Lapid: We stand with our American friends in difficult times

Israel sends IDF team to Florida to assist with tower collapse rescue efforts

Home Front Command delegation of 10 reservists flies to Miami; Israel’s United Hatzalah sends psychological assistance team; Bennett speaks to governor and offers help

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Rescue workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condominium, June 26, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Rescue workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condominium, June 26, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Israel Defense Forces sent a search and rescue delegation to Florida to assist with rescue efforts following the Surfside residential building collapse that left at least four dead and nearly 160 still missing.

The team of Home Front Command soldiers headed to Florida following a series of talks over the weekend between Israeli defense officials and officials in Miami, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday night.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the move was approved in coordination with the Foreign Ministry.

“As with any national mission, the IDF and the defense establishment are ready to respond, act and assist. Every effort will be made to save lives, support the Jewish community and our friend the United States,” Gantz said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the sending of the delegation demonstrated the depth of friendship between the two nations.

“The State of Israel has no better friend than the United States, and the United States has no better friend than Israel. In such difficult moments, we stand with our American friends and the Jewish community in Florida,” Lapid said, according to the statement.

Illustrative: Israeli Home Front Command soldiers take part in a defense drill simulating a building collapse in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, on September 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Golan Vach, a senior officer in the IDF’s Homefront Command, headed up the delegation, which will be comprised of around ten reservists — experts in search and rescue efforts and in engineering, as well as in social care, the military said in a statement.

The team of soldiers that is part of the “Helping Hand” operation flew out in the early hours of Sunday, the IDF announced.

“The mission of the delegation is to assist in the life-saving efforts by mapping the challenges at the site of the destruction, assisting the Jewish community and supporting the local rescue forces,” the IDF said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis on Saturday night to express his condolences, and said Israel would assist in any way needed.

“The United States is our greatest friend, and we stand by your side during this difficult time. We all pray for the safety of the wounded. I instructed all authorities in the Israeli government to assist in any way that may be required,” Bennett told DeSantis, according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Nearly 160 people are still unaccounted for after the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside came down on Thursday.

In this aerial view, the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo is seen, on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Surfside. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Surfside is one of four small cities that together make up North Beach, the north end of Miami Beach, just east of the city of Miami. The area covers the top of a narrow stretch of land on the Atlantic Ocean. The area is more than a third Jewish.

The 12-story tower’s collapse has left at least four people dead and 159 missing as of Friday. Search and rescue teams are still trying to find survivors in the rubble, and the cause of the disaster is still unknown.

The missing include people from around the world, reportedly including from Israel.

Visitors at a makeshift memorial at the site of a collapsed building in Surfside, Florida, north of Miami Beach, on June 26, 2021 (Andrea SARCOS / AFP)

Israel’s United Hatzalah, the largest volunteer emergency service, sent a delegation of six psychological assistance professionals to assist the affected families and community.

“The purpose of the senior delegation is to provide initial psychological assistance to those who witnessed the incident and to the community, through tools that are used by us here in Israel in difficult events,” Eli Beer, the president of the EMS said in a statement.

The IDF is often one of the first countries to send humanitarian delegations to countries hit by disasters.

Israeli disaster relief delegations provided rescue and medical services after an earthquake in Turkey in 1999, an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, a typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, an earthquake in Nepal in 2015, an earthquake in Mexico in 2017, and most recently after a series of explosions in Equatorial Guinea this year.

In 2016, the United Nations’ World Health Organization identified Israel as having the world’s top emergency medical team.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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