the ides of idi-who had a vote at the un!

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Aug. 21, 2003
    The Ides of Idi, By Uri Dan

    The sole interview granted to a journalist by dictator Idi Amin after the daring Israeli commando raid to rescue the hostages being held in Entebbe, Uganda, was given to this writer on the night of July 3-4, 1976. I recalled the occasion when Amin died this week in exile in Saudi Arabia.

    In the light of the Saudis' involvement in financing terrorist organizations under the illusion of buying insurance for the preservation of their corrupt royal house it was hardly surprising that they gave asylum for over 25 years to one of the cruelest dictators post-colonialist Africa has known.

    During that night in 1976 Israel's commandos surprised Amin, and the entire world. The dictator himself actually knew very little about what had happened under his very nose, and it was with great difficulty that I persuaded a frightened assistant to call his president to the phone. When I heard his shattered voice I grasped that he had taken the beating of his life. He sounded like a man who has had the rug pulled from under his feet.

    He said: "I am speaking to you from the airfield. I am counting the bodies of the soldiers who were killed during the night." At first his tone was cringing. He presented himself as the protector of hostages, the innocent victim of Israeli deceit. He denied collaborating with the Palestinian terrorists.

    For the the record: On June 23, 1976, an Air France airliner was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists and landed at Entebbe Airport. Field Marshal Doctor Idi Amin (as he called himself) gave his patronage to the terrorists when they demanded Israel's release of Palestinian murderers in exchange for more than 100 Jewish hostages. Israel negotiated for a week, and everyone including most of the Israelis believed that this time it would give in.

    As a senior Ma'ariv correspondent I was one of the few people in on the secret: Israel had set out on a daring commando operation to force the release of the hostages being held more than 2,500 miles from its borders.

    Consequently, when I got the news at midnight, long before the publication of the official announcement that the hostages had been rescued and the leader of the commandos, Yoni Netanyahu, killed, I phoned Amin. The Israeli Hercules aircraft, with the hostages and their rescuers aboard, were just then making a refueling stop in Nairobi, Kenya.

    AMIN REFUSED to say how many of his soldiers had been killed at the airfield. I had the impression he didn't really know what had happened. The interview lasted 30 minutes.

    Why were your soldiers there? Were the hostages the captives of your soldiers, and not just of the Palestinians?"

    The hostages were not in the hands of the Ugandan army. They were in the hands of the Palestinians. If my soldiers had wanted to fight, they would have fought. But they were killed. (Amin's voice broke, and he went on, almost crying): We looked after the hostages very well. We did everything for them. We gave them food, we gave them toilet requisites, and we guarded them, so as to be able to exchange them.

    And now, what am I left with now? Instead of thanking me, you kill my people.
    Why do you collaborate with the Palestinians even letting Palestinian fliers learn to pilot your MiGs?

    I don't collaborate with the Palestinians. Those who hijacked the plane were not just Palestinians. There were also Germans and French, and others. It's not true that the Palestinians fly my planes. My pilots fly them.
    Nevertheless, Mr. President, was it essential for you to give pirates safe haven for a week? Instead of throwing them out, why did you allow the Palestinians to intervene in your country's internal affairs?

    They did not interfere in Uganda's affairs. I wanted to protect your people. But the Palestinians and not just the Palestinians, the Europeans, the French and the Germans laid explosives in the building and threatened to blow it up.

    I put the people into the building, because I wanted to give them good conditions. But it's not true that I collaborated.... I tried to save the lives of the passengers.

    Do you intend to proclaim a state of emergency? Aren't you afraid that after an operation like this after such a blow you are likely to be deposed?

    (Amin hesitated, sounding worried): No, no! Definitely not! My soldiers are with me, and they are helping me. There are no difficulties at all.

    IDI AMIN'S protestations notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the unprecedented blow Israel administered that night to international terrorism caused serious harm to his prestige and undermined his regime. Three years later he fled to Saudi Arabia.

    Following that exclusive interview I later wrote that from the moment I heard of the plane being hijacked to Uganda I could not stop thinking of a scene in a documentary about Idi Amin "Dada," where he rows in a boat on Lake Victoria and talks to the crocodiles.

    As I followed the exhausting, week-long negotiations "mediated" by Amin, I imagined a kind of crocodile conversation, though I couldn't see it quite clearly.

    After that interview, it was clear to me that the crocodile had been on the other end of the line.

    The writer is Israel correspondent for The New York Post.

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