After more than three years of activity, the IAF’s transport helicopter squadrons’ participation in the evacuation of injured Syrian civilians is revealed. Dozens of evacuation sorties were performed by IAF transport helicopters thus far, the last of which was conducted this month
Eitam Almadon & Hadas Levav
The IAF has been taking an active part in the efforts to aid Syrians injured in the Syrian Civil War by means of aerial evacuation of injured citizens from the Israel-Syria border since 2014. Thus far, 3,000 injured Syrians have been brought to Israel to receive treatment, with the critically injured among them transported to hospitals via helicopters. The IAF’s transport helicopter squadrons received this mission three years ago, and since, the “Yas’ur” (CH-53) and “Yanshuf” (Black Hawk) helicopters have performed dozens of evacuation sorties, as recently as this past month.
Three Years, Dozens of Sorties
These evacuation sorties are performed as part of Operation Good Neighbor, whose goal is to provide humanitarian aid to as many Syrian civilians as possible, while maintaining Israel’s policy of non-involvement in the conflict. “We shorten the squadrons’ deployment times in order to perform the mission and check if there are critically injured individuals who require urgent medical care. These are usually people who have been injured by gunfire, shrapnel or IED (Improvise Explosive Devices)”, explained Lt. Col. Gadi, Head of the Combined Assistance Branch in the Assistance Department, who formerly served as Commander of the “Leaders of the Night” Squadron, which operates the “Yas’ur” (CH-53) from Tel-Nof AFB. “These are people with serious injuries who we want to evacuate to a hospital as quickly as possible, and the utilization of helicopters significantly shortens the evacuation time”.
Lt. Col. Gadi emphasized that these are not immediate deployments but a lengthy affair. “The injured individuals enter our territory and undergo a medical sorting process as there is no organized process in which their medical information is transferred. The lightly injured are evacuated in vehicles, and the critically injured are flown to hospitals in helicopters”.
The aerial evacuation is performed inside Israel’s territory, a few kilometers west of the border, and the injured civilians are usually treated in Israel’s northern hospitals.
“It doesn’t matter who the injured individual is”
If necessary, SAR Unit 669 operators provide the injured civilians with additional medical care while the helicopters make their way to the hospital. “Evacuation of injured Syrian civilians is similar to other evacuation missions that we have been performing for years,” explained Lt. Col. Zohar, Commander of the “Desert Birds” Squadron, which operates the “Yanshuf” (Black Hawk) helicopter. “As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if I’m scrambled to a car crash or to an evacuation of injured Syrians, because the execution is the same. I meet an Israeli ambulance, military or civilian, which brings injured individuals to the helicopter, whom I then fly to the nearest hospital”.
Lt. Col. Zohar, who personally participated in such a mission, shared: “Evacuating injured Syrians is incredibly important. We are sensitive to the suffering of civilian populations anywhere in the world. Therefore, we are happy to help when we have the opportunity. The treatment the injured individuals receive is the same no matter who they are”. Lt. Col. Gadi added: “As a squadron commander, I remember the aircrew members’ feeling of pride in taking part in such missions. We always want to take part in saving lives”.
The IDF provides aid to Syrians on the other side of the border for a number of reasons, some regarding ethics and some regarding security. “I understand that there are limitations to the degree of our involvement in what happens in another country, especially when regarding an enemy country, so it amazes me that we manage to provide excellent medical care to a population in distress. We treat each person individually and that is what guides us. It might not bring peace tomorrow, but this is the kind of action that promotes our mutual future in the Middle East”.