For the first time, I faced a dilemma regarding the next article to be published. Two topics which I had followed for years, had been triggered by recent news. This allowed me to publish thorough and timely reviews of them. One was political in nature and was relevant to the upcoming elections; the other was military, related to places and units I know well, and had not been mentioned by any English-language media. I left the internet kiosk and went for a meditative walk; after an hour or so, I found a spot in a different kiosk. This technique has proven safe and efficient; being online through a set IP for long periods of time opens the gate to various vicious attacks. While walking, I was approached several times by suspiciously placed civilians; probably they were plainclothes policemen. All of them were dressed in mock military clothes with numeric patches related to the units involved in the event reported here. Intimidation is a futile tactic of illegitimate governments; this petty act of terror convinced me to give priority to the desertion of 17 IDF soldiers from an important stronghold on Mount Hermon. Netanyahu's palace will wait.
Israeli Stronghold, Mt. Hermon, January 2, 2013
"IDF is embarrassed," claimed Yedioth Aharonot, the largest Hebrew newspaper, on January 3. The day before, 17 soldiers serving in Battalion 12 of Brigade 1 have deserted "Israeli Stronghold," the main IDF military base on Mt. Hermon, at the northern edge of the Golan Heights. Brigade 1, "Golani," is an infantry brigade dating back to 1948; infamous Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, commander of Operation Cast Lead, grew up as a soldier in this unit, moving up the ranks from soldier to commander. Hours after the desertion, the soldiers were captured by the brigade commander Yaniv Asor, who had found them by chance next to the entrance to the Hermon Ski Site; subsequently, they were tried at the unit. At the trial, they claimed to have been humiliated by the commanders of their platoon and company. In recent months, their commanders had refused to let young soldiers reach the stronghold. Thus, veteran soldiers were forced to fulfil cleaning tasks usually kept for younger ones. Finally, they were told that they would not be allowed to leave the stronghold to attend professional courses that would allow them to advance their military careers, opening their path to become officers. Their answer was brutal: desertion. They were sent to military jail for periods between one and three weeks.
The Golan Heights are under the military control of Division 36, the heaviest regular armored division of the IDF. Two territorial brigades are responsible for the line of strongholds watching over the border. Brigade 474 controls the Golan Heights while Brigade 810 overlooks Mount Hermon. One of its strongholds, "Israeli," is considered the most sensitive spot controlled by the division since it oversees the triple border between Syria, Lebanon and Israel. These strongholds are complex units, housing soldiers from different disciplines who perform a variety of tasks.
In 10 Israeli Counterterrorism Soldiers Hit, I commented on the Alpinists subunit of Sayeret Matkal, the IDF top commando unit; their home is in Mt. Hermon. The area is home also to SIGINT units, which watch and listen what is happening across the border. The deserting soldiers fulfilled mainly peripheral security tasks and had abandoned one of Israel's most sensitive spots for a few hours.
No less surprising is the fact that Golani soldiers have a long history of desertions, despite being one of the best units of the IDF. On March 1, 2007, at least 50 soldiers of Golani Batallion 51 left Tze'elim Training Base for being refused their basic rights; later reports fixed the number of desertions at 90 soldiers. It was the second time within a week that these incidents happened at the same unit. On July 22 of the same year, soldiers of the same unit deserted a stronghold as a rebellion against their commanders. The picture at the top of this page was taken at the gate of an Israeli stronghold next to the Lebanese border after Golani Batallion 51 soldiers deserted it on April 17, 2006. In front of that stronghold is a Hezbollah stronghold. For unclear reasons, the latter chose not to walk into the deserted Israeli post. These and similar cases were caused by mistreatment of the soldiers involved.