GOLAN HEIGHTS — From an elevated observation point only a few hundred yards from Israel’s border with Syria, observers can hear and witness the civil war underway there, and with a single sweep of the eyes can take in a village controlled by al Qaeda, next to a second controlled by Hezbollah, and occasionally see plumes of smoke or hear the sounds of bombs exploding in the distance.
Elliot Chodoff is a seasoned military and counter-terrorism expert who provides security briefings in the field throughout the country to foreign delegations trying to understand Israel’s security situation. Born and educated in the United States, Chodoff is an Israeli-American dual citizen who served for years in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and now, as a major in the IDF Reserves, still serves 60 to 90 days each year in defense of the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East.
When he is not in uniform, he is free to speak his mind and to teach, both as an instructor at a nearby university and as a consultant to influential figures from the United States.
Chodoff sometimes takes small groups up the Road to Damascus (the same road where the Apostle Paul had his conversion experience 2,000 years ago) to a lookout point on a ridge, beyond which the road descends to continue along the Syrian border. The view from this location in the far northeast corner of Israel resembles a large three-dimensional map, with clear lines of sight for several miles.
“This road has existed for literally thousands of years,” Chodoff tells a group from the Israel Collective.
As the group crosses the Jordan River en route to the lookout point, he explains the strategic significance of this road: “With rough mountain terrain on both sides, control of this route is absolutely essential for any military force or commercial activity between Africa and the lower Middle East on one side and the massive Euro-Asian landmass on the other.”
This road was used by Syria in an attempt to destroy Israel in 1973. When Israel counterattacked, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan famously said, “We have to teach the Syrians that the same road that leads from Damascus to Tel Aviv also leads from Tel Aviv to Damascus.” Israel pushed Syria off the Golan Heights shortly thereafter.
The metal fence that marks the border between Israel and what was formerly the nation of Syria. In reality, the regime of Bashar al Assad no longer controls the southern part of its national territory; there are troops here under the control of Damascus, but they are locked in a bitter struggle with various foreign and terrorist powers.
“One problem,” Chodoff explains, “is that there is no border here. Because a border is a line where two neighboring nations both agree that one side belongs to one nation and the other side to the other. But Syria does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Pointing his finger along the barrier, he adds, “Therefore they acknowledge that this is a line beyond which the Israeli military will act to stop them, but they do not accept where we are standing here as a place where the Jewish people have a right to live in peace, or even to live at all.”
“The same goes for Lebanon, and for the Palestinian Authority, and for Hamas, and for Hezbollah, and, of course, for Iran.” He then quotes Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said in 2012 that Israel is a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.”
“How do you make peace with an enemy who says he’s going to kill every man, woman, and child in your nation, and compares you to cancer?” Chodoff asks rhetorically. Labeling something as a cancer suggests a moral imperative to destroy it. “How can a doctor or a patient make peace with cancer? Is there any good person who would not kill cancer if he had the chance?”
Throughout his lecture and discussion, dull thuds can occasionally be heard far in the distance. Then a particularly loud boom sounds much closer, and the small audience looks around nervously. A rising cloud of black smoke is clearly visible several miles away.
The lookout point is immediately adjacent to a small mountain with military structures and surveillance equipment on its summit. When he’s fulfilling his reserve duty and not teaching strategic military planning at the university, his office is at that mountain–30 stories underground. From that mountain, Israel is constantly watching all of these rival factions, and maintaining hidden patrols of special operations forces close to the border fence to ensure that no terror elements cross over into Israel.
“We live in a rough neighborhood,” Chodoff says, with the handle of a Beretta pistol visible on this right hip. “The world needs to come to terms with these groups, who they are, what they want, and deal with the fact that these are expansionist groups with imperial ambitions who want to project their power not just here against us, but all over the world, including the United States.”
“This area is now perfectly calm on our side of the border, but we always need to be vigilant because that could change any day,” Chodoff explains, “since one thing all these groups have in common is that they all say they want to kill Jews and destroy the nation of Israel, because they say we have no right to be here in the Middle East.”
Just then the sound of another explosion can be heard, and the audience turns, attempting to determine where it came from. “Don’t worry. If you can still hear the bomb blast, that means you’re okay,” he adds with a reassuring smile. “Just another day up here. Welcome to my world.”
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News and is reporting on location from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.