The IDF and the Defense Ministry carried out a controlled demolition of nearly 300 mines in the Golan Heights on Monday, as part of the ministry’s continued efforts to de-mine the Heights.
Against the backdrop of the Golan’s mountain range, the ministry live-streamed a massive explosion of the land mines sending off clouds of black and gray smoke.
The officer supervising the clearing operation could be heard over IDF communications saying, “the explosion was carried out properly.”
Only seconds earlier, the same officer could be heard counting down from 10 to one, though he had advised his soldiers that the operation could be halted at the count of five if they noticed any problems.
He also ordered his soldiers to remain in place for 10 minutes until he performed a full field and safety check of the area.
In the minutes prior to the explosion, soldiers could be seen slowly moving around the land mine field which was cordoned off and could be identified by a large volume of white flags.
“This summer the Israeli Mine Action Authority (INMAA) will begin a three-year project to de-mine the Golan Heights,” Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan told the Knesset in March in response to a question by Shas MK Ya’acov Margi regarding the clearing of minefields by the Defense Ministry.
The ministry established the INMAA in 2011 to be in charge of clearing land mines. According to Ben-Dahan, since then the authority has cleared some 700 hectares of minefields and other areas suspected of being mined.
According to Ben-Dahan the de-mining rate per year is between 150-200 hectares and is dependent on the authority’s NIS 27 million annual budget, which is separate from the ministry’s.
While there are some 825 hectares of known minefields, there are still some 9,000 hectares suspected of being mined throughout the country, mainly in open fields on the Golan Heights, in the Arava and on Israel’s borders.
Many of the mines that need to be cleared in the Golan Heights were put there by Syrian forces and later fenced off by Israel, however, the fencing is not always properly maintained. This has led uninformed civilians to cross into the minefields, including a 2011 incident which helped spur the mine-clearing push.
While incidents of civilians wandering into minefields are rare, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a Geneva-based NGO which oversees land mine removal, 15 Israelis were injured in land mine accidents from 1999-2015.
There are thousands of other mines, which were planted by Israel to thwart invading soldiers and tanks during the first decades of the state’s existence.
While the IDF has continued to dismantle minefields, the Defense Ministry is also intent on removing the remaining mines so that more territory would be safe to hike in.
While the country is a member of the Convention on Conventional Weapons and its Amended Protocol II on land mines, it has not signed the 1997 Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines.
Israel’s position has been, that while it would like to voluntarily reduce land mine use where possible, as long as it faces potential imminent danger from its neighbors, it cannot sign and obligate itself to a complete ban.Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.
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