Austria goes off the Golan

Austria goes off the Golan

In an update to my recent blog on the deteriorating situation facing UN peacekeepers in Syria and Egypt, the latest development is the fallout of the short-lived seizure of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force’s (UNDOF) Quneitra border crossing by Syrian rebels on June 6.

Recent events only re-emphasise the precariousness of all Mideast peacekeeping.

Following the attack, Austria, which had been contributing roughly a third of UNDOF’s 1,000-strong troop deployment, promptly announced that it would begin withdrawing all of its forces from the Golan Heights over the next few weeks.

The UN is reportedly pinning their hopes on the Philippines and India, the other countries currently staffing UNDOF, to increase their numbers to make up for the shortfall from Austria’s departure.

The Israeli government has expressed frustration at the lack of commitment from UN sponsors towards the peacekeepers and have warned that the inability of UNDOF to step up to the challenge posed by Syria’s civil war must be understood to have implications for Israel’s future peace moves.

As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in his remarks at his cabinet meeting on June 9,

The crumbling of the UN force on the Golan Heights underscores the fact that Israel cannot depend on international forces for its security. They can be part of the arrangements. They cannot be the basic foundation of Israel’s security.

An unnamed Israeli official elaborated on Israel’s concerns to the Guardian in an article published on June 7.

“The only reason you want anyone there in the first place is in time of trouble,” one senior Israeli official told the Guardian. “For the first time in 40 years, it’s not easy so the presence ends? That sends a very problematic message to the Israeli public.
“This means that in any future deal with the Palestinians, we won’t accept any disengagement forces from the United Nations because at the first sign of trouble, they’ll disappear.”

Meanwhile, the UN reportedly turned down an offer from Russia to replace Austria’s departing Golan peacekeepers with troops of its own – a chutzpahdik request if there ever was one, not just because permanent UN Security Council members are ineligible to join in UN peacekeeping forces, but because Russia is no mere bystander to the Syrian conflict which has imperiled the future of UNDOF. It remains the Assad regime’s biggest military backer.

Ahron Shapiro