Israel-Syria Alpha Fence

Map Israeli Settlements on the Golan HeightsOn 6 January 2013 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, upon completion of the construction of the 230-kilometer (140 mile)-long security fence along the Egyptian border, "We intend to erect an identical fence, with a few changes based on the actual territory, along the Golan Heights. We know that on other side of our border with Syria today, the Syrian army has moved away, and in its place, Global Jihad forces have moved in. Therefore, we will defend this border against both infiltration and terrorism, just as we are successfully doing on the Sinai border."

Israel announced plans 06 January 2012 to reinforce its frontier with neighboring Syria amid growing concerns about the fallout from the Syrian civil war. Israel planned to erect a new five-meter-high fence on the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, and to further fortify it with trenches, barbed wire and a road for army patrols. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday that the Syrian army has moved away from the frontier and that what he called "Global Jihad" has moved in, refering to militant Islamists from around the Middle East, including al-Qaida. Netanyahu said Israel would "defend its border against infiltrations and terrorism." Israel had stayed out of the Syrian conflict, but recently a number of stray mortar rounds have landed inside Israeli-controlled territory on the Golan, prompting the army to fire back. The incidents raised concerns that the Syrian civil war could spill toward Israel.

On 15 May 2011 a group of hundreds of individuals in Syria tore down the Alpha Fence, in breach of the agreed disengagement line between Israel and Syria. These infiltrators entered the Village of Majdal Shams and carried out a violent demonstration against Israel Defense Forces (IDF), throwing large objects and using other dangerous means. The IDF acted according to its instructions to operate with maximum restraint in confronting the significant threat of violence facing it.

All signs indicate that this incident could not have taken place or been organized without the knowledge of the Syrian authorities, who in previous years have helped to ensure that protests on the so-called "Nakba Day" occurred peacefully. This breach of the disengagement line between Israel and Syria from the Syrian side raised questions about whether certain actors in our region are seeking to such provocations as a cynical distraction from other issues.

The Golan Heights, Israel’s mountainous northern region, is one of the most beautiful and most traveled parts of the country. There are wonderful scenic treasures alongside lovely nature reserves, historic and archeological sites and attractions for the whole family. Some people call this area the Israeli Texas, because of its size, while others see it as a land of plentiful water sources. The beauty of the Golan is so captivating that some visitors return here again and again to enjoy the sights.

The IDF conquered the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967, freeing Israel's north from the menace of the Syrian army that had moved into the area 19 years before. The Syrians built giant military bases from which they attacked the Galilee and Jordan Valley. The area in the north which came under Israeli control as a result of the 1967 Six Day War, and popularly referred to as the 'Golan Heights', is actually composed of two geologically distinct areas (divided by Nahal Sa'ar): the Golan Heights proper (1,070 sq. km.) and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range (approx. 100 sq. km.).

The area was referred to in biblical times as 'Bashan'; the word 'Golan' apparently derives from the biblical city of, 'Golan in Bashan,' (Deuteronomy 4:43). The area was assigned to the half-tribe of Manasseh; in early First Temple times (953-586 BCE), the area was contested between the northern kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom based in Damascus. In the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE, the Heights were settled by returning Jewish exiles from Babylon.

In the mid 2nd century BCE, Judah Maccabee and his brothers came to the aid of the local Jewish communities when the latter came under attack by their neighbors (I Maccabees 5). The Hasmonean King Alexander Jannai (103-76 BCE) added the Heights to his kingdom. The Greeks called the area 'Gaulanitis', a name also adopted by the Romans, which led to the current application of the term 'Golan' to the entire area. Gamla became the Golan's chief city and was the last Jewish stronghold to hold out against the Roman legions in the Great Revolt, falling in the year 67 (see Josephus, The Jewish War, Chap. 13, Penguin Edition). Despite the failure of the Revolt, Jewish settlement continued and even flourished; the remains of no less than 25 synagogues from the period between the Revolt and the Islamic conquest (636) have been excavated. (There was also Byzantine settlement on the Heights; several monasteries from this period have been excavated.) The decisive battle in which the Arabs, under Caliph Omar, crushed the Byzantines, led by Emperor Heraclius, and established Islamic control over what is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, was fought in the Yarmuk Valley, on the southern edge of the Heights, in 636. Organized Jewish settlement on the Golan came to an end at this time.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Druze began to settle in the northern Golan and on the slopes of Mt. Hermon. During the brief period of Egyptian rule (1831-1840) and in the following decades, a number of different groups settled on the Heights: Sudanese, Algerians, Kurds, Turkomans, and Arabs from Samaria. The Turks brought in Circassians in the 1870's.

The Jewish presence on the Golan was renewed in 1886, when the B'nei Yehuda society of Safed purchased a plot of land four kilometers north of the present-day religious moshav of Keshet, but the settlement established there failed after one year. In 1887, the society purchased lands between modern-day B'nei Yehuda and Kibbutz Ein Gev. This settlement lasted until 1920, when two of its last members were murdered in the anti-Jewish riots that broke out in the spring of that year. In 1891, Baron Rothschild purchased approximately 18,000 acres of land, about 15 km. east of Ramat Magshimim, in what is now Syria. First Aliyah (1881-1903) immigrants settled on these lands, but were forced to leave by the Turks in 1898. The lands were farmed until 1947, when they were seized by the Syrian army. The Golan Heights were included within Mandatory Palestine, when the Mandate was formally granted in 1922, but Britain gave the area to France in the Franco-British Agreement of 7 March 1923.

After the War of Independence (1948), the Syrians built extensive fortifications on the Heights. They used these to systematically shell civilian targets in Israel and to launch terrorist attacks; 140 Israelis were killed and many more injured as a result of these actions between 1948 and 1967. In the 1967 Six Day War, in response to Syrian attacks, the IDF captured the Golan Heights in just over 24 hours of hard fighting on June 9-10. Nearly all of the Golan's Arab inhabitants fled as a result of the war; four Druze villages remain, three on the slopes of Mt. Hermon and one in the northern Golan. There is also a small Sunni Muslim village at Wassif.

The renewal of Jewish settlement on the Heights began almost immediately after the war. The kibbutz of Merom Golan was founded in July 1967, and by 1970, there were 12 Jewish communities on the Golan. On 6 October 1973, Syrian forces attacked across the 1967 cease-fire line, and made their greatest gains in the central Golan, almost reaching the escarpment, before being pushed back beyond the 1967 line by the main Israeli counterattack that began on the morning of 8 October. A Separation of Forces Agreement was signed between Israel and Syria on 31 May 1974 and remains in force.

There is a gap between the international border to which Israel will probably agree to withdraw and a withdrawal to the 4 June 1967 lines, which Syria demands. The Syrians insist upon returning to the border which the IDF held at the start of the Six-Day War, although the Syrians actually held only one-third of the demilitarized area between the international border in the east and the ceasefire lines in the west that is, 18,000 out of 65,000 dunams at the time. The IDF held almost all of the remaining two-thirds of the demilitarized zone. There were also a few thousand dunams of "no man's land" where military clashes were occasionally waged over strips just a few hundred sometimes a few dozen meters wide.




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