Last week I took the opportunity to travel to the Golan Heights with Israeli strategic intelligence analyst Avi Melamed (listen to my podcast with Avi from last week) to get an up-close view of the Syrian civil war from the Israel/Syria border in the Golan.
There were only modest security concerns, although mortars and sniper fire have been known to cross the border in the conflict. The day after our visit, three mortars inadvertently landed not far from our observation point.
We traveled along the south end of the Sea of Galilee and entered the Golan on the very south end of the area along the border with Jordan, where the Golan is divided by the Yarmouk River:
We would travel to the northern edge of the Golan near Mount Hermon, eventually stopping at the formerly Syrian Druze village of Masaade (not to be confused with the ancient Jewish fort of Masada by the Dead Sea).
Needless to say, there is considerable Israeli military presence in the Golan. We witnessed a number of IDF tanks practicing at various points along the way. One of the more interesting sites was a drone base with two sizable drones parked outside their hangars:
Along the border fence line there are a number of IDF posts doing direct and signals surveillance, and several optimal locations for a good view of what’s happening on the Syrian side of the border. Last November, Avi did a short video from one location:
But as we arrived at that site we found it now closed by the IDF due to security concerns:
Avi related that during one briefing he gave recently at this location with a small group, a gang of motorcycles appeared on the other side of the fence with armed riders, at which point they made a hasty retreat.
As we drove to another observation point, we could see thick black smoke coming from an engagement in the Beer Ajam area. The smoke never subsided, but increased while we were there.
After arriving at the other observation point, we could clearly see over the border. A giant Syrian flag was visible in Khan Arnabah a few hundred meters away:
For some perspective, Khan Arnabah is only 25 miles from Damascus. The Damascus suburbs are visible in the distance to the north east.