Operation Isotope - May 9, 1972

Officially known as Operation Isotope, the 1972 rescue of the Sabena airliner was one of the first successful airplane hostage rescue operations in history and had become a landmark in both Israeli and international CT legacy.

On May 8, 1972 a Sabena airliner carrying 99 passengers and 10 crew members on route from Brussels Belgium to Ben Gurion Airport Israel was kidnapped by four PLO terrorists (two males and two females).

The plane landed in Ben Gurion airport on the evening of May 8, 1972 and was surrounded by security forces. The terrorists then demanded the release of 317 terrorists held in Israeli prisons and threatened to blow out the airplane if the their demanded weren't met. Negotiations with Israeli ministers then started to take place.

During the negotiations, Sayeret MATKAL, led by its CO at the time - Ehoud Barak (the former Israeli Prime Minister and the former Head of the General Staff) began hostage rescue training on a similar airplane in a nearby hanger. As the incident took place before the Israeli CT reorganization in the mid 1970's, some of the operators didn't even have handguns training and receive it just hours prior to the raid.

As preparation for the raid and in order to prevent the airplane from trying to take off, its tiers were flattened and its fuel tanks were emptied at nighttime.

At 4pm, May 9, 1972, a 16 members Sayeret MATKAL team, wearing white overalls and carrying concealed handguns, approached the Sabena airplane disguised as refueling and technical personnel. After approaching the plane, the team stormed it from various entries and in few minutes managed to kill or capture all terrorists and free the hostages.

The raid turned out to be highly successful as just 24 hours after the kidnapping of the airplane the situation was resolved - the two male terrorists were killed and the two female terrorists were captured alive. Several passengers were injured and one was killed during the raid, few of the them by friendly fire. Two entry team members were also injured, one of them was Benjamin Netanyahu (the former Israeli Prime Minister and then a Sayeret MATKAL officer), which was accidentally shot in his hand by a fellow operator during the raid. Most of these injuries were associated with the operators' insufficient handguns training at the time, an issue which was later resolved.

Sayeret MATKAL operators wearing white overalls used to disguise them as refueling and technical personnel while approaching the airplane.

Sayeret MATKAL operators storming the kidnapped Sabena airliner from various entries.

One of the most renown photos in Israeli SF history - Sayeret MATKAL operators both uniformed (right) and disguised as technical personnel (left) standing on the airplane's wing and evacuating the hostages after the completion of raid. Ehoud Barak, then Sayeret MATKAL CO, is seen holding a handgun and watching over an injured female terrorist

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