Monday, August 19, 2013

In the Golan, Israel Deploys Drones and Steel Fences Against Threats From Syria

At a cost of $75 million, new fortifications stand as physical reminders that peace in the north is further away than ever

By Yochi Dreazen for Tablet

Golan FenceIsrael’s newest wall snakes along its northern border, long the country’s quietest, climbing over the mountains separating the Golan Heights from Syria and across the grassy hills and plateaus separating it from Lebanon. The barrier, already 60 kilometers long, is made of thick steel pillars and coils of razor-sharp barbed wire, bolstered by some of the most sophisticated cameras, motion detectors, and infrared surveillance equipment in the Israeli arsenal.

The skies over the fence are patrolled by a fleet of unarmed, Israeli-built Sky Rider drones that beam real-time video imagery down to troops on the ground. An Israeli military official boasted that the drones and surveillance equipment allow Israeli forces to “see everything from a shepherd to a runaway sheep.” Every day, the Israeli side of the wall is patrolled by hundreds of active-duty troops who have rushed north in recent months to relieve the reservists who have long been assigned the dull task of securing a border where nothing of note typically happens.

Responsibility for maintaining quiet in northern Israel rests in the hands of men like Lt. Col. Yogev Bar Sheshet, the commander of the infantry battalion with responsibility for a swath of the Lebanese border not yet secured by the new fence. One afternoon last week, Bar Sheshet climbed a ladder onto a concrete escarpment next to a machine-gun nest ringed by sandbags and covered with camouflage netting. The border was less than 10 meters away. To the left were tan buildings housing some of the United Nations peacekeepers stationed along the border; to the right, off in the distance, was a Lebanese army guard tower. A chain link fence topped with a thin strand of barbed wire marked the limit of Israeli control.

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