On November 11, 2012, the headlines of the Hebrew media were dramatic: “IDF fires at Syria for first time since 1973.” For the first time since the Yom Kippur War, the IDF’s Artillery Corps fired a missile at a Syrian mortar post in response to the firing of a 120mm mortar shell shortly before.
The latter had hit IDF’s Tel Hazeka stronghold south of the ghost-city of Quneitra, in the Golan Heights. The IDF issued two very different statements. Inwards, to the Israeli population, it claimed “the shell was not aimed at Israel and was fired as part of clashes between the Syrian army and rebels forces.” The odd statement ignores the fact that no such battles have been reported in the area.
Moreover, erring the direction of a mortar in such a degree is difficult to believe; the area is a war zone and soldiers in it are well trained on such delicate issues. The official answer of the IDF’s Spokesperson Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai was equally enigmatic: “IDF forces fired warning shots and relayed a message to the Syrian forces via the United Nations that warns against additional firing.
Additional firing will prompt a quick response.” Last week, a similar mortar landed in Alonei Habashan, the Israeli settlement shown at the bottom-left corner of the map next to this paragraph. Today’s hit at Tel Hezeka is illustrated in the map with a small explosion. After almost forty years of quiet, the first two hits were too close to each other, hinting that what we are witnessing here is something else.
The photography-map to the right is not clear enough. The dark color of the volcanic ground does not disclose many valuable details. Moreover, the Israeli newspaper that prepared it from a satellite image put a sign on the stronghold so that its construction details will not be disclosed. Finding open source images of the area is impossible; Israeli censorship works hard on these issues.
This is the second detail showing the interpretation proposed by the IDF is wrong. What is not seen, is that the stronghold occupies a low line of strategic hills.
Tel Hazeka Explosion, Map prepared by Yedioth Aharonot
IDF blocking the access road to Tel Hazeka after the event
The Spaniards gave odd names to their conquests. They favored names meaning “Red River” and “Black River,” despite all of these rivers invariably containing just regular water. My actual location is called “Altiplano,” namely “High Plateau;” yet it is not quite flat, the highlands feature endless hills and mountains placed atop a baseline drawn well over two miles above the Pacific Ocean.
In comparison, the Golan Heights are a rather flat plateau. Few features break its baseline; thus, these immediately acquire military importance. The cease-war border between Syria and Israel draws an arch. At its center is Quneitra, a former Syrian city that was divided during the 1973 war and is home now to the UN forces separating the two armies.
Next to it are several of the most dramatic hills in the Golan Heights. The picture below shows the Avital-Bental extinct volcano on the Golan Heights as seen from Quneitra; even at this low resolution, one can appreciate the IDF Tel Avital intelligence base at its top.
From there, Damascus can be seen.Just south of it along the border, are the Hazeka Hills, where the hit stronghold is located. This stronghold belongs to Israel Air Force; it serves as a weather station and a communications-rely base. In other words, after forty years of silence, the Syrians shot two mortars at the most strategic spot along their border with Israel. This was not random.
The Bental-Avital extinct volcano on the Golan Heights as seen from Quneitra | Home to largest IDF surveillance base in the area, from where Damascus is visible
What’s going on there?
On December 15, 2010, the Lebanese Army announced that it had dismantled two Israeli espionage sites watching Beirut from Jabel Snin and Jabel Baruch. Two weeks before that, Lebanon filed a formal complaint at the UN Security Council against Israel after the existence of the devices was exposed by the Hezbollah.
The devices included watching equipment and signals sending and receiving communications gear; it could be activated from afar. It was hidden under fake rocks in a mountainous area. Readers of The Cross of Bethlehem could finally find a collateral corroboration of my description there of “Kingfisher,” a spinoff from Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s best commando unit.
This is a special unit specializing in the placement of electronic beamers, cameras and other espionage equipment beyond Israeli borders. “Beamer” is an electronic device used for guiding certain type of bombs to a target.
Riding 500cc motorbikes, which can be attached to Cobra helicopters, the unit is active mainly in Lebanon and Syria, though not only there. It notoriously erred during Operation Defensive Shield, causing the Siege of the Nativity Basilica in Bethlehem.
Syria has never released information on the beamers placed in its territory. Despite the danger in the placement of this equipment, Israel favors this method since it saves costly flights; the lives of the soldiers involved are of secondary concern. Kingfisher and Sayeret Matkal routinely cross the border near Quneitra in order to perform similar activities within Syria.
That is one of the reasons for the extraordinary size of an IDF intelligence unit at Tel Avital (the antennas atop the extinct volcano in the picture) and for the location of the Tel Hazeka stronghold. The photograph map released by Yedioth Aharonot shows the most popular crossing point into Syria.
It is so because several major military bases in the area allow them an innocent-looking stopover before the crossing. It is so also because of the nearness of Damascus to the spot. Syria bombed this crossing point and related installations.
What the IDF spokesperson didn’t say in the abovementioned quotations, is that Israel tried to take advantage of the ongoing civil war in Syria and performed especially risky crossings. It got caught, and the Syrians retaliated. Despite all the soft-spoken declarations of the involved parties, this is unlikely to be an isolated event. Its repercussions will go on beyond the end of the Syrian civil war.
Mr. Tov Roy is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.