Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday welcomed the return of an Israel Defense Forces search and rescue team sent to Mexico to help find victims buried under rubble from a devastating earthquake.
“You are the long arm of Israel, the long humanitarian arm that reaches around the world, across thousands of kilometers, and you show the true face of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told the soldiers at Ben Gurion airport.
“We know that when nature is cruel, the time has come for humanitarian action. When there are natural disasters, nations, at least the enlightened nations, work together. In this respect, the State of Israel and the IDF have met with impressive success time and again,” he added.
The prime minister said the IDF delegation’s work in Mexico showed the “vast gulf” between Israel and its foes.
“We see the difference between Israel, an enlightened democracy, a state with values and morality that seeks life and is full of life – and the vast gulf between us and those fanatical regimes the goal of which is to sow ruin and destruction everywhere,” he said.
“We aspire to be a light unto the nations, exactly this, and they bring darkness to humanity. We champion progress and social welfare – and they disseminate violence and death.”
Netanyahu said the mission showed the “true friendship” that exists between Israel and Mexico, while also saying Israel “will not hesitate” to provide assistance to countries in future natural disasters.
“I know and you know that if you are again called on a humanitarian mission around the world – you will not hesitate. And we, as part of our humane diplomatic policy, we will also not hesitate. We rely on you and I think that today the entire world is learning to rely on you,” he said.
On Wednesday, the delegation ended its time in the Central American country with a ceremony at which it was thanked for its search and rescue operation and recovery efforts following a 7.1-magnitude quake on September 19 that killed over 300 people and collapsed buildings all over Mexico City.
During its time in Mexico the team engaged in efforts to find trapped survivors, locate missing people. The team also surveyed 158 buildings including hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and government offices to find whether they remained structurally sound after the quake.
The Israeli delegation was the first foreign group to arrive in Mexico City, touching down on September 21.
The Mexican government, which had requested Israeli assistance, specified two areas in which it needed help: search and rescue operations alongside local authorities, and mapping of the city’s buildings to determine which were structurally sound and which would need to be demolished.
The delegation was made up of 71 soldiers, mostly reservists, from the army’s Home Front Command. Approximately half were engineers, while the rest came from search and rescue, logistics and medical units. It was led by Col. Dudi Mizrachi.
The IDF delegation focused only on Mexico City, a sprawling “mega city” home to some 9 million people, with a total of 21 million living in the metropolitan area, Shenhar said.
The Mexican capital was one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake. Authorities on Wednesday raised the death toll in the quake to 338.
AP contributed to this report.