Keeping civilians away from 260,000 mines a tough task

The Golan Heights has at least 2,000 mine fields. Situated along these is a 1,300 kilometer fence.

February 8, 2010 03:13
2 minute read.
minefield sgin

minefield sign. (photo credit: courtesy)

About 33 square kilometers of land are suspected to be mined in Israel, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, though the exact extent of the mined areas is not known.

The Golan Heights has at least 2,000 mine fields. Situated along these is a 1,300 kilometer fence. Some of the mines were placed by the IDF, while some were laid by Syria before 1967, including in the area where Saturday’s tragedy occurred.

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According to the US State Department, there are an estimated 260,000 mines in Israel, primarily along the borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the territories captured in the Six Day War.

Family insists minefield wasn't marked off

There is an ongoing, expensive process being carried out by the IDF to dismantle mine fields laid by Israel. In 2006, Israel reported that it had completed the clearance of 40 anti-vehicle minefields in the northern Jordan Valley, at a cost of NIS 5 million.

Those mines laid by Syria present a more complicated challenge: their location is largely unknown, and thus their removal is arduous and more expensive. As a result, the IDF fences these areas in and posts warning signs, instead of removing the explosives.

According to army policy, these fences and signs must be examined at least once a year; and when they border civilian areas, at least twice a year. However, even if this policy was adhered to completely, which has not always been the case, it is not sufficient. Flooding can cause mines to drift outside the fenced-in areas, leaving innocent hikers at risk.

In 1999, the State Comptroller’s Report revealed many lapses in the IDF’s adherence to the policy. These included problems with the biannual fence inspections of almost all minefields in the Golan Heights, a lack of fences and signs warning of minefields in the southern part of the country, and the fact that there were no indications of the minefields’ locations on civilian maps, except for one that contained only partial information.

However, as of 2008, the IDF Engineering Corps and the Mapping Center of Israel are said to be cooperating regularly.

Though Israel is a member of the Convention on Conventional Weapons and its Amended Protocol II on land mines, it has not acceded to the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty.

Israel stated in 2005, at the UN, that the primary humanitarian risk for innocent civilians is from mines used by non-state armed groups, and Israel does not permit non-state armed groups to use land mines. Israel reiterated in 2007 that “while Israel supports the humanitarian goals of the convention, it is unable to disregard its specific military and security needs, [and] it cannot commit to a total ban on anti-personnel mines, as they are a legitimate means for defending its borders against possible incursions such as terrorist attacks.”

Nevertheless, Israel has said it “ceased all production and imports of anti-personnel mines in the early 1980s.”

In July 2004, Israeli officials disclosed that anti-personnel mine production lines had been dismantled.

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