Just a stone’s throw from battlefield: Syrian War as seen from Golan Heights
Baku. Malahat Najafova – APA. Our country [Azerbaijan] is bordered by five countries. Excluding Armenia, we have good neighborly relations with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Georgia. However, there is also a country somewhere on earth which is either in enmity with bordered countries or anticipating a threat from them. That is probably why Israel is considered to be one of the countries with the best defense system…
A group of reporters from Azerbaijan has recently been given the opportunity to pay a visit to Israel, including areas along its border—to be precise, the borders with Syria and Lebanon, which was Israel’s own choice.
Quiet, dangerous border with Lebanon
They first led us to a military unit situated north of Israel, on a hill at the Lebanese border. We were met by a few women officers at the entrance. It may be surprising to many countries including Azerbaijan, but it is quite common of Israel to recruit women to the military, voluntarily though. But it is a must for anyone who wants to work in state institutions to have served in the army for at least two years.
The term of military service in Israel is two years for both men and women. If a state of war has not been declared, servicemen and women can visit their families once every two weeks. They are even allowed to get married and get salary enough to meet their needs.
A female officer talked to us on condition of anonymity. She said she has been serving for more than three years now and has soldiers subject to her, adding that she has willingly prolonged her term of service. She goes on to warn us: You can film the Lebanese side as much as you can, but not the military unit on the Israeli side.
The officer outlined that ‘Lebanon is the toughest enemy of Israel’.
“The situation is quite stable here. Hezbollah and its leader who is in control of these areas is a serious enemy. But the situation in Syria is changing because there are rebels roaming across the border. At times, they open fire at the Israeli side. It’s not planned. However, a threat from the Lebanese side may well be planned. If they’re determined to do it, they will do it. Both we and they want stability, but Lebanon continues to be one of our toughest enemies,” she added.
The officer reminded that Israel is a small country. Right across the border sit a handful of Israeli villages. She added that two incidents happened during her term but did not elaborate on details.
She said the visible border was recognized by the international community in 1948.
Confronted with a series of terrorist attacks and an aggressive military operation by Lebanon in 1982, Israel entered the 40-km territory in a bid to create a safe zone. But we retreated from there in 2000.
Disputed Golan Heights
Then we moved towards the border with Syria - the Golan Heights that is under control of Israel, but being internationally considered the Syrian territory.
The Golan Heights is a disputed area between Syria and Israel. The Golan Heights has been part of the of Syria’s Quneitra Governorate from 1944 till 1967. After the six-day war, Israel took control of this area.
In 1981, the Israeli Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law and declared the sovereignty of Israel in these territories. However, the UN Security Council has considered this law to be invalid. Both Israel and Syria regard the Golan Heights as part of their territories.
In Israel we were told that the problem isn’t about the area, but about security of Israel and its people. The Golan Heights terrain is the best location for preventing any danger from the Syrian side. It was noted that Golan’s being under Israeli control has prevented military clashes in this area for a long time.
The Golan Heights have become one of the places mostly visited by tourists in Israel. We have also met many tourists touring the area, looking at Syria and taking a rest in cafés. What’s interesting is that most of those tourists are citizens of the countries that don’t consider Golan Israeli territory.
Then, we met with Captain Ariel, who said that we were standing on Mount Bental, part of mountain range between Syria and Israel. He showed us the border with the Syrian border. We were far from the border, there are Israel’s sown areas between us and the border. The captain said: “These territories belong to Kibbutz (a collective community in Israel. Syrian border begins at the end of the sown areas.”
The ancient city of Quneitra is seen from afar on the opposite side of the border. Captain Ariel allowed us to look at the village with his binoculars. As far as we could see, there was no building left aloft in Quneitra. The captain said that those buildings were destroyed during the civil war in Syria.
“Israel closely followed these processes. Now ancient Quneitra is under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra. They consider themselves an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), Captain Ariel continued.
From the hill where we were standing, we could see UN aid containers in Israeli territory, on the right side of Quneitra.
On the left side of Quneitra, there was New Quneitra. Captain Ariel said that New Quneitra is under control of Bashar al-Assad’s government. Infrastructure is the same in New Quneitra. However, every 5-7 minutes, the sounds of explosions are heard, smoke spreads and helicopters are flying over the city.
“One can observe the civil war in Syria here. Sometimes, shells fired from there fall on Israeli territory as well. It doesn’t matter to us whether the ones who fired the shells were Bashar al-Assad’s supporters or rebels. We think that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for all these incidents. After the situation became tense, Israel has strengthened its position here. It has stepped up security measures by using radars and cameras so that any dubious activity can be investigated. We're not the target, whereas we take measures to prevent any escalation that can harm us. We are sure that shells fired from Syria fall on Syrian territory by accident,” said Captain Ariel.
The Government of Israel carries out a humanitarian aid mission in relation to the Syrian conflict. According to Captain Ariel, Israel is well aware that civilian population is also involved in the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“Israel is trying to help civilian population affected by the humanitarian crisis and providing necessary medical assistance to the needy who come to the border. But they see us as evil. They are instilled a feeling of hatred towards us,” he continued.
The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established by UN Security Council Resolution 350 on 31 May 1974. The resolution was passed on the same day the Agreement on Disengagement was signed between Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights, finally establishing a ceasefire to end the 1973 Yom Kippur War (also known as Arab-Israel War).
Servicemen from a variety of countries are involved in UNDOF. During the talks with servicemen from New Zealand and Switzerland, they reported hearing the sounds of explosions from the Syrian side.
Famous Golan Wines
The inhabitants of the Golan Heights are mainly engaged in winemaking and viticulture. The wines of this area are very popular all over the world. Israel takes full advantage of the economic potential of this region. About 25 percent of Israeli wines are produced in this region which makes huge contribution to the country’s economy.
The itinerary also includes a visit to the Golan Heights Winery…
Here we were met by Tamar Israel, who was from Dagestan and speaking perfect English. She said these areas have a variety of climates.
“Climate changes per meter here, from a few hundred meters below sea level and a few hundred more meters above. So vine harvest here begins in August and ends in November, which is suitable for locals, who sells their products with different etiquettes on. These areas are volcanic. There is continuing movement underground, as a result of which various minerals originate. The grape absorbs these minerals and develops a different taste,” she added.
The Golan Heights Winery is jointly owned by eight Israeli settlements. The Golan Heights winery markets brands under the Golan, Yarden and Gamla labels. About 74 percent of the products are sold in Israel, while the rest of the products are exported. The biggest marker for Israeli wine is the United States. Israel exports a total of 5.5 million bottles of wine every year.
Hide yourself or you’re gonna get killed!
Israel is always ready to threats. Despite the current calmness, Israel is always ready for any incident in military and infrastructure terms. In all buildings there are shelters which are designed with equipment need for temporary accommodation. Israel has prepared a special missile warning map, which is hanged on all buildings.
These maps show how many minutes people have to find seek refuge when a warning is issued somewhere in the country. Gaza strip, Golan heights, and the Lebanese border are shown as the most dangerous. People must seek refuge right after they are warned. One has 14-15 minutes to seek refugee while leaving the area. For istance, when a missile warning is issued and citizen Negev is around, he has 45 minutes to hide—or he is going to get killed.
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