The latest emergency aid delegation to Greece landed on Friday morning and wasted no time getting right to work fighting the vast wildfires engulfing the Attica region, north of Athens.
The delegation was spearheaded by the National Security Ministry and carried out under the auspices of the Israel Police Aviation Division in cooperation with Israel's Fire and Rescue Authority. The entire effort was jointly coordinated by those three bodies as well as the Prime Minister's Office, the IDF, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Greece headed by Ambassador Noam Katz.
Israel sent a team of four pilots in addition to ground crews, experts in forest fire containment, and a variety of necessary equipment.
Hard at work right away
Upon landing in Greece, the delegation was briefed on their task, and by lunchtime, they were hard at work.
The four pilots only came with two Israeli "Air-Tractor" firefighting planes from the aviation force's "Elad" squadron. Superintendent Chaim Bar-Gil, head of the delegation and a commander in the Israel Police Aviation Division explained that the pilots used two local aircraft in addition to the Israeli planes.
The four aircraft were fueled up, filled with water and sent to the site of the fires where they would drop their loads and immediately turn around to refill and repeat, explained Bar-Gil. They did this until the planes needed a refuel, and then picked back up where they left off again. The operation was still ongoing at the time Bar-Gil spoke with the Jerusalem Post.
The Air-Tractors are equipped to drop either water or flame-retardant foam in order to put out fires on a massive scale. When active in Israel, the force generally uses foam, which has the advantage of generating far less smoke and steam than water. However, in Greece, the squadron did not have the infrastructure available to use the foam. Asked if he had any concerns about pilots' visibility given the use of water, Bar-Gil assured the Post that the pilots were more than capable of working in the current conditions.
Israel-Greece emergency aid and relationship
This is not the first time Israel and Greece have relied on each other for emergency aid. As Ambassador Katz pointed out in a conversation with the Post, the two nations have a strong relationship both in times of trouble and times of calm.
He explained that the two nations share Israel's "western border," i.e. the Mediterranean Sea. Their friendship is a highly strategic one as phenomena that affect one nation are likely to impact the other. This is particularly true of environmental phenomena as the two countries have strikingly similar climates.
The ambassador further lauded the strong ties between Israel and Greece, citing the fact that Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen's early July trip to Athens marked the first visit of any foreign minister to meet with the newly-appointed Greek FM Giorgos Gerepetritis.
Katz himself was responsible for the Israeli team's arrangements upon arrival in Greece; they needed to be able to enter the country safely, quickly, and securely but not through an airport. According to the ambassador, the Israeli delegation was received with great warmth.
Finally, Katz emphasized that he did not want to characterize the Israel-Greece relationship as "disaster diplomacy." While they have unfortunately had to come to each other's aid in times of natural disaster several times in recent years, he said that the two nations have a bond that is far stronger than emergency aid alone.