We took a short detour on our way back to the Sea of Galilee (where we’d spend the rest of the day) to get a better view of the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. We stopped at a produce stand, where I purchased some local Olive Oil (which I hope holds up to the pressures of the cargo hold of a 777 during a transatlantic flight). While there, our tour guide gave us all manner of details about the Six Days war in 1967 and the general conflict that Israel has experienced with it’s neighbors to the north and east (Lebanon and Syria) over the years.
We learned about the conflict that had occurred in 1973 between Israel and Syria. The United Nations, assisted by the Nixon white house (Henry Kissinger), brokered a cease fire agreement. The deal was that Israel and Syria would symmetrically deploy troops and tanks to either side of the border the same distance apart. The UN then placed listening stations along the border on each side and built an administrative facility in one of the small valleys near the border in the Golan Heights, a mile or so off the main road that connects the junction in the Europe-Africa Intercontinental Bridge (also called the Via Mares, or “the Way of the Sea”) at Tel Megiddo and Damascus, capital of Syria. It’s amazing to see how close all these places are to each other and how strategic the various land positions and resources are. When you add the religious tensions, no wonder there is so much conflict in this region!
In addition to the UN listening posts, we also saw several military bases and other installations both where we were on the Israeli side and as we looked out across the valley at the Syrian side. Our tour guide told a really interesting story about an Israeli spy who had infiltrated the ranks of the Syrians before the 1973 conflict. Evidently the Syrians tried to copy a lot of things the Israeli’s do, and this spy convinced their military leadership to plant beautiful eucalyptus trees (which the Syrians liked but which only grew in Israel) around their military bases to camouflage them. But of course, he was leaking information to the Israeli army, so they immediately knew that wherever they saw eucalyptus trees there was a military base. So, that was as good as painting targets for Israel’s bombers when the war started. Isn’t that the kind of thing you only read in cartoons?
Another interesting fact that served as a fairly stern reality check. Evidently, there are areas of the Golan Heights that still have mines in them. Uh … not cool … staying on the bus.
BTW, our tour guide obviously has no love at all for the UN, and neither do many of the other guides, as I understand it. However, he loved the United States, and claims that most Israelis do too. Makes sense, but it’s nice to hear. I think it’s also important to point out that the instruction / information we were receiving with regard to these conflicts and the motives behind them were distinctly Israeli. Nowhere in this picture is anyone expecting to get an unbiased view.