IDF soldiers near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In one of the IDF's most strategically sensitive points on the northern front, a who's who of Israel's enemies are in some instances just a few hundred meters away. A look to the right offers a view of a Syrian army outpost, the last Golan Heights foothold controlled by President Bashar Assad's forces near the ridge of Mt. Hermon.
A glance to the left enables one to see the areas held by anti-Assad rebels who have yet to abandon their dream of one day taking over the Syrian side of the Golan.
In the middle, there are the Druse villages that begin on the Israeli side, with Majdal Shams, and continuing through to the northern Golan Heights.
Turning south, on a clear day, it is possible to notice the last position held by UN peacekeepers along Israel's northern border with Syria. Not far from there is the Hezbollah.
Yes, the most significant threat facing Israel today sits just a few meters from the soldiers of the Armored Brigade's 605th engineering battalion.
The only thing that the Syrians, UN peacekeepers, the rebels, the Druse, the Lebanese from Hezbollah, and IDF fighters have in common these days is the white stuff that has blanketed the entire area.
"The weather definitely creates enhanced operational challenges," said Capt. Raz Alaluf, the commander of the battalion's Doleb Company. "We, of course, have made the necessary logistical preparations as well as preparations on the operational level. We are ready for any contingency. Obviously, due to the inclement weather, we are sending more combat soldiers to the field both to conduct more patrols as well as for lookouts."
Capt. Alaluf said that while heavy snow accumulation does significantly decrease the chances of an attempt by armed terrorists to sneak over the border, the specter of rocket or missile fire – including anti-tank missiles – or the planting of bombs still exists.
"We are certainly on higher alert for fear of [those who will seek to] take advantage of the stormy weather, particularly in order to plant bombs," said the officer. "Taking in the view here is quite the experience, but we cannot delude ourselves. The Syrian front is deceptive."
"On the one hand, it's not our business [what goes on in Syria]. On the other hand, we have been fired upon from there in the past. So I've postponed having fun in the snow with my girlfriend to another time."
From another IDF lookout post, this one facing the breathtaking, snow-capped mountains of eastern Lebanon, soldiers from the same battalion man their positions. This is one of the few points throughout Israel where a battalion guards a front while under the direct command of an operational brigade.
The battalion's challenges are three-fold – protect the front, brave the rough weather conditions, and provide security for one of the busiest wintertime tourist attractions in the country. The ski slope on Mt. Hermon may be completely quiet one day, yet attract 10,000 visitors the next.
"This is a front with its own unique set of circumstances as far as the enemy is concerned," said a senior officer in the Northern Command. "Every other day it seems there's a new [terrorist] organization popping up on the other side of the border, which compels us to conduct different types of training, have constant situational assessments, and be on alert 24-7."
"To compound things, we have the most significant factor, which is Hezbollah," the officer said. "It's no secret that in recent weeks we are on higher alert despite the fact that it appears Hezbollah has finished escalating the situation. We are always prepared and we believe that if something happens, we will have advance warning. For the moment, Hezbollah is knee-deep in the mud in Syria, and it doesn't appear to be eager to confront us."
"The weather changes the way in which we defend," said Capt. Yakir Lahan, an officer in the 605th Battalion's Operations Branch. "We can't conduct operations that are prolonged because of the storms, so we are helped by the Alpine Unit. They are our source for knowledge in terms of how to deal with the extreme weather we have seen here. They know to reach places that we can't get to."
"Our challenge is, among other things, to provide security for a huge tourist site which includes ski slopes that we don't always see, particularly those at the higher altitudes. So we are fanned out at the ends of these ski trails in case of any scenario that might unfold."