Israel’s Turkish Aid Operation Deemed a Success

Israel’s Turkish Aid Operation Deemed a Success

In a recent press conference, medical team commander describes more than a week of rescue operations.

In Turkey, Col. Elad Edri commanded more than 400 medical and search and rescue personnel from the Israel Defense Force.
In Turkey, Col. Elad Edri commanded more than 400 medical and search and rescue personnel from the Israel Defense Force.

In a video call from Turkey, organized by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Col. Elad Edri, who commanded an IDF humanitarian medical and search and rescue operation in Turkey, gave a personal appraisal of its success.

The Israeli team he commanded was responsible for re-equipping a local hospital with six intensive care units as well as surgical suites and other medical facilities in the city of Marash. It provided care for both survivors of the earthquake and those needing regular medical treatment in the devastated city. And did it, according to Col. Edri, without regular electrical service, without a functional water supply system, and in the freezing temperatures of the Turkish mountains.

“We treated, in the week that we have been here, about 400 patients in all the departments of the hospital. That means,” Col. Edri said, “the emergency medical department and wards in the intensive care unit where we admitted 26 patients, 17 of those were patients who were pulled out of the rubble.”

Israeli Defense Forces’ search and rescue teams pulled 33 survivors from the rubble in southern Turkey // Photo Courtesy of Israel Defense Forces

During the chaotic first days of the rescue effort, the Israelis were often confronted with the difficulty of deciding about how to proceed. Whether to conduct the search systematically on building-by-building basis or to follow local residents who pleaded for help. Still, they managed, according to Eldad, to pull 33 survivors alive from the rubble.

“Our rescuers needed to run, actually, to run between buildings and try to locate life signs. And, in a lot of cases, including two cases that I experienced myself, people that were in the street actually grabbed our hands and try to take us by the hand to this house or that house to look for family members And we had this great dilemma whether to do it or to skip to the next building because we knew that in some of the buildings there were people trapped that we could save.”

As an example of the dedication, the Israeli rescuer debated whether to send a team of about 20 persons to a small village near the Syrian border to attempt to rescue an elderly Jewish couple trapped there and who might still be alive.

“We went to that village without any guidance, any professional help, any Turkish local forces, police or army. The team there worked for 32 hours without sleeping, without resting. And they eventually found these two people.”

Israeli IDF medical personnel re-equipped a local hospital in southern Turkey with the latest medical equipment.

Unfortunately, the couple did not survive but the rescue team was able to hand over the bodies to the family for burial. According to Col. Edri, it was yet another example of the dedication that the Israel’s armed forces has to Jews wherever they may live.

During the operation, Edri was particularly grateful for the support he received from the Friends of the IDF. The organization, which has a regional office in Atlanta, has organized a fundraising program to help supply medical equipment to support the ongoing efforts to treat victims of the earthquake. According to the Israeli military officer, the FIDF provided continuous support while he and his team were in Turkey.

“Every day the FIDF asked if we needed something,” Edri commented. “They said they will bring it here to Turkey. The bond between the IDF delegation and the FIDF organization and the fact that they thought about our needs, it’s something that is extraordinary for me.”

More than 400 members of the Israel Defense Force were sent to the area immediately after two massive earthquakes on Feb. 6 toppled tens of  thousands of structures and had killed more than 43,000 residents.

After more than a week in Turkey, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the first of the participants who returned home in what was called Operation Olive Branch. He congratulated the search and rescue team for a job well done.

“You went on behalf of the country, and you brought great honor to the State of Israel. We saw you in action in the cold, in difficult conditions around the clock in the most sacred work a person can do—saving the lives of others.”

Not everything went smoothly for Israelis in Turkey. The Turkish government reportedly refused to allow the IDF to provide security for the operation. There was concern in Israel that in an area where so many Syrian refugees are housed that there could be a threat of violence. The IDF was not allowed to bring in its own weapons and Turkish officials provided security.

A team of about two dozen aid workers from the privately funded United Hatzalah were evacuated soon after their arrival, when what was described as a “concrete and immediate threat” was made against them.

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