Israel’s IDF Search & Rescue Unit the First Responder to World Tragedies

by Avi Abelow

All around the world, the IDF Search & Rescue unit is among the first on the scene to save lives at natural catastrophes and terrorist attacks. Hear all about this from this interview with Lieutenant Colenel Itamar Cohen who describes some of his experiences.

The IDF Search and Rescue Brigade is a highly skilled force.  They train to execute special search and rescue missions, both in Israel and abroad. The brigade is co-ed and is under the IDF Home Front Command.  The IDF Search & Rescue soldiers’ signature look is a an orange beret and black boots.  They go through special training in combat, search and rescue from disaster sites, and responding to ABC (atomic, biological, chemical) warfare.

The unit formed in 2013, and took part in Operation Protective Edge. The brigade is most famous for the missions they performed all over the world to aid in natural disaster relief.


In their latest mission, 71 soldiers flew to Mexico.  They helped rescue bodies from buildings that collapsed during the September 2017 earthquake.

An IDF search & rescue team was greeted with cheers, applause and shouts of “gracias” from citizens lining the streets in Mexico City. The Israelis arrived in Mexico on the September 21 – on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.  They came on an 18-hour flight from Israel – in response to a series of deadly earthquakes.

“The IDF and the State of Israel will continue to assist in the aftermath of any disaster around the world that requires our experience and abilities.” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an IDF spokesperson.

“The SAR [Search-and-Rescue] Unit has become a high-quality and professional unit… With immediate availability in treatment and assistance as a response team to events and disasters in Israel and around the world,” says the Home Front Command’s website.

Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command’s search and rescue units carry a stretcher during a large-scale exercise near the Gaza border on July 3, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Worldwide Reach

Since the unit formed, a dozen countries have called upon them for assistance in emergencies.  In the 1988 earthquake in Armenia and the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina in 1994, the IDF search & rescue unit was there.  They aided after three earthquakes in Turkey, two in India and in Haiti. In addition, they also deal with emergencies in Israel.  The most well-known case was the 2001 Versailles wedding hall collapse in Jerusalem.  In light of the numerous challenges facing the Home Front Command, in 2012, they added a fourth search-and-rescue battalion.

Saving Lives ahead of Holiday observance

Lt.-Col. Elad Edri, serving in the unit for more than two years, participated in the mission to Mexico to aid in the search for earthquake victims.

“Another engineer [from the unit] and I went to Mexico on Rosh Hashana eve on a plane rather than be with our families,” he recalls. “It was very fast; 12 hours after the first call we were on a plane with equipment.”

MAJ. MEIRAV KRAUS (left), search and rescue basic-training commander.. (photo credit: IDF)

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