‘Hey Dad, if I were a terrorist I would get on at the stopover.’ When twelve-year-old Olivier Cujot says those words to his father on page 2 of Operation Thunderbolt, you know you are in the grip of a thriller-diller. The scene is Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in June 1976, where the 228 passengers booked on Air France 139 have been told that their flight to Paris will make an unscheduled stop-over in Athens. The airport there, as Cujot knew, was notorious for its hit-or-miss security. Sure enough, four terrorists board in Athens, their uninspected bags full of guns and hand grenades. Shortly after the plane takes off again, they storm the cockpit and order the pilots to divert, first to Libya and then to Entebbe in Uganda. The operation was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, with the objective being the release of a large number of mostly Palestinian and pro-Palestinian prisoners.
A professor of history at Buckingham University, Saul David is the author of lively scholarly studies on the Zulu War of 1879 and the Charge of the Light Brigade, as well as a number of pacey historical novels. Nearly forty years on from the hijacking, and after many books and three feature-length films on the hostage crisis and the subsequent rescue in Entebbe, he has decided to tell the story of Operation Thunderbolt in real time. He moves back and forth between Entebbe and Nairobi airport in Kenya – where the rescuers were secretly allowed to land their four Hercules aircraft for refuelling – and between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In Israel, a