Israeli Army Training Sparks Destructive Fire in Golan Heights Nature Reserve

The drill was conducted in violation of regulations and despite parks authority's opposition. 'The damage is enormous,' one official said

Yaniv Kubovich
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Fires in the Hermon nature reserve, October 2020.
Fires in the Hermon nature reserve, October 2020. Credit: Ami Dorfman / Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Yaniv Kubovich

The Israeli military conducted training in violation of regulations and against the advice of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority this week, causing fires that consumed 1,500 dunams (around 400 acres) of groves unique to the region.

The fire caused by the “” military drill in the Hermon reserve, in the Golan Heights near the border with Lebanon, also harmed the habitats of wild animals like crocodiles, foxes, boars, wolves and rare reptiles like the Hermon viper. Nature authority officials said it would take 40 years to rehabilitate the affected area. “The damage is enormous,” one official said.

The army is obliged to ask the authority three months in advance before . Nature authority officials say the request made by the military a few months ago did not include the reserve. Army liaisons contacted them 10 days ago, they said, seeking to add a training exercise for the commando brigade in the area. The authority declined the request because the fire and rescue commissioner had issued an order forbidding the lighting of fires in open areas. This includes army exercises employing live fire outside of existing shooting zones.

The army decided to hold the training there despite the lack of permission. Shooting caused a fire at the beginning of the exercise, and firefighting crews were called to the area to try and control it.

The army commented that it “trains in areas that simulate reality, among them mountainous and tangled areas that simulate Lebanese territory, like the Hermon region.” The army added: “The exercise in question was approved according to the regulations and at every required level. Actions were taken to ensure quick extinguishment as a preventative measure for possible fires.”

The nature authority rejected the army’s claim. “The military decided 10 days ago to hold a training contrary to regulations, which require coordination three months in advance,” said Sharon Levy, the director of the Golan region for the nature authority. “This is a dry season, when public guidelines say that no fires should be lit, and so there was opposition to using flammable ammunition, which could cause an uncontrollable fire.”

Firefighters deployed to the Hermon nature reserve, October 2020.

The National Fire and Rescue Authority also criticized the army’s conduct. A senior official in the rescue authority said the military has been ignoring its guidelines for some time, causing huge fires that are very costly to taxpayers. “Despite issuing them warning and trying to appeal to them in various ways, the army simply ignores the situation and causes large areas to be burned,” said the official. “We all understand the need for training, and for live fire too, but you can do it in coordination or in partnership with others to prevent the damage and costs these fires cause for the state.”

The army responded, “The military will review its activities to minimalize future damage from training in these areas.”

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