(Picture credit: Celia Garion)
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Unit 669, shesh shesh tesha, is the IDF’s elite Combat, search and rescue unit. Tasked with extraction, recovery and medical treatment of injured soldiers, combat pilots and civilians.
Their specialties include helicopter extraction and infiltration, rappelling, fast roping, scuba diving and counter-terrorism.The essence of a 669 operator is the ability to make difficult decisions under high pressure.They are Israel’s guardian angels and heroes from the sky. They will not rest until everyone is brought home and accounted for.
The unit was established in 1974, after a fatal flight accident that occurred two years earlier.
Two Israeli Air Force planes collided mid flight during a training exercise over the Mediterranean sea. Three crew members survived, and the fourth drowned during a failed rescue attempt.
After the incident, the top brass established a search and rescue unit whose primary goal would be to extract and provide medical treatment to downed air force pilots behind enemy lines.
After years of successful operations, the unit added the responsibility of extracting soldiers of the other arms of the IDF, especially the Special Forces units.
During peacetime, the unit helps rescue civilians injured during various catastrophic incidents, and it serves as a civilian medevac for lost, stuck or injured hikers who need extraction from Israel's deserts or canyons.
The members of 669 are highly trained in Special Forces tactics due to the very real possibility of having to fight their way to casualties beyond enemy lines. They are highly efficient ground soldiers in addition to their high level of medical training. Their selection and training lasts 18 months and is among the most physically and psychologically demanding of the IDF.
Training consists of the most advanced and difficult courses the IDF has to offer, including:
Special operations combat medics' course
a Rappelling and high angle rescue
Advanced helicopter infiltration and exfiltration
Advanced solo navigation
as well as completing the IDF commanders course.
During the 18 month training period the recruits' performance is continuously evaluated. Recruits that do not make the cut are dropped, some just 2 months before completing the course.
Unit 669 has participated in almost all of Israel's wars and confrontations since 1974. They have been credited with hundreds of rescues and have saved countless lives. On September 5th 1997 a force of 16 Shayetet 13 operators set out on a mission to assassinate a senior member of the Hezbollah terror organization.
The comandos landed in the early hours of the morning on Lebanon's southern coast.
The operators moved inland when they were ambushed after entering an orchard booby-trapped with bombs. After the explosions, they came under heavy fire from Hezbollah terrorist that were waiting for them and took multiple casualties.
The IDF immediately dispatched unit 669 to extract the soldiers from the fire fight. The unit came under heavy machine gun and mortar fire upon arrival but carried out the rescue.
They rescued 5 members of the Shayetet comandos and evacuate the bodies of the other fallen soldiers. During the extraction a mortar fell and killed one of the units doctors. After the evacuation 669 received a formal citation for their bravery and performance while under fire.
In 2014 the unit participated in operation Protective Edge in Gaza. During the 7 week war they successfully evacuated over 250 injured soldiers.One of the most difficult operations of the war was when the unit needed to evacuate injured paratroopers severely wounded from an IED explosion.
669 flew into Gaza in broad daylight to extract the soldiers. Upon arrival, they were met with heavy machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. Despite this, they were able to extract the injured soldiers, give them first aid and get them to the hospital on time, saving their lives.
Today, the unit is on call and always ready. When they are not carrying out rescue missions on Israel’s homefront, they are abroad assisting other countries of the world who need help after suffering natural disasters or other catastrophes. They will go anywhere to save a life and never rest until the job is done. No one gets left behind when unit 669 is on call.