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Operation Thunderbolt (film)

Operation Thunderbolt
USA theatrical poster
Directed by Menahem Golan
Produced by Menahem Golan
Yoram Globus
Rony Yakov
Written by Ken Globus
Menahem Golan
Clarke Reynolds
Starring Yehoram Gaon
Gila Almagor
Assi Dayan
Sybil Danning
Klaus Kinski
Music by Dov Seltzer
Cinematography Adam Greenberg
Edited by Dov Heonig
Distributed by Cannon Film Distributors (Israel)
Warner Bros. (U.S)
Release dates
  • 1977 (1977)
Running time
124 minutes
Country Israel
Language Hebrew

Operation Thunderbolt, known in Israel as Mivtsa Yonatan (מבצע יונתן, literally "Operation Jonathan"), is an Israeli film from 1977 based on an actual event; Operation Entebbe and the freeing of hostages at Entebbe Airport in Kampala, Uganda, on July 4, 1976. The film was directed by Menahem Golan and starred Klaus Kinski, Yehoram Gaon, and Sybil Danning.


In July 1976, Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked by four terrorists, two of whom are West Germans named Wilfried Boese (Klaus Kinski) and Halima (Sybil Danning), and the other two are Palestinians. After landing to refuel in Libya, the four hijackers force the plane to take off and to land thousands of miles away at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda, at the invitation of the Ugandan leader Idi Amin (Mark Heath). The two Germans and two Arab hijackers are joined at the Entebbe Airport by at least three more Palestinian terrorists. The Jewish passengers are separated and held hostage in demand to release many terrorists held in Israeli prisons. After much debate, the Israeli government sent an elite commando unit, under the command of Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu (Yehoram Gaon), to raid the airfield and release the hostages. The film is based on fact and follows the events following the flight's takeoff until the hostages' return to Israel.



The film was produced with the co-operation of the Israeli Air Force and the Israeli government. The film features original footage of prominent politicians such as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yigal Allon, although scenes with Peres being briefed by Netanyahu's team and a hostage's father talking to Rabin feature a stand-in whose face is not seen. The exterior scenes set in Uganda were photographed near Eilat, Israel. Nearly all of the extras portraying Ugandan soldiers were played by African Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, and three of the four Hercules transports that were flown in the mission are shown. The scenes featuring the Knesset were filmed in Jerusalem, and the Tel Aviv airport sequences were filmed at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Originally filmed with all characters speaking in either Hebrew, German, Arabic, and English per role, the film was shot a second time in an all-English version for the international market. With permission from the Globus Group, a number of documentaries on the rescue use footage from the movie alongside dramatizations of the events. [1][2][3]


Dovi Seltzer composed the movie's score. Yehoram Gaon performed the theme song, "Eretz Tzvi" (Land of the Deer) with lyrics by Talma Alyagon Raz. Like the movie, Eretz Tzvi would become a famous song as well.[4] In 2014, Gaon and Raz collaborated to make a new version of the song, with new lyrics inserted in honor of Roi Klein.

Critical response

The film was well received in its native Israel and was somewhat successful overseas. In 1978 it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[5]


Home media

Although the film had some VHS releases over the years, Israeli video company SISU Home Entertainment released a special 25th anniversary two-disc DVD set of the movie in 2003. The set contains the movie with original multilingual audio and English subtitles on one disc and a 60-minute documentary about the raid on the other, plus a letter by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his brother's role in the operation. [6]

See also


  1. ^ Yoni, Hero of Entebbe. WS Productions
  2. ^ Operation Thunderball. Morningstar Entertainment/The Learning Channel, 2000
  3. ^ "Assault on Entebbe", an episode of the National Geographic Channel documentary Situation Critical
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The 50th Academy Awards (1978) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  6. ^

External links