Thursday, December 17, 2009

Touring Israel's borders along Lebanon and Syria

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced a few thoroughly educational and captivating days in the three and a half months I’ve been here. I can honestly say that Tuesday’s trip along Israel’s northern borders ranks among the most informative and influential days. In addition to learning about the security concerns along those specific borders, we also spent time discussing the greater existential problems Israel faces vis a vis not only Hamas and Hezbollah, but also Iran, a truly frightening situation.

Our tour guide for the day was a man named Elliot Chodoff, who in addition to teaching at the University of Haifa, also holds several advisory positions with the IDF. He is a fascinating speaker and man does he know his stuff.  He has several cardinal rules about military strategy, and the one that intrigued me the most says: “a successful preventive policy will always be condemned”. A perfect example was the Israeli government passing out gas masks during the Gulf War in 1991. After the war, the Israeli public was in an uproar about having to wear these masks. But the likelihood is that because Israel publicized having the gas masks for its entire population so that even Saddam Hussein knew that Israelis had them, it might have convinced him not to fire the chemical weapons into Tel Aviv, and instead send scud missiles, because the gas masks blunted the effects of the chemical attack. So in essence, this policy of using gas masks as a deterrent was condemned by the public as being too severe, despite the fact that it prevented a chemical attack.

Our first stop was a lookout point over Metulla, the Israeli town that has Lebanon as its border.

You can see how close the most southern Lebanese towns are to the border.  The problem isn’t that the towns are close – that’s the definition of a border between two countries; the problem is that Hezbollah continues to import rockets that it can fire from these towns into Israel. In media reports about the region, you often read “Hezbollah is smuggling weapons from Syria into Iran” which is pretty ridiculous if you think about it, because since Hezbollah, and by extension Syria, controls the Lebanese government, these weapons are not being smuggled but blatantly and openly imported with the aid and help of the government itself.

So you can imagine how unnerving it was to learn that the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the Lebanese border during the Second Intifada and pretty much ignored the continued rocket-fire reigning down on Israeli towns there, while allowing Hezbollah to stockpile weapons in southern Lebanon.

Then we went up to the Golan Heights to a place called Tel Fahkr, which was one of the key positions Israel took during the Six Day War in 1967 that helped it gain the entire Golan. It’s truly a case of needing to see the actual terrain and the land and the topography to be able to understand the situation. We learned how Israel identified a road to get up to Tel Fahkr as being the only un-mined road because an oil pipeline goes underneath it. Yet despite the intelligence, the commander of the brigade made a terrible miscalculation about their position relative to the Syrian base and cost nearly his entire unit their lives before Israel took the position.

Our third and final stop was Mount Bental, which is in the northern part of the Golan and is right next to the border with Syria. I had actually been there twice before, but hadn’t realized it was this same spot until we got there.  We had the fortune of being there on a pretty clear day, so we had a good view of the snow-capped Mount Hermon, the northern-most spot in Israel, as well as into Syria to our east (below is a pic of me and my buddy Brett with Syria behind us.)

When Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967, the only objective the Israeli government gave the IDF was to defeat the enemy; it did not give a geographical or territorial objective.  The line of mountains from the Hermon to Bental was the first defensible position the army came to, and so that’s where it stopped.

Since gaining the Golan, Israel has been able to set up defensive military positions all across the eastern border, including on the Hermon. Its position on the Hermon makes it such that with a good pair of military binoculars, soldiers stationed there can read license plates off cars in Damascus 35 miles away. This piece of information fascinated me because it explains why Syria has been Israel’s quietest border since 1974. Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, knows that Israel has this military position and can hit anything inside the capital city of Damascus, so it acts as a deterrent for anytime Assad wakes up and thinks “is this the day I should fire some rockets into Israel?”

We also learned about Iran, and about all the consequences of trying to deal with a regime that doesn’t act logically. It’s very scary to think that Iran is just months, if not weeks, away from attaining nuclear power, and would not hesitate to use a nuclear bomb to hit Tel Aviv.  Not only that, but that one nuclear attack that lands near Tel Aviv would be the end of Israel as we know it. And equally scary is there’s a chance Israel might have to take out Iran’s nuclear arsenal on its own – I’d like to think that if Israel decided to strike Iran, the Obama Administration would not only back the decision, but would supply the aircraft and take care of the brunt of the work because America’s air force is so much larger. However, all indications are that Obama is not so much interested in helping out, and that Israel would have to go it alone.

1 comment:

  1. the trip you done sounds so great. i hope i will do a similar trip in the future. can you post more pictures plaese?