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Israel Defense Forces: Search and Rescue Unit

The function of the Home Front Command's Search and Rescue unit is defined as follows: a command rescue force intended for performance of distinct S&R missions in the country as well as abroad, in peacetime, in war and in emergency, anyplace and at any time as needed.

The unit was established at its current strength in 1984, combining all the specialist units that were involved with S&R until that time. The unit has participated in many special S&R operations in Israel and abroad.

Operations abroad:

  • Tyre and Sidon, 1982 and 1983.
  • Mexico, 1985.
  • Armenia, December 1988, following the earthquake.
  • Buenos-Aires, Argentina, 1994, following a terrorist bombing.
  • Rwanda, July 1994, in the aftermath of the civil war.
  • Nairobi, Kenya, 1998, following the terroritst bombing of the US Embassy.
  • Kosovo, April 1999, in the aftermath of the conflict.
  • Turkey, August 1999, following the earthquake.
  • Greece, September 1999, following the earthquake.
  • Turkey, November 1999, following the earthquake.
  • India, Feburary 2001, following the earthquake.

Operations in Israel:

  • Events in Ashkelon and Beer-Sheba, 1998.
  • Ramallah, 1999, following the collapse of a residential building.
  • Versaiiles halls incident

The S&R unit is a rapid mobilization force and has an airborne transport and deployment capability for its men and equipment. The human element of the unit is comprised of highly trained professional reserve personnel and a regular formation based at the HFC training facility, which remains in constant readiness throughout the year.

During the operation in Kenya the unit was mobilized and deployed in the field 23 hours since receiving the alert orders.

The S&R unit operates on a work plan determined according to situation evaluations made by experts: commanders, doctors, engineers, rescue technicians and heavy equipment operators. The evaluations are based on up-to-date field reports on relevant topics such as types of structures collapsed, local conditions affecting movement capability of heavy equipment, estimated number of persons trapped under the rubble and so on.

The unit operates state-of-the art specialized equipment, among the most advanced in the world, including the TPL - a locally developed device for locating persons trapped under rubble by detecting seismic and acoustic emissions given off by the victims.

The S&R unit also uses search and rescue dogs specially trained to locate people buried under debris.

The Search and Rescue operation in Kenya

On August 7th 1998 a car bomb exploded near the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Immediately following the event, a decision was made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Security to dispatch to Kenya a search and rescue mission headed by the HFC S&R experts. The task force consisted of approximately 170 people - representatives of the HFC National S&R unit, K9 squads, a regular S&R force from the HFC training facility, a medical team from the IDF Medical Corps, representatives of the SIGNALS Corps, the IDF spokesman and PR unit, the Foreign Ministry and the media. Upon departure from Israel the mission was commanded by the task force CO Brigadier-General Ilan Harari, the HFC Chief of Staff, the officer commanding the force in the field Colonel Shalom Ben-Arye, CO of the HFC training facility, and the officer commanding the S&R element of the task force Lt. Colonel Nachum Frenkel, CO of the HFC National S&R unit. On August 10th 1998 the mission in place was joined by the HFC Commanding Officer Major-General Gabi Ofir and the S&R unit commander Colonel Udi Ben-Ori. The task force personnel succeeded in rescuing 3 survivors and 95 bodies.

The Israeli S&R mission was received with a great deal of sympathy and appreciation from the Kenyan community as well as from public across the world and collected much praise on its professionalism and the prompt operational assessment made in the field. The Israeli team was the first foreign mission to reach the site and began working immediately.

Assistance to the earthquake victims in Turkey

In the early morning hours on August the 17th 1999 Northwestern Turkey was hit by an earthquake of 7.4 on the Richter force scale which lasted 45 seconds. At daybreak Turkey was confronted by a new reality. Tens of thousands of buildings had collapsed, oil refineries were ablaze, and tens of thousands of people were presumed missing. The Turkish authorities had appealed for help to the international community, and foreign rescue missions began pouring into Turkey.

The Prime Minister of Israel and the acting Minister of Security Ehud Barak had instructed the Home Front Command to prepare to launch a rescue mission. The first Israeli rescue team had landed on the Turkish soil in the late afternoon of August the 17th and was assigned by the Turkish authorities to undertake rescue operations on the Navy base at the town of Gulcuk. When the dimensions of the disaster became apparent, two more Israeli rescue teams and a field hospital unit were dispatched to Turkey. When it turned out that an Israeli family was buried under the rubble of a house in a Turkish resort town of Cinercik, an IDF rescue team was sent there immediately in an attempt to save them. After four days of intense effort little Shiran Franko was rescued alive and well and reunited with her mother Iris who succeeded in freeing herself. The bodies of the Israelis who died under the debris of the collapsed building were brought to Israel for burial. Overall, the Israeli S&R teams have recovered 12 survivors and 140 bodies. The IDF field hospital set up at the town of Adafasi had treated 1,200 injured, performed 40 major operations and delivered 15 babies.

Sources: Israel Defense Forces