IDF chief visits Golan Heights as anxiety rises for fear of Iranian action

Life goes on as usual for citizens in the North, despite massive troop buildup and deployment of Iron Dome missile defense system.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot tours northern Israel May 9, 2018. (Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot held a situation assessment with senior IDF officials and mayors on the Golan Heights on Wednesday, amid increased tension on the northern border.
Eisenkot met with OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick, OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Tamir Yadai, and Brig.-Gen. Amit Fisher, the commander of the Bashan Division, along with other commanders, the army said.
In addition, the chief of staff held a meeting with local authorities from around the Golan Heights, which was attended by the heads of the Golan Regional Council, where he briefed them regarding the situational assessment and discussed the preparedness of the communities and the civilian front.
On Tuesday night, the military instructed local municipalities to open bomb shelters for residents of the Golan Heights, following the identification of “abnormal movements of Iranian forces in Syria.”
The army raised the preparedness of troops for an attack and deployed air defenses in several locations in the country’s North.
A heavy police presence was visible on highways leading to the North, and IDF vehicles blocked access to all roads north of Route 98 on the Golan.
Thierry Laskart, a resident of El Rom in the Golan Heights told The Jerusalem Post that “of course there is more tension. There is much more hardware, a lot of posturing.”
Thierry, a farmer and tour guide explained that while the roads north of route 98 were closed, he had no issue getting to his fields earlier in the day.
“The schools are still open,” he said. But nonetheless, “we are at one level up...we feel it.”
While some bomb shelters in the area were opened prior to Tuesday’s announcement, the significant change witnessed by the military led to the decision that authorities should open all bomb shelters and inform residents of the increased tension in the area.
In the community of Merom Golan, which has some 750 residents, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has brought in mobile bomb shelters to be placed next to the local school for students playing outside, allowing for 10-15 students to take shelter if needed.
“It’s almost instantly,” Merom Golan resident Dror Crystal told The Jerusalem Post of how long residents have to take shelter from incoming projectiles. “People say 15 seconds, but Syria is less than a mile away, so it’s going to be quite instant.”
“The atmosphere here is very tense, but we are hoping that the missiles will not fall here and it will be safe,” Doron Butbul of KKL-JNF told the Post.
“Because of the situation with Syria, Iran and what US President Donald Trump decided yesterday, to give the ultimatum to Iran, because of that we thought it would be smart to bring the shelter for the children.”
Crystal told the Post that despite the IDF’s announcement to open bomb shelters on the Golan Heights, “bomb shelters are open all the time. We never close them. They are always open.
“I think the announcement was made for public opinion, or let’s say, to tell the other side that we are ready and we are in an okay situation, everything is good, you know?” he said.
“I feel safe,” Crystal said, explaining that he is “like an ostrich; nothing happens, and everything is okay. The moment I pull my head up from the sand, maybe something will be different. But for me, it’s everyday; everything is okay and normal. There is some pressure, but not too much.”
According to Crystal, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal has given Iran a “good reason” to strike Israel, which for Tehran is a “sore thumb... interrupting their plans for the region.”
Nevertheless, he said, “I am not afraid of anything. If, God forbid, a missile will fall, okay, we will worry; but to be afraid? This is my home.”