The northern front

Israel’s border communities remain quiet and confident despite the looming threat of war.

A RAINBOW stretches over Kibbutz Misgav Am in the Upper Galilee (photo credit: JOHN T. HUDDY/THE MEDIA LINE)
A RAINBOW stretches over Kibbutz Misgav Am in the Upper Galilee
(photo credit: JOHN T. HUDDY/THE MEDIA LINE)
Perched atop the Naftali Mountain Range in northern Israel, Kibbutz Misgav Am has a stunning view of the Upper Galilee. On a recent rainy afternoon, a rainbow stretched over the tapestry of colors in the valley below. A serene picture during a tense time.
Misgav Am sits on the Blue Line – the demarcation between Lebanon and Israel. At its nearest point, Lebanon is within a few meters of the Israeli border, close enough to toss a rock across.
The kibbutz was attacked during the Second Lebanon War and would be in the line of fire once again if another war erupts.
“All these hillsides [surrounding us] are honeycombed. There’s hundreds of tons of missiles and mortars and rockets,” said Aryeh Ben Yaakov, who has lived on Misgav Am since 1965, one of the close to 300 residents of the historic kibbutz, which is one of Israel’s oldest.
Ben Yaakov, who is a farmer and tour guide for Misgav Am, says the kibbutz is well protected by the IDF and by the residents who live in the community.
“We’re not worried. We sleep well,” Ben Yaakov told The Media Line on a recent afternoon as he overlooked the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the opposite side of the valley. “[Hezbollah] are worried. If they mess with us, this will all be destroyed and their soldiers won’t have a place to come home to. So, it’s quiet. They do a lot of blustering.”
Blustering or not, Hezbollah does present a clear and present danger to Israel.
It has an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 short, medium and long-range missiles and rockets and a fighting force of an estimated 50,000 soldiers, including reservists.
Some analysts estimate that in the event of another war, there could be as many as 1,500 to 2,000 rockets fired into Israel daily, compared with about 130 to 180 per day during the Second Lebanon War.
The IDF confirmed to The Media Line that it has increased the number of Iron Dome missile defense batteries in northern Israel.
“We have enhanced our defense capabilities in the north,” Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus told The Media Line.
Israel’s Defense Ministry also confirmed that it conducted a successful test earlier this week of the long-range Arrow 3 Missile Defense system in central Israel. The Arrow 3 is designed to defend against ballistic missile attacks. The Arrow 3, Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems would all be deployed if another war erupts, according to experts.
The IDF also has evacuation plans in place for the border communities, first the ones within four kilometers of the Lebanese border, then working outwards to nine kilometers from the Blue Line.
Preparing for the next war
ISRAEL’S MILITARY has been conducting combat exercises in the north and south, simulating missile attacks and infiltrations. A nightmare situation for the Israeli military is battle-hardened and combat trained Hezbollah fighters attacking one of the small communities along the border, killing and taking Israelis hostage.
“They [the IDF] are making us understand that the next war will be a different game, completely different,” said Tali Lev, head of customer relations for Misgav Am, who is originally from Long Beach, New York, and has lived on Kibbutz Misgav Am for almost five years.
Lev, who is married with a two-yearold son, says there are numerous bomb shelters for people if there’s an attack. For security reasons, however, she didn’t want to say exactly where they were located or specifically where people would be evacuated to.
“If anything happens in terms of missiles, we can run into shelters straight away,” she said, as heavy clouds started rolling in over Misgav Am, a storm shrouding the mountain and Southern Lebanon. “Basically, there are soldiers here with us 24/7. So they’re here to help guard and if anything happens they can protect us. We know everything we are supposed to do in case of an emergency, like if there’s a breach into the boundaries of the kibbutz.”
The IDF built a 10-meter-high concrete wall along the border in Misgav Am to prevent infiltrations. The 2006 Second Lebanon War started with a cross-border attack by Hezbollah.
There’s a similar wall separating the border town of Metulla from Lebanon. The 1,200-meter concrete barrier wall is lined with sensors and infrared cameras. It was constructed to protect Metulla’s residents from rock attacks and sniper fire from the Lebanese town of Kafr Kila.
Lev said the IDF has made clear to Misgav Am residents that if another war erupts they need to evacuate.
“The only people who are going to stay here at the beginning are men who can help with the situation,” Lev explained, noting that many are armed and well trained, “but they are going to be evacuating people this time and [the residents] know it.”
On the day this reporter and a photographer visited the kibbutz, there was a United Nations patrol on the Lebanese side of the border, along with what appeared to be a television news crew. A UN helicopter also patrolled the Lebanese side of the Blue Line.
Lev said she sees not only the UN patrols, but Hezbollah fighters as well, often marching close to the border with weapons. Hezbollah’s yellow flags are a noticeable part of the landscape.
“They want to make sure we know they are here and active,” Lev said, adding that she doesn’t live in fear of another attack, even though the IDF has warned people another fight would be much more violent.
“I’m still here. I will still be here in the future as well. We’re listed to build our own home. And again, Scary? Anywhere is scary in the world. You could walk around anywhere in Israel, let’s say Jerusalem, people walk around there and that’s scary, people get shot at, stabbed, anywhere in Tel Aviv and not even just Israel. In the [United States] anybody could go into any sports shop and buy a weapon.”
The Media Line interviewed Lev just a day before a deranged gunmen murdered 17 people at a Florida high school.
Many of those interviewed by The Media Line recently in Israel’s border communities agree they feel a sense of peace and security, despite living so close to hostile countries, including Syria – countries that are developing, or trying to develop, precision guided weapons with the help of Iran. Israeli leaders have said that is a red line, along with Iran’s growing military entrenchment in Syria and Lebanon and the support of its proxies like Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week following the destruction of an Iranian drone and the subsequent downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet that came under heavy Syrian missile fire, that Israel would not limit its activities in Syria.
He continued that message Sunday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, holding up a charred piece of the Iranian drone shot down by an Israeli attack helicopter.
“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours. You can take it back with a message to the tyrants of Tehran – do not test Israel’s resolve,” Netanyahu said, aiming his comments at Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Along with a massive barrage of rockets and missiles, Israel is also concerned about Hezbollah launching attack drones on border communities.
“Everybody knows something is going to happen, we’re just waiting to see when,” Lev said, looking out over the homes dotting the Lebanese countryside, though adding that even when recent Code Red sirens went off, people were undeterred.
“We still had our picnic outside… we didn’t just run into shelters. We stayed put, knowing that if anything serious happens there will be another siren, or different siren, or we will get evacuated.”
There is an air of confidence among many of those people living in Israel’s border communities who trust Israel’s army to defend them and its ability to counter any attack.
“We rely absolutely on the army and ourselves at all times,” Ben Yaakov said, holding up his jacket to show the .45 caliber handgun he had holstered. “We know what we’re doing. We know how to live here.”
Still, the threat of war is real in northern Israel – a war that could erupt on several fronts.
The Druse community of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights bordering Syria lives in the shadow of Mount Hermon and has also heard the Code Red warning sirens recently.
The village knows the war across the border well.
Recently, dozens of people gathered in the village center for a pro-Syrian rally, the Syrian and Druse flags adorning the buildings surrounding the Sultan al-Atrash monument, depicting the Druse revolt over French colonialism. A boy paraded a large Syrian flag through street.
Several Druse residents, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Media Line, said the community holds demonstrations like these not so much in support of the Syrian regime, but more in support of their families and friends on the other side of the border, some of whom have been massacred during Syria’s vicious civil war.
Last fall, a member of the Majdal Shams community across the border from Syria was wounded by the spillover gunfire.
In November 2017, nine Syrians were killed and more than 20 wounded in two terrorist attacks by the Salafist jihadist group Nusra Front in Hader, the Druse village on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights about four kilometers from the Israel border and about 15 kilometers from the Syrian city of Quneitra.
After the attack, the IDF said it would help protect Hader’s Druse residents. It was a rare announcement of potential Israeli involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Following the violence in Hader, hundreds of Israeli Druse residents gathered at the border to support their relatives on the other side. A group of Druse men pushed through the security fence, before Israeli security forces gathered them up and returned them to Israel.
At the base of the Majdal Shams village, the homes sit along the barbed-wire and sensor- lined Syrian border security fence. It has a security patrol road on the Israel side and is closely monitored by an IDF observation point above the village.
The residents of Majdal Shams can sometimes hear the sounds of war, artillery fire and gun battles in the distance, like Rana and Esmet Mree, who are among those who live along the border.
“We’ve been living here for two years. It’s very quiet. We don’t feel we are on the border,” Esmet Mree told The Media Line, as he looked out of his living-room window at the border security fence and the mountains that create a natural border between war and peace. “But I would rather have it without the fence and open for all people.”
Mree said he wouldn’t leave his home or village if a war erupted.
On the other side of the country along the Lebanon border, Aryeh Ben Yaakov said he would die defending Kibbutz Misgav Am.
“Nobody gets us off the mountain,” he said, shaking his head. “Look, to a certain extent you have to be a little fatalistic. If God wants you, he’ll take you… Those of us who live up here understand that. If I have to go, I’m going defending my home. Everybody dies some time. You get born and then you’re gonna die. How you live is what’s important.”
Driving back to Jerusalem through the Golan Heights, the mine fields are a contrast to the dairy farms they run adjacent to, along with the abandoned Israeli tanks from the 1973 Yom Kippur War that still have their barrels aimed at Syria – the remnants of past wars in a country that may be on the brink of another one.