“After Me!”

6 05 2012

Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu

The world was stunned on July 4, 1976 at the news of the incredible rescue of over one hundred Israeli hostages by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe, Uganda.

The hostages, mostly Israelis, and therefore Jewish, had been traveling from Tel Aviv to Athens aboard an Air France jetliner when their plane was hijacked by terrorists.  The flight was then diverted to Uganda where the terrorists were given haven by dictator Idi Amin.

A plan was put into action immediately in Israel to bring the hostages home safely.  At the head of the team to lead this effort was a 30-year-old soldier, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.  “Yoni” to family and friends.

A mockup of the Entebbe airport was assembled in the desert based on Mossad intelligence.  The raid—dubbed Operation Thunderbolt—was practiced over and over and over.  The clock was ticking.  And time was not on the side of the hostages.

In the IDF, the motto for military leaders is “after me!”  Leaders are the first to lead the way into danger and put themselves in harm’s way.  It was no different for the raid at Entebbe.

The operation was a resounding military success.  The terrorists holding the Israelis were killed and all but four of the 102 hostages survived.

But there was one other casualty.  Col. Netanyahu died leading the raid.  He took fire during the rescue.  This was not wholly unexpected.  He had at other times put himself in the jaws of death to care for his men and his people.  Netanyahu’s story is eloquently recounted in the book Self-Portrait of A Hero.

It is the nature of a leader that at times he (or she) will face danger.  Will stand alone.  Will lose approval or popularity.  But a leader does this because human beings matter and the stakes are very high, even eternal.  A leader doesn’t wait to have someone point the way.  He is the beacon.  True north.  The bedrock that people can stand on.

Stand up and lead.  More people are counting on you than you can possibly imagine.

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