Full disclosure – while the Golan Heights certainly has heavy security, the above is not a photo of a real soldier – more on that later.
Geographically, the Golan is a plateau (rising up to almost 7300 feet at its highest point) bounded by the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee on the west, Mount Hermon on the north, the Wadi Al-Ruqqād, which runs seasonally from the Yarmūk River on the east, and the Yarmuk River on the south.The Golan is 44 miles from north to south and about 27 miles wide from east to west at its widest point. The land is a mix of rich agricultural fields, stony foothills , woodland and scrub,
The views from the plateau are vast, varied:
So why is this place so important? Take a look at this map:
And this, from the internet
And these signs:
The borders of Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon converge at the Golan Heights. It has long been a strategic vantage point. Here is a quick history:
- From the 6th to 5th centuries BCE the region was settled by returning Jewish exiles from Babylonia (modern Iraq).
- The last Jewish stronghold in Golan fell in the year 67 BCE to the Romans, although Jewish communities still remained.
- In 636 BCE Islamic forces conquered the Byzantines and established Islamic rule over what is now considered Israel, Jordan Lebanon and Syria, and the Jewish settlement in Golan came to an end
- From 15 – 16th Centuries BCE Druze settled in Golan
- 19th Century BCE saw a brief Egyptian ruke
- Peoples from Sudan, Algeria, Turkey also settled in Golan
- In late 1800;s Jewish presence returned after a number of failed attempts through land purchased by Baron Rothschild.
- The lands were farmed by the Palestine and Israel Colonization Organizations by the time of the Mandatory Palestine Mandate in 1923, but Britain ceded the area to France in 1923
- The Golan Heights became part of Syria in 1944 after French Mandate ended
- 1948 – 1967 Under Syrian control, the Golan Heights was used as a military stronghold from which Syria sniped at Israeli civilians and roads were imbedded with mines (which still exist today)
- June 9, 1967 Israel mounted an attack on Golan’s Syrian forces and by the afternoon has taken complete control
- In 1973 Syrian forces attacked the Israeli Golan stronghold in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, one of the most holy days for the Jewish religion. Israel managed to counterattack, forcing Syria to sign a disengagement pack
- 1981 – the Golan Heights is officially annexed by the Israeli government
- While there have been sporadic attacks by Syria, the peace so far is still in place
- The recent decision by the Trump administration to recognize Israeli’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights was unsurprisingly condemned by Syria and its Iranian and Russian allies, adding to the tension created when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but no significant action has been taken
Since Golan Heights straddles Israel and Syria and overlooks southern Lebanon. It is obviously a most strategic place and Israel’s present control give the country a most strategic vantage point against its non-friendly neighbors.
During our visit we explored the turrets where mounted machine guns were once set up as well the the trenches where the Israeli soldiers hunkered down:
It is disconcerting to see the remnants of the machinery of war and to see the proximity of Syria and Lebanon. It doesn’t help one equanimity to know that, although Israel controls the Heights right now, Syria and its allies do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty, and Trump’s recent comments only fuel the antagonisms..
I can’t imagine what Syria thinks about Netanyahu’s plan to name a new Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights after Trump – just hope the precarious peace can be maintained. Hopefully those metal soldiers will not have to be replaced by the real thing any time soon.
UPDATE: Since I wrote the original draft of this post, there have been several updates. One, the Israeli army has hit several military targets in Syria two weeks ago after two rockets had been fired toward the Golan Heights- conditions there are still unsettled. Also, Netanyahu’s plan to name a settlement in the Golan Heights after Trump has been halted due to the need for new elections. Netanyahu was unable to form a majority government and so another election must be held on Sept 17. Whether or not the settlement naming will come to pass relies in part on whether or not Netanyahu can eke out another win. In addition to the current roster of competitors, former prime minister Ehud Barak, a strident critic of Netanyahu, is considering tossing his hat into the ring.