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Israel sends search-and-rescue delegation to Turkey

‘The minute we’ll land, we’ll go straight to work,’ an IDF spokesman said. An advance team arrived Monday evening to identify urgent needs.

The Israel Defense Forces dispatches a 150-strong search-and-rescue team to earthquake-stricken southeastern Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: IDF.
The Israel Defense Forces dispatches a 150-strong search-and-rescue team to earthquake-stricken southeastern Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: IDF.

The Israel Defense Forces dispatched a significant search-and-rescue group to earthquake-stricken southeastern Turkey on Monday.

“The minute we’ll land, we’ll go straight to work, as we’re used to doing,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, IDF international spokesman, said. He described the mass casualty natural disaster, which has left more than 5,000 people dead in Turkey and northern Syria, as a tragic day.

The IDF is leading Operation Olive Branches with the Foreign and Defense ministries. The operation will include humanitarian aid as well as an IDF Home Front Command delegation that took off on Monday evening from Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev onboard Israel Air Force planes.

The advance team departed for Turkey at 4 p.m. from Hatzor Air Force Base in central Israel, and it will soon receive the larger delegation. The advance team is there to “understand the exact needs of the Turkish government,” said Hecht.

Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo, head of the Home Front Command, defined the delegation’s mission as providing immediate assistance through life-saving efforts.

“This will include quickly mapping out the sites hit by the earthquake. In parallel, the delegation is preparing to provide medical assistance to individuals rescued from the sites hit by the earthquake,” said the IDF.

The delegation is led by Col. (res.) Golan Vach, the head of the National Rescue Unit in the Home Front Command, and includes 150 active-duty and reservist personnel. Israel Fire and Rescue Authority personnel are also a part of the delegation.

It will land in Adana, southeastern Turkey, and cover three focal points: Adana, Gaziantep and Kahramanmaraş, according to Hecht.

Col. Elad Edri, the leader of the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Brigade, will command the search and rescue efforts and logistical preparations. 

Meanwhile, the IDF Medical Corps is making preparations to send a delegation to assemble a field hospital if deemed necessary.

“The delegation will operate in cooperation with its Turkish and international counterparts during the mission,” the Israeli military said.

Vach headed the Israeli rescue team in Haiti following that country’s earthquake disaster in January 2010, when an estimated 160,000 persons died.

The IDF has led 31 search and rescue delegations abroad over the past 40 years.

The IDF is “honored to extend a hand to our friends in Turkey. The scale of this earthquake is one of the largest we’ve seen since Haiti,” said Hecht. 

A third of the delegation consists of staff and intelligence personnel who will analyze the challenges ahead, and two-thirds is made up of the search and rescue unit.

“Our search and rescue unit meets the U.N. standard. We’re also prepared for sending additional humanitarian aid, and to set up a field hospital. Right now, the Turkish government only asked for search and rescue [assistance],” said Hecht.

The Home Front Command’s headquarters in Ramla, central Israel, will act as the back office and command and control center, he said. Additional reservists and conscripts are prepared to travel to Turkey if needed.

In recent years, the IDF Home Front Command has developed a system that can generate a situational picture of large areas, including those the size of a country, which links together first responders, the government, the Home Front Command’s rescue teams and local authorities.

Parts of the system have already been used to save lives abroad. Home Front Command crews that traveled overseas to take part in international rescue missions have used it to help coordinate activities all over the world, from Japan, Nepal, Mexico, Brazil to closer to home in Cyprus. The system is able to display more than 250 layers of data and show the real-time locations of emergency responders.

Decision-makers can view two-dimensional or three-dimensional maps of the affected areas, either in centralized control rooms or on their tablets and phones. They can also zoom in on the street level.

The system was used in 2019 to enable a Home Front Command rescue team that traveled to Brazil to help deal with a collapsed dam disaster to build a visual survey of their area of operations as the team was still in the air. It also used cellphone transmissions to place locations on the map of victims trapped under mud.

A soldier loads a box labeled “medical equipment” destined for the search and rescue team in Turkey onto a truck. Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Israeli, Turkish presidents speak by phone

Earlier on Monday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and asked him to relay encouragement to the entire Turkish people following the disaster.

Erdoğan thanked Herzog for his good wishes and for the rescue mission and underscored that this assistance will greatly aid the many forces that have been operating on the ground for many hours already, Herzog’s office said. Erdoğan also emphasized his gratitude for Israel’s stand alongside its friend, Türkiye, in this difficult hour. In their conversation, Erdoğan said that this was the biggest earthquake in the history of the Turkish republic.

“At the end of their conversation, President Erdoğan expressed his deepest condolences to the Israeli people for last week’s terror attack at a synagogue in Neve Ya’akov in Jerusalem,” said Herzog’s office.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he also spoke by phone to his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, “to assure him that Israel stands with the people of Turkey on this difficult day. We are prepared to deploy search and rescue teams and aid.

“I send my condolences to affected families and prayers to the injured,” Gallant added.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel received a request to provide humanitarian equipment to assist Syrians injured in the earthquake in Syria, adding, “I have instructed that this be done as well.”

Hebrew media reports said the request was passed on by Russia, adding that Israel would send medicines, tents, blankets and other equipment to the Assad regime. Ynet cited a senior political source as saying that Jerusalem would also agree to treat injured Syrians if asked to do so.

However, later on Monday, the Syrian Al-Watan newspaper said Damascus denied Israeli reports about a request for help from Israel. The report cited Syrian sources as describing Israeli media reports as being part of a campaign on behalf of Netanyahu, and asserted that Syria would not ask for help from Israel, before repeating customary accusations against the Jewish state.

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