A Fighter’s Best Friend: the IDF (Zahal)’s Dogs in Gaza

During Operation Protective Edge, the dogs of the IDF (Zahal)’s Oketz Unit battled terrorists in Gaza. Many of them were wounded in combat, but that didn’t stop them from continuing the fight.  

Only ten days after suffering a severe injury in Gaza, Whiskey – a dog in the IDF (Zahal)’s Oketz unit – returned to the battlefield. He wasn’t alone. During Operation Protective Edge, several of the IDF (Zahal)’s canines were wounded in clashes with Hamas terrorists. Like Whiskey, many of them continued fighting despite their wounds.

A Fighter’s Best Friend: the IDF (Zahal)’s Dogs in Gaza

Oketz (Hebrew: ‘Sting’) is the IDF (Zahal)’s elite canine unit and the best of its kind in the world. The unit’s soldiers undergo intense training to lead infantry forces and special units into battle. They prepare year round to join IDF (Zahal) 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,” explained Major A, one of the unit’s senior veterinarians. 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 (Zahal) soldiers.

A Fighter’s Best Friend: the IDF (Zahal)’s Dogs in Gaza

More than two hours after Whiskey’s injury, his handler noticed that he was limping and needed urgent medical attention. IDF (Zahal) soldiers immediately evacuated him to a hospital in Israel, where veterinarians performed surgery and saved his life. Only ten days later, Whiskey returned to the battlefield. “He was determined to keep going,” Major A explained. “His wound was very dangerous, and he survived it almost by a miracle.”

A bond between warriors

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 (Zahal) handler, who insisted on coming to see her despite his own wounds.

A Fighter’s Best Friend: the IDF (Zahal)’s Dogs in Gaza

Oketz dog next to an airplane engine during a search and rescue exercise

The IDF (Zahal) honors its canines much like its soldiers. When four dogs were killed in Gaza, Oketz held a moving ceremony in their memory. 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.

Oketz fighters do everything possible to save the lives of wounded dogs. “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.”

A Fighter’s Best Friend: the IDF (Zahal)’s Dogs in Gaza

“All of our wounded dogs suffered trauma,” explained Major Y, another senior veterinarian in the unit. “They were hit by shrapnel in places that would disable a human being, but all of them kept going. Many of them continued fighting because they insisted on hiding their wounds.”