IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor

In February 2013, almost two years into the civil war in Syria, a wounded Syrian arrived at the Israeli border requesting medical assistance. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) commander was granted approval to allow him into Israel and to provide him with emergency medical care. Within time, more and more Syrians made their way to the border with Israel, desperately seeking medical attention from a country which for their whole lives they had been educated to believe was their sworn enemy. Ultimately, the IDF decided to officially expand and organize its efforts into what later became known as Operation Good Neighbor, one of Israel’s largest humanitarian missions, which spanned over five and a half years, and was an umbrella for a variety of over 110 aid operations. To say Israel did not stand idly by to witness the suffering is an understatement; Operation Good Neighbor’s goal was set as providing humanitarian aid to as many people as possible while maintaining Israel’s policy of noninvolvement in the conflict. Israel became the only beacon of hope for Syrians who were trapped in an endless war. From February 2013 until September 2018, over 5,000 Syrians, including hundreds of children, were treated in Israeli hospitals or in field hospitals set up on the border. Medics from the IDF's Golan Brigade provided initial medical care to injured Syrians almost daily. The officers working the operation's command center led by Lt. Col. Eyal Dror would receive a phone call, usually late at night, informing them that there were wounded people on the way to the Israeli border fence. From there, the medics would get ready to receive the injured Syrians and anticipate the kind of care that would be needed. The medics administered local treatment, and transferred more serious and complicated cases to Israeli hospitals, such as the patient who was missing half of his face and required facial reconstruction surgery, and several children who were injured by sniper fire. Israeli medics treated each injured Syrian to the best of their ability, without distinguishing between militants and civilians. In addition to providing free medical treatment, the effort involved the transfer of thousands of tons of humanitarian aid, including medicine, generators, tents, children’s nutritional formulas, clothes, and other basic necessities, to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced refugees on the Syrian side of the Israeli border. The Israeli soldiers dropped off the aid on the Syrian side through a border gate and were careful not to enter Syrian territory. By the conclusion of the operation, the IDF calculated that it had sent across the border: 1,700 tons of food, 1.1 million liters of fuel, 26,000 cases of medical equipment and medication, 20 generators, 40 vehicles, 630 tents, 350 tons of clothing, 8,200 packages of diapers, and 49,000 cases of baby food. The IDF estimates that more than 200,000 people in the area benefitted from the relief effort. After years of complex, diverse, and extensive humanitarian programs, the IDF terminated its Operation Good Neighbor as Syrian President Bashar Assad regained control of the border region with Israel.