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October 10, 2014 9:42 am

IDF in Gaza: The Dogs of War (VIDEO)

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IDF Oketz Unit soldier and handler. Photo: IDF

IDF Oketz Unit soldier and handler. Photo: IDF.

While the IDF’s soldiers, jets, Iron Dome rockets, tanks and artillery were all vital during the summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the army’s “Oketz” (“Sting”) K-9 Corps also played a vital role throughout the fighting, Israel’s Channel Two reported on Friday.

“The unit’s soldiers undergo intense training to lead infantry forces and special units into battle,” according to the IDF. “They prepare year round to join IDF troops in all sorts of situations, from basic missions to the most complex operations.”

“Our dogs are filled with motivation, and they rarely reveal that something is wrong with them,” Maj. “A,” one of the unit’s senior veterinarians, said on the army’s blog page. “On the first day of the operation’s ground phase, a bullet entered Whiskey’s leg near a major artery. Despite his injury, he continued to carry out his mission alongside IDF soldiers,” according to the Major.

In another case, “Kimba, another of the unit’s canines, and her handler were wounded after terrorists fired a mortar in their direction. After suffering shrapnel wounds to the head and chest, Kimba underwent surgery in an Israeli veterinary hospital. Throughout her period of recovery, she received regular visits from her IDF handler, who insisted on coming to see her despite his own wounds,” according to the report.

Meanwhile, six weeks following the end of hostilities on August 26th, “Tayisa” who sniffed out booby-trapped buildings, has recovered from two bullet wounds from Palestinian gunmen in Khan Younis, at the southern end of the coastal enclave.

“We entered a new combat area, and were unable to spot the terrorists,” one handler told Channel 2. “They opened fire on us out of this house, and killed the deputy battalion commander’s radioman, and wounded the deputy commander himself, as well as five other Maglan unit fighters,” Itai recalled. “We called in an armored bulldozer to demolish the house, and then sent in Tayisa to scan the remains of the structure.”

The canine was immediately wounded by a burst of gunfire coming out of the structure.

IDF Oketz Unit trainer and canine. Photo: IDF

IDF Oketz Unit trainer and canine. Photo: IDF

“When we heard the shots, we re-positioned ourselves,” Itay said. All the while he continued to call Tayisa via a radio attached to her back, to return. However, she did not respond.

Tayisa had been shot twice, and was wounded in the leg and the back of her head, and was taken for treatment.

“As soon as we saw her, we understood that the injured dog saved our lives,” Itay said. “I am almost certain that if the force has gone in first, and not the dog, the bullets would have hit them instead.”

During the operation, the story was repeated many times, with only the names of the dogs and their handlers changing. The quiet heroes who have become partners in the fight, joined forces, often under fire, and helped – some in direct fighting, others in identifying and locating attack tunnels and terrorists.

One of the canines, “Ajax,” this week practiced bomb-sniffing.

Ajax received orders by a radio attached to his back, from his handler, Dolev. Working in a practice scenario in Ramla, near Tel Aviv, Ajax within seconds discovered the dummy bomb. But Gaza, like any military plan in real action, was more complicated.

“We trust the dog with our eyes closed,” the unit’s commander declared.

“We know of about 20 cases during the operation in which Oketz fighters and their dogs ID’ed bombs, and suspicious, booby-trapped areas.”

Along with the fighters, the handlers and dogs were also trained in tunnel detection.

Amir and his dog “Solo” helped in one major battle in Khan Younis.

“We entered a house and began checking it out. During the scan, we found weapons and explosive devices,” he said. “Solo,” who was sent in to aid in the search, set off a booby-trap, which was followed by semi-automatic fire.

Solo was killed instantly in the blast.

“If I’d gone in there instead of Solo, I’d have taken the bomb and bullets,” Amir said. “Solo saved the lives of many soldiers,” he added, sharing that he was deeply distraught when Solo’s body was recovered.

“I tried to drag him and felt that he was dead,” Amir said, recalling the terrible moment. “It affected me a lot.”

But, despite the difficulty and pain, Amir added that, “I got a new dog, and I continue to do as I’ve done so far, without regret.”

“I’m glad Solo was there; he did his job and saved the troops. Now I’ll begin a new relationship with the dog.”

Oketz held a moving ceremony for four dogs killed in action during the conflict. “Dozens of handlers came to pay their respects to the fallen canines – a sign of the strong bonds between the unit’s handlers and their dogs,” the army said.

“They’re like fighters on four legs, and we take the evacuation of an injured dog very seriously,” Maj. A said. “We decide how to evacuate each dog according to the severity and urgency of each injury, whether by car or helicopter. In Gaza, there were always veterinarians in the field who treated dogs when they were injured.”

Watch a video of the Oketz Canine Unit operating in Gaza:

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