On June 11, 2013 Austria began withdrawing some of its 377-member contingent of the five-country United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) from the demilitarized zone on the cease-fire line between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. The withdrawal was occasioned by the injury of two of the contingent caused by rebels who were fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and briefly captured the town of Quneitra, the major crossing point between Syria and Israel in the zone. Austria felt the risk to its other soldiers was too great since the civil war had made the Golan a target area for both Assad’s forces and the rebels.
The lesson can be quickly drawn: Israel cannot leave its security in the hands of an international force. That force cannot guarantee peace, especially against terrorist groups. An ironic reflection might be that UN observers, like UN peacemakers, are particularly effective when there is no fighting to observe or conflicts to resolve. Japan and Croatia already had pulled out their contingents in Golan because of military danger. Russia volunteered to replace the Austrian contingent, but this was a theatrical gesture since the original Israeli-Syrian agreement on Golan bars permanent members of the UN Security Council from being part of UNDOF. An additional irony is that the UNDOF headquarters base is located in Israeli territory, despite the condemnations of Israel by organizations of the United Nations on so many occasions.
All parties need reminding that UNDOF was created by UN Security Council Resolution 350 issued on May 31, 1974. It was to implement UN Security Council Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973 that was passed in the last days of the Yom Kippur War. This Resolution called on all parties to cease firing and to fulfill the crucial Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967 which called for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The likelihood of this outcome has waned since Assad, who had previously been viewed as presiding over a failed state about to disintegrate, is now in control as a result of military victory in Qusayr and is presently considering an attack on Israel in the Golan Heights in collaboration with Iran and Hezb’allah.
The Austrian withdrawal has reminded the world of the unstable situation in and around Golan and the fear that terrorists and the increasingly potent Hezb’allah may come into the area. It is usually forgotten that, technically, Syria has been in a state of war with Israel since 1948. In spite of an armistice agreement in July 1949, clashes and shelling by Syria of Israeli territory continued unabated between 1948 and 1967. The UN Mixed Armistice Commission set up in 1949 failed to police the area successfully.
During the Six Day War, Israel captured the Golan Heights on June 10, 1967. Syria tried to retake the territory in the 1973 war, during which Israel suffered heavy losses. The cease-fire and later disengagement agreements left Israel …read more