From Rudolphina Menzel to Unit "Oketz" – Dogs on Top

We all know, even from Biblical times, about ancient animal domestication and use, for economic and agricultural to warfare and logistic employment. Proverbs such as "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib" (Isaiah, 1, 3), or the utopian myth of the end of days, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid" (Isaiah, 11, 6) are known all over the world.

From the military aspect one remembers the famous image from the Song of the Sea: Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea." (Exodus, 15, 4).

All along history Man used the unique faculties of the animals (physical strength, sharp senses, etc.) to perform feats impossible for him. Among the animals employed by various armies have been, horses (cavalry); dogs (guarding, attack, search and rescue); draft animals (bullocks, donkeys, camels, etc.); birds (carrier pigeons); elephants (the Tanks of ancient times), and even rodents and bees.

The Haganah and the IDF have also used animals as combat service supporters. They have been subject to "mobilization orders" just as human personnel and means of war, because there are no substitutes to their natural senses. The IDF and Defense Establishment Archive contains a "Goldmine" of documentation (documents, films, photographs) about the subject, and it's open to the public.

The Haganah and the first years of the IDF​

It all began with Professor Rudolphina Menzel (1891 – 1973), an early 20th century cynologist, best known for her work in the field of animal behavior, from Vienna, Austria. Already in Austria, the pair trained dogs to obey orders in Hebrew and so far have been used by the Austrian police. Following the annexation of Austria to Germany (the Anschluss), they were offered to move to Germany, live in excellent accommodations, and train the Wehrmacht's dogs. They refused and immigrated to Palestine in 1938, taking with them a few dogs. One of the thing distressing Menzel at the time was that many of her students from Germany and Austria, employed her training methods against her people.

When they moved to Palestine in 1938, the Menzels settled on Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, near Haifa, where they organized courses for training service and guard dogs for the Haganah. Later on, at the request of the Haganah, they moved to the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin, where Rudolphina Menzel established "The Palestinian Institute for canine psychology and training." The Haganah's canine unit, which operated through her school, was the forerunner of today's dog-handling Oketz unit in the Israel Defense Forces. These dogs were used to trace people, search and rescue wounded people, communication, munitions delivery and mine searching.

Prof. Menzel was responsible for gaining recognition for the Canaan Dog; and she wrote the breed standard, which was accepted by the FCI in 1966.

The Haganah canine unit, established in 1939, at the initiative of Jacob Dori, the IDF's first Chief of Staff, and Moshe Dayan, and operating through her school, became in 1948 the forerunner of today's dog-handling Oketz unit in the Israel Defense Forces.

After much wrangling in the IDF about the responsibility for the dogs and their trainers, in July 1949 the canine unit became subject to the military police.

In the 1970 the military concept of canine employment was broadened to include fighting terrorism, and search and rescue missions. A special small and clandestine anti-terror unit was established to train dogs to attack hijackers in hostage taking cases, subject to the Chief infantry and paratroops officer. The unit gained fame in The Misgav Am hostage crisis, in April, 1980.

Since then, the unit gained fame all over the world as the "Oketz Unit." The dogs assists in the IDF's road blocks in the West Bank, they scan houses and suspects before the soldiers enter them, accompany units in operations, etc. The unit is divided into some sections: explosive detection, weapon detection, attack dogs, search and rescue dogs.

Other canine units in the IDF are employed in security missions, and even by the IAF to drive birds away from runways.

In the 1970's while serving as the IDF's Chief of Staff, and later, General Motta Gur published a series of adventure books, starring Azit, a German Shepard dog known also as Azit, the Paratrooper Dog. Azit, the smart dog, assists the IDF and the books' protagonists in their adventures from Cairo to Operation Entebbe. In 1972 a movie "Azit the Paratrooper Dog" was produced with the participation of leading Israeli actors.




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