Israelis who enjoy hiking will soon have more land to explore on the Golan Heights, with a mine-clearing effort beginning this coming summer expected to free up more areas for civilian use.“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 on Wednesday in response to a question by MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas) 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.
“The mines slated to be removed are in accordance with the multi-year program of the authority,” Ben-Dahan said, emphasizing that the demining rate by the INMAA has doubled in the past year.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 areas on the Golan Heights were once part of Syria, and as the mines laid by Syrian forces remain largely unknown, those areas have been fenced off by the IDF. However, the fencing is not always properly maintained with warning signs, allowing for uninformed civilians to cross into the minefields – such as earlier in the week when two Druse men crossed into a minefield looking for edible plants and had to be rescued. While incidents of civilians wandering into minefields are rare, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a Geneva-based NGO which oversees landmine removal, 15 Israelis were injured in landmine accidents from 1999-2015.There are thousands of other mines 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 of removing the remaining mines so that more territory would be safe to hike in.While Israel 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.
Controlled explosion of land mines in the Golan Heights in 2015 (credit: NATIONAL MINE ACTION AUTHORITY / IEOD)