General Staff Reconnaissance Unit takes over the kidnappers of the SABENA airplane
On May 8, 1972 a Boeing 707 passenger aircraft of the Belgian airline company, Sabena, that was in flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv, was hijacked by four terrorists from the Palestinian terrorist organization, Black September, and landed at the Tel Aviv airport near Lod.
The plane was hijacked on its way from Belgium to Israel by four Fatah operatives, two men and two women. They separated the Jewish and non-Jewish hostages, and demanded the release of hundreds of terrorists that were imprisoned in Israel.
During negotiations with the hijackers conducted by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit ( known as Sayeret Matkal in Israel) prepared for a rescue operation.
During negotiations with the hijackers conducted by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit ( known as Sayeret Matkal in Israel) prepared for a rescue operation to take over the plane. “Operation Isotope” was led by Lieutenant Colonel Ehud Barak, and included commandos Bejamin Netanyahu (both of whom went on to become prime ministers) and Danny Yotam (who later became the head of the Mossad).
On 9 May 1972 at 4:00 p.m. the rescue operation began: a team of 16 Sayeret Matkal commandos, led by Ehud Barak, approached the plane disguised as airplane technicians in white coveralls, and were able to convince the terrorists that the aircraft needed servicing. While the plane was waiting on the tarmac, the Israelis managed to let down the tires and empty the fuel tanks to prevent it taking off again. The commandos stormed the aircraft and took control of the plane within ten minutes.
The commandos stormed the aircraft and took control of the plane within ten minutes.
Two male terrorists were killed and the two female terrorists were captured. Among the passengers, one passenger was killed and two passengers were injured. The 90 passengers and 10 crew had been held hostage for 23 hours before the operation took place. The two female surviving terrorists were sentenced to life imprisonment, but were later freed as part of a prisoner exchange following the 1982 Lebanon War.
The hijacked airplane itself continued to be operated by Sabena for five more years before being purchased by Israel Aircraft Industries. They eventually sold the airplane to the Israeli Air Force, where it served as a spy plane for many years.