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The IAF Participates in the Firefighting Effort Release date 24.11.2016
Updating: Foreign firefighting forces from all over the world arrived to Israel in order to assist the firefighting effort throughout the country. While the Police’s Aerial Unit was in command, the IAF controlled the aerial space and together they operated in order to prevent the fires from spreading and extinguish them as fast as possible
Illy Pe’ery

On Saturday, American and French forces joined the mutual firefighting effort. The IAF operated throughout the weekend, while Israeli aircraft participated from the air around the clock. On Friday night, a “Shimshon” (Super Hercules C-130J) took off to Cyprus in order to transport a team of about 70 Cypriot firefighters.

“We operated alongside the foreign firefighting forces, cooperated excellently throughout the weekend and sent off over 50 international sorties”, shared Lt. Col. Eran, Commander of the Foreign Firefighting Forces.

Firefighting aircraft from Italy and Russia landed on Friday in order to assist, as well as forces from France and Azerbaijan. Upon first light, Greek firefighting aircraft that held joint crews took off to Haifa.

Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, IAF Commander, met with the foreign pilots and heard about their activity. Maj. Gen. Eshel called the Commander of the Hellenic Air Force and thanked him for his devotion and cooperation.

Maj. Gen. Eshel with Foreign Firefighting Forces | Photography: Adar Yahalom

On Thursday night, four firefighting aircraft from Cyprus and Greece landed in Hatzor AFB in order to aid the firefighting effort alongside the forces operating from the ground and the air. Croatian and Turkish aircraft joined the effort as well. The aerial aid is being coordinated by the IAF along with the Israeli Police’s Aerial Unit.

“The fact they you are here and that you arrived so quickly reflects the deep and true connection between the countries”, said Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Public Security during the joint brief for the aircrews. “I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart that you arrived immediately in order to assist the citizens of Israel. When Israelis look to the skies today and see Greek and Cypriot aircraft our friendship and relationship will strengthen even further”.

Photography: Mor Tzidon

Everything Can Change
During the briefing the pilots received an extensive explanation about the conditions in the field. The operation’s chain of command and the participants’ order of power were explained to them while focusing on the different zones and the division of the teams. “There is no single center, but many different fires scattered all across the country. Everything can change in minutes”, said Chief Superintendent Gilly, Commander of the Aircraft Division in the Police’s Aerial Unit.

“The situation is very dynamic and changing by the minute, this morning Jerusalem was our main focus and now the main theatre is Haifa”, said Col. Oren, Commander of the Cooperation Unit. “The unit’s personnel are scattered throughout various command posts all over the country, and we are able to understand what the main arena is at any given moment and act accordingly based on the information we receive from the field”.

Photography: Mor Tzidon

Separate Yet Together
Israeli firefighting aircraft operate in certain areas while the foreign aerial firefighting forces focus on different ones. “We will operate in the Jerusalem area and our main mission is the protection of Highway 1”, shared Lt. Col. Eran, the former Commander of the IAF’s Aerial Firefighting Unit who is currently responsible for the foreign firefighting forces. “We operate according to the combat doctrine that everyone is familiar with that we learned through international cooperation, while the control tower synchronizes all of the aircraft”.

Although the Israeli and foreign forces operate in different areas, there is a close cooperation between the sides as each foreign aircraft flown by a foreign pilot is joined by an Israeli aircrew member. “The goal is to simplify the communication with the pilots, and once we have a person that can speak with ATC in Hebrew, performing the mission becomes easier”, explained Maj. A, former Deputy Commander of the Aerial Firefighting Unit.

The IAF’s ground firefighting units operated relentlessly as reinforcements for the national firefighting forces throughout the wave of fires. “Since the fires began we arrived wherever we were called, from Haifa to Jerusalem, almost every IAF AFB scrambled firemen who immediately arrived to the relevant areas. IAF firemen who were positioned in Haifa were responsible for a burning neighborhood while those in Jerusalem prevented a fire from spreading”, shared Maj. Moshe, Deputy Commander of Plamahim AFB’s Flight Squadron. The IAF’s Cooperation Unit also operated in the field, as its personnel managed the cooperation between the firefighting forces on the ground and those in the air.

Photography: Mor Tzidon

Painful Memories
In a week from now, six years will have passed since the Mount Carmel Forest Fire that became the deadliest fire disaster in Israeli history. The memory of the fire that led to the establishment of the Aerial Firefighting Unit that recently became the responsibility of the Israeli Police still echoes among IAF personnel. “The memory is fresh and the conclusion is clear – we are prepared for this mission”, stated the Commander of the IAF’s Cooperation Unit.

In addition, the aerial aid that the IAF provided to Cyprus a few months ago in regard to the fire that raged on the west side of the Island was very educational and strengthened the cooperation between the sides. Among the Cypriot aircrews that landed in Hatzor AFB tonight were pilots who participated in the firefighting effort on the Island, unlike the Israeli aircrews who joined the foreign firefighting aircraft who have never participated in this kind of mission before. “This is a very interesting and different scenario from our standard flights”, testified Capt. Sahar, an IAF “Re’em” (Boeing 707) Pilot. “We may not be flying the planes, but we make sure that they are flying in the right direction. Throughout the flight we maintain communication with the control tower and communicate accurate commands to the aircrew in order to prevent security incidents”.

Photography: Mor Tzidon