Rescue unit trains for long-range ops

Elite unit officer tells 'Post': There are places impossible for us to get to.

669 training 298 88 IDF (photo credit: Zilum)
669 training 298 88 IDF
(photo credit: Zilum)
The Israel Air Force's elite search and rescue unit - 669 - is currently training to carry out long-range missions, The Jerusalem Post has learned. "We are thinking about longrange missions, since this is part of the challenges that the IAF needs to answer," a high-ranking member of the unit told the Post. "We need to be very creative since this is one of our most difficult challenges." The IAF, the officer said, would do its utmost to provide rescue services for long-range missions. "Israel does not send out soldiers on missions that are one-way," he said. But even though the IAF and IDF "believe in the principle of never leaving a soldier behind in the field," there would be some missions, he conceded, that 669 would not be able to accomplish. The IAF command center, he said, evaluated each operation before it was launched and decided according to the level of risk what "rescue basket" it would receive. "The threats to Israel don't just come from the Gaza Strip but from many different places, and it is part of the defense establishment's and the IAF's job [to come up with solutions]," he said. "There are, however, places that are impossible for us to get to." Besides dealing with challenges such as airlifting the unit to enemy countries, 669 would also need to come up with creative ideas on how to transport heavier and bulkier equipment. Another problem that could arise is how to treat the wounded. "What type of medical treatment are we meant to provide?" he asked. "Do we perform surgery or not?" New recruits into the unit, the officer said, study the capture of downed IAF navigator Ron Arad by hostile forces in Lebanon and Israel's failure to locate and rescue him. "It is easier to learn from mistakes so we can know what type of rescue we need to provide in the future," he said. But like Arad, who bailed out near Sidon, 669 would not be able to rescue pilots who landed in enemy cities. "If they bail out into Beirut, we probably won't be able to get them," he said. "There are places that it is impossible for us to get to." Members of the unit undergo intensive combat training, as well as paramedic, scuba-diving and rappelling courses. "It is all about versatility and resourcefulness," he said. While the unit participates in the evacuation of soldiers wounded in combat with Palestinians, most of its recent operations involved civilians, such as Monday morning's dramatic air rescue of two hikers from an old Syrian minefield on the Golan Heights. Last week, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a group of students in Kiryat Ono that Israel would defend itself against the growing threat from Iran. In 1981, IAF bombers destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. "In addition to joining the nations of the world who think that the right course... is to try to stop this threat by diplomatic efforts at the Security Council... Israel has the right and the obligation to do all that is necessary to defend itself," Mofaz said.