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On the heights of Tiberias in northern Israel, in October 1973 Joan Howard looked out of her lounge-room window and had a grandstand view of a war. Spread out far below her was Lake Tiberias, known in Israel as the Kinneret, the biblical Sea of Galilee. Close across the lake rose the equal heights of the Golan escarpment, the southern end of the Syrian territory that Israel had captured in 1967. At night she could see the flashes of artillery. During the day, ignoring the sirens that warned her to take shelter, she stood at the window watching air battles as Israeli jets flew low over her house to keep under the Syrian radar, fighting dogfights above the lake before swooping down over the Golan. She was close enough to see Syrian tank formations come over the ridge and fight their way down towards the lake before being halted by Israeli armour.
Until the Middle East descended into its fourth major war in a quarter of a century, 1973 had been more or less like any other year for Australia’s observers with the UN Truce Supervision Organization (Untso). On Anzac Day, they conducted a dawn service at the Mount Scopus war cemetery, overlooking the ‘misty orange-coloured’ Old City of Jerusalem. Beside the wreaths they laid a sheaf of oats for the horses of the 10th Light Horse Regiment, which the senior Australian, Lieutenant Colonel Keith Howard, had once commanded. Observers and their families often found the petty hardships and shortages of life in the Middle East frustrating, but for many they were outweighed by the heady mix of history, archaeology, culture and politics that the region offered.
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