Oketz

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Overview


Formed in 1975, Oketz is the IDF SF canine unit. Unlike other canine units in the IDF and worldwide, which handle routine assignments such as perimeter defense, Oketz handles special missions such as CT and explosives detection.

Unlike most other IDF SF units, Oketz operators and their dogs do not operate in organic teams. Instead they are individually assigned to other SF and conventional units in order to provide canine support during deployment, in a similar manner to YAHALOM operators. Oketz operators must therefore be able to rapidly adapt to new chains of command, work as individuals with other units' organic teams and be able to confront officers from other units regarding professional matters.

Today, Oketz is one of the largest and busiest SF units in the IDF, and its operators and their dogs are operating throughout Israel, in the Territories, near its borders and behind on a daily basis.

History


Following the Maalot massacre in 1974 and the subsequent reorganization in Israel's CT and hostage rescue capabilities, the IDF explored innovative ways to resolve hostage rescue scenarios. One of outcomes was Oketz, formed as a specialized SF CT canine unit to deploy highly trained attack dogs against hostage takers.

The unit was first operationally deployed at the Misgav Ham kibbutz hostage rescue mission in 1980. A landmark in Israeli SF CT history, this operation marked the first time that CT dogs were deployed against hostage takers. Few years later in 1988, the unit was first exposed to the public following the now infamous Operation Blue & Brown , in which some of the unit’s dogs were used as live bombs.

Since its formation in 1974, Oketz undergone many reorganizations, acquiring new capabilities, increasing in size and adapting to new threats faced by the IDF.

Oketz founding operators in a group photo taken shortly after the unit's formation in 1974.

Specialties


Oket’z operators and their dogs are trained and deployed on a single dedicated specialty:

  • Attack – deploy dogs against terrorists and hostage takers during CT and hostage rescue operations. While most attack dogs are trained for urban environment, others are also trained for rural areas so they can be used in counter guerrilla warfare in thick vegetation areas, such as in Lebanon.

  • Chasing - detect breeches and conduct manhunts near Israel's borders in order to track down terrorists and smugglers who entered Israeli soil.

  • Explosives – originally created to deploy dogs ahead of IDF infantry and vehicles convoys in order to detect hidden IED in Lebanese territory, today these operators primary deployment is in the Territories, detecting explosives, weapons and ammunitions caches concealed in houses, caves, vehicles and tunnels,

  • Checkpoints - comprised of female operators, this team detect explosives, weapons and ammunitions concealed on Palestinian personnel and their vehicles at border checkpoints prior to entering Israeli soil. The female operators typically do not participate in mobile operations as their male counterpoints but serve a vital and risk role. The dogs used by the Checkpoints team are explosives dogs with more focused training and capabilities.

  • SAR - support civilian SAR operations such as looking for missing persons and locating people in ruins caused by natural disasters or terror attacks. In the past, the SAR team was comprised reserve operators as well as by some mandatory service female operators. Today, the SAR team is comprised primarily mandatory service operators who dropped out of unit unit’s combat training.

Companies


Attack

As a country that suffered from numerous severe terror attacks over the years, the IDF always explored new ground breaking ways to effectively combat terrorism, particularly during hostage rescue applications. In 1974, following the Maalot Massacre, Oket’z was formed as a SF CT canine unit for this exact role - deploy highly trained attack dogs against hostage takers and terrorists. When the unit was first formed, it was exclusively CT oriented and lacked the additional capabilities it posses today such as explosives, tracking and SAR.

The unit was originally comprised of only 11 operators and their dogs plus several logistics and administrative personnel. The entire unit's size was then less then 20. At the time, the unit was considered highly classified, with its existence known to only handful of people, let alone its exact role. It didn't have any name and was known only by its internal IDF unit number.

After the public failure of Operation Blue & Brown in 1988, the unit was exposed to the public for the first time, went trough a massive reorganization and was given an official name - Oketz. In subsequent years, the unit acquired new capabilities specialties, in addition to its original CT one and became a truly versatile unit.

Today, the Attack Company remain the most veteran outfit in Oket’z. In addition, today’s attack dogs are highly versatile and can operate in any environment from land (urban and rural operations) to maritime applications. The dogs are even capable of airborne insertions and can arrive to the area in helicopters and then deploy by rappelling using a special harness, which is attached to the operator vest or lowered independently.

In addition to Oketz official insignia, the Attack Palga has created its own unofficial distinctive patch, which can be seen on the operators' hats and t-shirts. The logo is made of a Bulldog attacking the famous "cat on target" logo - the renown emblem of the IDF Counter Terror School, an inner-unit reference the friendly rivalry between the two outfits.

Explosives

The Explosives Company was originally formed to locate IED placed by Lebanese guerrilla organizations in main roads in Lebanon, in order to attack passing by IDF vehicles and soldiers. Since the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, most of the Explosives Company deployment has been shifted to the urban environment of Territories, assisting other units to locate explosives caches as well as avoid booby-traps.

The IDF was deployed in South Lebanon from 1985 and until its withdrawal from the region in May 2000. In order to control the area the IDF formed a network of fortified posts deep within Lebanese territory. These posts were vulnerable as supply and soldiers rotation between the posts and the Israeli border was often required. As the convoys had to move back and forth on known roads they were easy target exposed to IED attacks.

In the 1980's and the early 1990's, most clashes between the IDF and the guerrilla organizations in the region were soldiers to soldiers skirmishes. However, as the under-trained and under-equipped guerrilla organizations typically lost in such direct engagements, they chose the more effective way of placing IED in the roads leading from the Israeli-Lebanese border to the IDF posts.

At first, the explosives were big, low power and wired, so the IDF soldiers could easily locate and destroy them in conventional methods. However, from the mid 1990's the explosives became more sophisticated, smaller in size, wireless and very effective, resulting in dozens of IDF casualties each year.

Attempting to develop an effective response to growing IED threat, Oketz experimented with limited counter explosives training in the late 1980's, and in the early 1990's formed its first dedicated Explosives Team. In 1997, as IED became the number one reason for IDF casualties in Lebanon, more teams were added and the Explosives Company was created. Since then, a operator and his dog took point in every major convoy in Lebanon. The explosive dogs were deployed ahead of IDF convoys, detecting IED and allowing for a controlled and safe EOD.

During the IDF deployment in Lebanon, the operators and their dogs work was highly effective. They were able to locate over hundred explosives each year and save numerous IDF soldiers lives. Moreover, despite the massive increase in the volume of explosives placed against IDF soldiers in the late 1990's, the IDF casualties' rate remained steady, a vivid proof of the Explosives Company success.

Chasing

The Chasing Company was formed in the mid 1990's in order to detect border breeches and conduct manhunts to locate terrorists and smugglers who entered Israeli soil. The Company was originally deployed along the Israeli-Egyptian border, which is a relatively large and lack substantial physical barrier, making it easy for hostiles to cross over from side to side. In recent years, the Chasing Company was reorganized, expanded, assigned along all Israel borders and its dogs gained additional limited attack capabilities allowing them to neutralize hostiles.

Personnel


In the past the unit's operators comprised primarily of IDF SF dropouts. Today, most operators are recruited from the Kfir infantry brigade, in a similar way to the IDF Counter Terror School instructors. After joining the Kfir infantry brigade, soldiers interested in Oket’z, must first pass few days selection phase. However, the unit still accepts large number of IDF SF dropouts and is also one of handful IDF SF units which allows the enrolment of female operators.

Training


Then unit's training regime consists of 16 months and consists of:

  • Four months basic infantry training with the Kfir infantry brigade.

  • Two months advanced infantry training with the Kfir infantry brigade.

  • After the first six months, operators are reassigned to Oket’z, and are divided between the unit's different specialties according to needs, their skills and personal preferences. The operators then undergo initial training including 4-6 weeks navigations and 3-5 weeks CT course in the IDF Counter Terror School.

  • After completion of the CT course, each operator is assigned with a dog which will be his partner throughout his IDF service. The operator and his dog then undergo additional 8 months long canine course, which differ in accordance with their pre-assigned specialty.

Oketz dog attack a simulated subject during training.

Dogs


In Oketz first decades, when it was CT oriented, the unit used traditional aggressive breeds such as German Shepherd, Doberman and Rottweiler. However, today most of the unit's dogs are Belgian Shepherd (Malinois) which is considered as a well balanced breed - small enough to be easily carried or lifted by the operator if needed, yet large enough to neutralize a hostile. Additionally, unlike the previous breeds, Belgian Shepherds tends to lighter color and as such are less prone to heat strokes, which in the past resulted in several dogs deaths.

Each one of Oketz dogs is hand picked by the unit's head trainer. Most are imported at the age of 12-18 months and then undergo intensive training in the unit prior to being assigned to a operator. In recent years, due to the worldwide shortage in capable work dogs, their increasing price and the unit’s ever increasing size, Oket’z has began to self breed their dogs.

Each dog is assigned to just one operator at a time and usually serves in Oketz for 5-6 years, until the age of 7. Since most IDF soldiers, including Oketz operators, serve for only three years (mandatory service) each dog usually has two operators during its service. Once the dog's service is over, its last operator can opt to take the dog with him to civilian life, which is usually the case. Similarly, a operator will spend his entire military service with just one dog, both during the training and in the following deployment so they can closely bond and form an effective team. A operator will be assigned another dog only if his dog was killed or is otherwise incapable of operational duty.

Gear


Over the years, specialized gear was developed to facilitate SF canine activity. Oketz dogs are often wearing a harness which allows the operator to easily carry or lift the dog during deployment from vehicles, when climbing ladders or when entering openings such as windows. The unit's operators are issued with M4 Commando and handguns, which make it easier for them to handle the large dogs.

Cemetery


Since its formation in 1974, several operators were killed as well as few dozens of dogs. Most of canine casualties were killed in action, while other died during training or from sickness. Each dog killed receives a formal military service and is buried in its own grave at Oketz canine cemetery located near the unit's headquarters.

In 2002 the unit received a large donation from an American donor to build a new cemetery, replacing the old one. The new cemetery also has a big stone monument of operator and his dog in honor of dogs whose burial place is unknown or whose bodies could not be brought back to Israel.

Oketz operator, Nadav Kodinsy, and his dog, seen here, were killed during deployment in the Territories, December 2004.

The unit's old dog cemetery which was later replaced by a new one.

40th Anniversary


Oketz celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015.

Oketz female operator and her dog (photo: IDF).

Oketz operator and his dog (photo: IDF).

Oketz Guide