
- "I told you that I had lost my innocence and my blind faith in the eternity of love. And that's a pity—truly a pity, because I want to believe in it with my whole being. If I'm skeptical, it's not about now, but about the distant future. We are separated for too long at a time for us to be bound together forever. There's something hopeless and very sad about this feeling. You asked me about a child, and I said what I did because I'm not thinking that far ahead—because a child is the most wonderful creation and the final bond between a man and a woman (at least, that's how I see it, or let's say, that's how it should be and how I'd want it to be). And I'm not thinking that far ahead because I'm not convinced it's eternal. I only wish I could free myself of this doubt.":252
Biographical film and play
The film Follow Me, released in May 2012, is based on Netanyahu's life story and his final mission, leading the successful rescue of Israeli hostages at Entebbe, at the cost of his life. The narration during the film uses transcripts from his personal letters and other spoken words.
To Pay the Price is a play by Peter-Adrian Cohen based in part on Netanyahu's letters. The play, produced by North Carolina's Theatre Or, opened off Broadway in New York in June 2009 during the Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas. The play had been scheduled to run at the New Repertory Theatre company near Boston, Massachusetts. The run was canceled by the Netanyahu family because the theater was intending to run the play as a companion piece to My Name Is Rachel Corrie.
Author Herman Wouk wrote that Netanyahu was already a legend in Israel even before his death at the age of 30. Wouk wrote:
He was a taciturn philosopher-soldier of terrific endurance, a hard-fibered, 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 somber reverence.:vii
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his own "hard line against all terrorists" came as a result of the death of his brother.
The Jonathan Institute
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In 1979, the Jonathan Institute was founded by Benjamin Netanyahu and established in order to sponsor international conferences on terrorism. One of its first speakers, U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson, then Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who gave a talk titled "Terrorism as a Weapon in International Politics", described the purpose of the conference and its relation to Jonathan Netanyahu:
I believe that international terrorism is a modern form of warfare against liberal democracies. I believe that the ultimate but seldom stated goal of these terrorists is to destroy the very fabric of democracy... We recall the quality of his personal character, his inner devotion to the public good, his voluntary performance of the most demanding duties that the defense of democracy entails... Jonathan's heritage is an unpurchasable treasure of the spirit that moth and rust cannot consume nor thieves break through and steal.
The two conferences organized by the Jonathan Institute, were held in Jerusalem in July 1979 and in Washington, D.C. in June 1984. Both were attended by government officials, and attracted significant press coverage. Israeli Prime Minister Begin addressed the opening session of the 1979 conference. Its themes were presented in a booklet issued by the conference itself, titled International Terrorism.
The institute effectively publicized its espoused doctrine of "preemptive retaliation", the Israeli policy of killing those designated as terrorists before they can act. Then-U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz pushed this line at the conference and earlier in appearances before the Denton committee. The 1984 conference also produced a widely reviewed book edited by Netanyahu, Terrorism: How the West Can Win.
- Follow Me image gallery
- "The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson: how an Irish lion hunter led the Jewish Legion to victory" by Denis Brian (pub. 2008), pg. xiii
- Hastings (1979), p. 89.
- Freedland, Jonathan (25 June 2016). "'We thought this would be the end of us': the raid on Entebbe, 40 years on". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
- Netanyahu, Yonatan. The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, Gefen Publ. (1980)
- "Words of a Fallen Soldier" New York Times, January 25, 1981.
- "Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story", May 2012; accessed January 24, 2015.
- "theatreor.com". theatreor.com. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- Untitled Theater Co #61's Fest Of Jewish Theater & Ideas Runs 5/20-6/14 In NYC, Broadway World, May 20, 2009 
- "Under pressure, New Rep cancels play". Boston Globe. May 9, 2007. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- Thomas, Gordon. Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, Macmillan Publishers (2009) p. 145
- Netanyahu, Benjamin. International Terrorism: Challenge and Response, Transaction Publ. – Rutgers University (1981), p. 33
- Self-Portrait of a Hero: From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu 1963–1976; Netanyahu, Jonathan/Netanyahu, Benjamin/Netanyahu, Iddo (1998); Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-67461-3
- The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu : The Commander of the Entebbe Rescue Operation; Jonathan Netanyahu (2001); Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-267-4 (variation of the above)
- Yoni: Hero of Entebbe; Max Hastings (1979); DoubleDay. ISBN 978-0-385-27127-1 (a biography of Yoni Netanyahu)
- Entebbe: A Defining Moment in the War on Terrorism—The Jonathan Netanyahu Story; Iddo Netanyahu (2003); Balfour Books. ISBN 978-0-89221-553-9
- Yoni's Last Battle: The Rescue at Entebbe, 1976; Iddo Netanyahu, Yoram Harzony (2001); Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-283-4
- Yoni Netanyahu: Commando at Entebbe; Devra Newberger Speargen (1997); Jewish Publication Society of America. ISBN 978-0-8276-0642-5
- on YouTube video, Israel TV short, 1 min.
- on YouTube video documentary, 9 min. part 1
- on YouTube video clips, 3 min.
- Memorial site
- 28 Years For the Fall of Yonatan Netanyahu[permanent dead link] (Hebrew)
- isayeret.com – The Israeli Special Forces Database
- Cheltenham High School Hall of Fame Biography[permanent dead link]