Dan Parkinson BBC News
Tue, 05 Jun 2007 12:11 CDT
It has been seen as a daring raid by crack Israeli troops to rescue dozens of their countrymen held at the mercy of hijackers.
But newly released documents contain a claim that the 1976 rescue of hostages, kidnapped on an Air France flight and held in Entebbe in Uganda, was not all it seemed.
A UK government file on the crisis, released from the National Archives, contains a claim that Israel itself was behind the hijacking.
An unnamed contact told a British diplomat in Paris that the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) collaborated to seize the plane.
The flight was seized shortly after it took off from Athens and was flown to Entebbe, where 98 people were held hostage, many of them Israeli citizens.
Israeli commandos brought the crisis to an end, storming the airport and overpowering the seven hijackers and about 80 Ugandan soldiers in a 36-minute battle.
Two Israeli civilian hostages died in the shooting, and a third died later in a Nairobi hospital. One officer commanding the raiders was killed by shooting from the airport tower.
Ugandan President Idi Amin claimed the troops killed 20 Ugandan servicemen as well as all the hijackers.
The hijackers demands included a list of countries that should release Palestinians or others fighting for the Palestinian cause.
In the document, written on 30 June 1976 when the crisis was still unresolved, DH Colvin of the Paris Embassy writes of his source: "According to his information, the hijack was the work of the PFLP, with help from the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Beit.
"The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO's standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans."
He adds: "My contact said the PFLP had attracted all sorts of wild elements, some of whom had been planted by the Israelis."
The documents also reveal that the British government debated whether or not to praise the Israeli raid after its completion.
It was decided in the days after the raid that it was not clear whether the Israeli offensive was justified under international law.
One document in the file reads: "The Israelis have been critical of the fact that the prime minister did not send a personal message of congratulations to Mr Rabin and that our public statement fell short of endorsement of the Israeli action at Entebbe."
The file also contains correspondence from UK citizens to the government expressing concern that the government had not expressed support for the Israelis.
One letter reads: "I am writing to find out our policy towards terrorism. I find it deplorable that there was not a statement made congratulating Israel on the successful rescue."
But in a document dated 9 July an official cautions against such a statement because there is likely to be "no internationally agreed view about the legality of the Israeli action".
The document says the legality of it would depend on whether or not the Ugandans had helped the kidnappers.
In a draft document included in the file an official says it appears Idi Amin did collude with the hijackers.
It reads: "On balance it seems that there was a culpable degree of collusion between President Amin and the hijackers, and that the president's attitude made it much easier for the hijackers to persist in their demands."
The file does not make it clear how seriously the government took the claim that Israel also may have aided the hijackers.