Israel's mercy squad are top dogs in a disaster

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The Independent Online
GIL WEINER, the soldier who dragged out the first survivor of the Nairobi bombing saved by the Israeli dog squad on Saturday, is an architecture student working his way through college as a lifeguard at a swimming-pool in Jerusalem.

Like him, most of the 170 officers and men who flew to Nairobi within 24 hours of the explosion are reservists.

They are recruited during the last year of their three-year compulsory service and trained on simulated disaster sites. In civilian life they are called up for one week a year of refresher courses. A permanent alert staff is primed to mobilise them at short notice.

"My men are not the strongest soldiers in the army," the commander of their training base, Ronen Greenberg, said yesterday, "but they have to be pretty strong and ... they must know how to handle sophisticated equipment, and how to fix it quickly if it malfunctions during an emergency."

They are taught patience and caution. Mr Weiner and his team kept their survivor talking for six hours before they got him out of his steel and concrete trap. Their commander insisted they work only from the side and above.

Although the man had a broken leg and head injuries, rushing the operation might have brought tons of rubble down on rescued and rescuers.

The emergency unit was established during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon after an explosion demolished an army administrative block in Tyre, killing 89 soldiers and secret-service agents. Since then, it has seen service at home and on humanitarian missions on three continents.

It rescued Israeli civilians from Tel Aviv flats hit by Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf war. In the mid-1980s it joined the search for survivors of earthquakes in Mexico and Armenia.

In 1992 it extricated dead and wounded from the Israeli embassy building blown up in Buenos Aires.

The Army also sent a medical-aid team, protected by infantry, to Rwanda during the 1994 civil war, and helicopters to help put out a blaze at a Turkish arms factory in 1997.

Yesterday defence officials hailed the Nairobi mission as a debt of honour.

Kenya joined most African states in severing diplomatic ties with Israel after it invaded Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But it still maintained economic links with Israel.

Hundreds of Israeli specialists worked on industrial and agricultural projects in Kenya; Kenyan managers and technicians studied in Israel.

In July 1976 Kenya secretly allowed Israeli transport planes to refuel in Nairobi after their rescue of hijacked airline passengers from Entebbe. Ehud Barak, now leader of the opposition Labour party, commanded the Nairobi back-up group.