Rescue of White Helmets a proud moment for Israel

Robert A. Cohn is editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light. Photo: Kristi Foster 

BY ROBERT A. COHN

The brave members of the Israel Defense Forces who rescued the besieged White Helmets of Syria rank with Israeli soldiers in numerous previous acts of valor by Israel’s armed forces. These include the fledgling IDF of Israel’s War of Independence, which prevented the destruction of the newly proclaimed Jewish State in 1948; the Israeli troops that assured the survival of Israel in the Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the astounding 1976 raid on Entebbe by Israeli elite troops who rescued the passengers of the hijacked Air France plane.

These examples of Israel’s raw courage and derring-do on the battlefield in five major wars and ongoing battles against terrorism continue to inspire Jews the world over that Israel is indeed unique among nations in its military and humanitarian operations.

Over the weekend, media outlets reported that the Israeli military, in cooperation with its U.S. and European allies, evacuated 422 Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets in what the AP calls “a complex operation” near Israel’s volatile border with Syria. The White Helmets are credited for risking their lives to save innocent victims of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal seven-year war. On the downside, CNN reports that 300 White Helmets did not make it to the convoy and remain trapped in Syria.

In these days of hyperpartisanship and bickering even among NATO and European Union allies with the United States, it is heartening that such an operation could be undertaken with breathtaking efficiency and brilliant success.

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The White Helmets of Syria have attracted international admiration and have been mentioned as being deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize for bravely wading into the thick of pitched battles among the Assad regime backed by Russia, ISIS and Hezbollah. At great risk to themselves, White Helmet volunteers would dig out surviving Syrian men, women and desperate children from the rubble of the city, which had been pulverized by the various armed factions.

Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, said the White Helmets “are the bravest of the brave, and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope.”

The members of the White Helmets and their families had been stranded along the frontier with the Israel-occupied Golan Heights after the Syrian offensive in southwestern Syria that began last month. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement, said that President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had asked him to help evacuate the group, who were taken to Jordan in a convoy of Israeli vehicles.

Netanyahu has a personal memory of a previous humanitarian rescue — of the hostages at Entebbe in Uganda, in which his brother Yonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu was the only Israeli fatality.

The U.S. State Department welcomed the rescue of “these brave volunteers” and cited the United Nations, Israel and Jordan for helping with the operation.

Coming just 10 days after the disruptive NATO summit and the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, which threatened to unravel traditional alliances between the United States and European nations, the timing for such a coordinated and cooperative effort could not have been better.

After a long dry spell, supporters of Israel have some positive news for both Arabs and Jews. Let us take a moment to savor this moment and hope that it heralds other acts of cooperation to combat war and terrorism.

Robert A. Cohn is editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

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