The resounding failure on October 7 of the border separating Gaza from Israel has made it clear to everyone that fences and surveillance cameras, while reducing the number of soldiers patrolling the barrier, is not an effective solution for protecting borders.
Several former senior IDF figures have told "Globes" that landmines could be one of the possible solutions for preventing an invasion of Israel by terrorists in the future. One of them, Colonel (res.) Danny Terza, an expert in building border fortifications who planned the separation fence in Judea and Samaria even said that mines are one of the most effective way of delaying the passage of vehicles and people. Major General (res) Itzhak Brik, who is busy with an audit of Israel's security forces and has even submitted a report on the matter to the IDF, claims that we should return to the days of landmines along the borders, while significantly increasing patrols along them.
A double-edged sword
In recent years the IDF and Ministry of Defense have been engaged mainly in unearthing thousands of acres of minefields, and shells that have fallen on minefields or training areas in order to make land available for agriculture and construction.
It now seems that these efforts will be halted if these new ideas are accepted by the decision makers. Brig. Gen. (res.) Eitan Lidor, a former IDF Chief Engineer and owner of Minefree, one of three companies engaged in removing landmines for the Ministry of Defense's Israel National Mine Action Authority.
He says, "Mines can be effective in the situation that we find ourselves but I wouldn't recommend deploying them along the length and breadth of the borders except in certain places where there is a high potential for border infiltration, and especially in places that can be visually controlled. In other words, laying mines without regularly watching the fields with various surveillance means and without having firepower present, is not worth much."
Landmines have many disadvantages, he explains. They are lethal for anybody who happens to step on them including IDF soldiers, and wildlife that enters the area. He claims that it is possible to make do with several dozen meter strips of minefields and to bury smart mines or shallow mines that are only dangerous when remotely set off.
"In this way they don't pose a danger to passersby or our forces," adds Lidor. In addition, Western armies currently use mines that can be identified from the air and even space, and in a way that tracks after mine movement through ground erosion. Although Israel has not signed the UN Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines, it nevertheless attempts to be a country engaged in mine clearance and having halted their production. Even if Israel returns to producing mines, it can be assumed that the UN's opinion on mines would not have been changed by the October 7 invasion.
In contrast, Brig. Gen. (res.) Moshe Sheli, a former IDF Chief Engineer and today Timna Energy CEO, argues that a landmine is a double-edged sword in many situations. "On top of the fact that our forces can also set off a mine, the terrorists would learn their locations and dismantle them," he tells "Globes." "In a place where there are only mines, without surveillance, the terrorists would sneak in and open up a pathway through the mine field for future use, although I wouldn't rule out the use of mines and other charges in the area between Israel and Gaza. Therefore, like the fence with Gaza, smart means are not sufficient, we also need to control the mined area with surveillance and firepower from the soldiers in the area."
Smarter and more lethal
Landmines returned to the world's warfare stage with the Russian encroachment of Ukraine back in 2014, many years before the full-scale invasion it launched in 2021. Russia laid anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines in some 10 million square meters of eastern Ukraine, in at least 11 of the country's 27 provinces. Ukraine acted in response, and its army planted anti-tank mines to prevent their advance on its territory.
The mines in Ukraine's killing fields in the current war do not resemble the previous generations of mines that were planted on the Golan Heights or in the Jordan Valley in during the 20th century. The latest mines are a smarter and more technologically advanced version that are inevitably more deadly.
"The New York Times" has reported on mines that have been developed with more brutal ways of harming soldiers. Some mines explode after being lifted, with the aim of harming the combat engineering forces engaged in removing them. There are mines that act like a charge, and explode when you try to neutralize the cables that activate them.
The Russians also put into the campaign a kind of charge that explodes while jumping above the ground and throwing shrapnel everywhere, or a charge with a fuse wire several meters long, which when activated shoots off shrapnel. "The damage in Ukraine from landmines is so great that this problem will remain for decades to come," says Nir Cohen CEO of 4M Defense, a company that handles mine clearance in Israel for the Israel National Mine Action Authority. "The problem is so severe that there are farmers who can't work their land for fear that mines that have drifted into it."
Mine clearance rates have plunged
Israel's main efforts at mine clearing has been undertaken at a sluggish pace with a meager annual budget of NIS 27 million shekels. The prices charged by the clearance companies range from NIS 45,000 - 55,000 per dunam (1,000 square meters), and with the addition of inspection and licensing costs, can even reach NIS 70,000. Annually Israel clears 300 to 600 dunams, far from the 100,000 dunams target set by the Israel National Mine Action Authority. The price has even risen in recent years from about NIS 9,000 per dunam, due to rise in input prices such as mine clearance experts, accommodation of workers in the area as well the licensing procedures.
In 2011, major efforts were focused on the issue after 11 year old Daniel Yuval was injured during a family trip to Mount Avital. The Ministry of Defense set up the Israel National Mine Action Authority to handle the clearance of anti-personnel mines and in 2019 it also began to clear anti-tank mines on the Golan Heights. At the beginning of the year, an attempt was made to encourage real estate developers and authorities to invest in mine clearance, but in practice there was a 64% decline in the clearance rate of clearances between 2019 and 2022 due to the increase in the cost of inputs.
Golan Regional Council Mayor Haim Rokach, who is part of the efforts to clear mines in his region, tells "Globes," "I am an engineering officer by training and I do not see any reason to lay mines. Getting past them as an obstacle would be very easy. On the other hand, the pace of clearance in Israel is slow, and with the existing budget, it will take more than 100 years to clear all the mines in Israel."
In Israel there are 250,000 dunams (250 million square meters) of minefields of which the IDF defines 100,000 dunams as unessential for the security of the country. According to data published by the Ministry of Defense, only 9,000 dunams have been cleared and according to Rokach, after discussions by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about raising the budget for mine clearance by NIS 10 million, nothing has happened. "Clearing the mines in Israel is not economically worthwhile," Rokach says. "With such a small budget, the number of companies willing to bid for tenders is small and in the absence of continuous clearing projects all year round mean the company's employees go months without a salary."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 12, 2023.
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