The Guardians of Mount Hermon of Israel
IDF ALPINE Unit reservists on patrol on Mount Hermon (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

Mount Hermon, the majestic peak towering over Israel’s northeastern border with Syria and Lebanon, has become a critical frontline in the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah and the threats emanating from Iran. Amid the icy winds and desolate landscapes, Israeli soldiers maintain a watchful presence on the mountain’s slopes, serving as the “eyes of the earth” in a region besieged by tension and the echoes of rocket fire.

This is the story of the guardians of Mount Hermon, whose mission to secure Israel’s northern frontier has become inextricably linked with the nation’s struggle for peace and security.

Majestic Peak Amid Conflict

Surrounded by a blanket of clouds, Mount Hermon rises majestically above the landscape of the northeastern Golan, standing out as the most prominent peak in Israel. In the middle of March, its weather is still icy, with the wind swirling vigorously.

Despite the gusts, the mountain occasionally offers a panoramic view of the interior of Israel and the Hula Valley at its confluence with Lebanon, a border area made even more relevant today by the tension with Hezbollah and the growing threats projected by Iran from Syria.

Journey to the Heart of Conflict

The journey to Hermon begins in Jerusalem, ascending towards the Golan Heights and crossing the bridge over the Jordan River, known as “Jacob’s Daughters.” Along the way, sirens echo in the Hula Valley, a warning against the rockets that besiege the region. Since October, Israel has evacuated the northern area, although the remaining communities remain under the threat of war.

The road winds across the Golan to the Druze settlements at the foot of Hermon. The war has devastated Majdal Shams, which usually buzzes with tourist energy between the ski season and spring.

Guardians of the Mountain Summit

Continuing from Majdal Shams, the road winds along the slopes of Hermon, crossing a barrier that marks the entrance to a military zone. The abandoned kiosks, which once charged for access to the ski slopes or summer mountain views, lie deserted.

In the distance, an Iron Dome facility looms, and the ski resort lies empty, its vast parking lot desolate except for a few vehicles and a line of tracked transports, ready to plow through the nonexistent snow.

Here, reservists called up on October 7 to protect the northern border stand guard. These veterans of the Golani infantry brigade, now part of the IDF’s 36th Division, played a crucial role in isolating Gaza City and seizing the port before being redeployed to the north in January.

Historical Significance and Strategic Importance of Mount Hermon

The Guardians of Mount Hermon of Israel
1967 war

The chronicle of the conflict in the mountains and snows of Hermon covers a history both glorious and tumultuous. After the 1967 war, Israel took control of Mount Hermon, establishing a fort on its summit. In the 1973 war, Syrian forces briefly captured this bastion in a fierce battle, although Israel would later recapture it.

Currently, Israeli troops maintain their presence at altitudes of up to 2,200 meters, facing the intense cold, while Syria controls the highest peaks, which reach 2,800 meters. Israel has a specialized alpine unit prepared for the demands of this unique terrain.

From the desolate summit of the Hermon ski slopes, a vast landscape unfolds before the soldiers, including the Golan, with its recent wind turbine installations and sweeping views of Israel and Lebanon. This sector has been the target of thousands of rockets launched by Hezbollah since October 7.

“Holding Hermon is not just a matter of territorial occupation; it is to secure a critical advantage,” explains Commander Adiel, a veteran of the Second Lebanon War with deep knowledge of Hezbollah. “With the thaw, the landscape clears, allowing us to survey from Tiberias to the depths of the Jordan and Golan and beyond.

From this vantage point, we understand why it is called ‘the eyes of the earth’: we watch the enemy’s movements and our own land. Whoever dominates Hermon oversees threats to Israel from a privileged perspective.”

Life on the Mountain Hermon in Times of War

Life on the mountain for these soldiers is a mix of isolation, constant surveillance, and camaraderie. The base, anchored in the mountain like a concrete bastion, offers shelter from the icy wind. Inside, simple amenities like a dining room, living rooms, and a library provide a cultural respite amid the harsh exterior.

The soldiers stationed at Hermon are custodians of a history of war dating back to 1973, aware of how quickly the weather and enemy tactics can change. Understanding the adversary and preparing to repel threats, from infiltration to drone and rocket attacks, is an essential part of their mission.

“This unit is a microcosm of Israel, an amalgamation of religious beliefs and political positions,” says First Sergeant Leor, originally from Teaneck, New Jersey. “Here, you have the opportunity to engage with people from across the spectrum, allowing us to grow and learn from each other outside of our individual bubbles.”

Between ice and concrete, the soldiers seek respite from the biting wind in sheltered corners, surrounded by worn-out exercise equipment and makeshift grills. In the distance, the silhouette of a soldier like Sergeant Noam, adorned with a patch declaring his membership in the “Hamas Fighters Club,” returns from guard duty.

Called up on the first day of the crisis, Noam and his comrades were initially tasked with guarding the border, a mission marked by urgency and scarcity while repelling assaults and infiltrations by Hezbollah and Hamas.

Now, this garrison represents a link in the vast chain of the Israeli army, with a palpable desire to confront Hezbollah again and restore peace and security for the thousands of Israelis forced to flee their homes.

Conclusion

The soldiers on Mount Hermon protect Israel’s northern frontier against threats from Hezbollah and Iran. They stand guard at a strategic location known as the “eyes of the earth,” overseeing the border with Syria and Lebanon. Despite the mountain’s harsh conditions, these vigilant troops ensure security and peace for Israeli communities living in Hermon’s shadow. They witness the region’s beauty and turmoil, upholding the mountain’s legacy as the watchtower that safeguards Israel’s volatile northern front.

FAQs

Q: Why is controlling Mount Hermon so strategically important for Israel?

A: Mount Hermon’s towering height of over 2,800 meters provides a commanding view of Israel’s northern frontier with Lebanon and Syria. Holding the high ground gives Israeli forces unparalleled visibility to monitor enemy movements and threats across the borders and interior regions. As the “eyes of the earth,” Hermon serves as an invaluable observation post.

Q: What role did Mount Hermon play in past conflicts like the 1967 and 1973 wars?

A: After capturing the Golan Heights in 1967, Israel established military fortifications atop Mount Hermon. However, Syrian forces briefly seized the summit in 1973 before being pushed back. The battles demonstrated Hermon’s strategic elevation overlooking the region. Controlling the heights became crucial for Israeli security.

Q: Which potential threats are Israeli forces on Hermon currently watching for?

A: The main threats emanate from Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Iranian proxies stationed in Syria. Hezbollah has launched thousands of rockets into Israel since last October. Israeli troops monitor for infiltration attempts, rocket attacks, intelligence gathering by drones, and any hostile movements near the border.

Q: What is life like for the Israeli soldiers deployed on Mount Hermon?

A: Conditions are harsh, with biting winds, freezing temperatures, and basic accommodations in concrete bunkers. Yet a spirit of camaraderie binds the multiethnic and multi-religious troops. They find respite in amenities like heated dining areas and a library stocked with books. Rigorous training prepares them for alpine warfare.

Q: How does controlling Mount Hermon aid Israel’s defensive strategy?

A: Beyond monitoring threats, holding the high ground prevents adversaries from acquiring the same valuable vantage point. It forces enemies like Hezbollah and Iran to operate from lower elevations. Hermon also guards critical territory like the Golan Heights and Hula Valley below from infiltration or attack.