The UN is to have a weaker presence in Israel’s Golan Heights, following Austria withdrawing its contributions to UN forces in the Golan.
Recently, Austria has announced that it is going to withdraw its contributions to UN forces in the Golan Heights after Syrian rebels and Assad’s forces battled near a crossing point close to the border with Israel. The Austrian forces represented around 380 out of the 1,000 UN forces stationed within the Golan Heights. “Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level,” the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, and his deputy, Michael Spindelegger, said in a joint statement.
While the situation is rapidly deteriorating in Syria, the UN presence along the Israeli-Syrian border will be significantly weaker without Austria, representing a serious blow to the UN’s mission in the region. It is a move which is greatly detrimental to Middle Eastern stability in an era when Assad is committing a democide against his own people and battles between rebel forces and the Syrian government are frequently spilling over into Israeli territory. Without a strong UN presence along the Syrian-Israeli borders, relations between Israel and Syria are more vulnerable to conflict.
According to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, “Only last week, we saw battles close to our border on the Golan Heights. Israel is not intervening in the Syrian civil war, as long as fire is not being directed at us.” He emphasized, “The crumbling of the U.N. 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.”
ISRAEL INCREASES VIGILANCE DUE TO SITUATION GOLAN
Since the Syrian civil war broke out, rockets and mortars exchanged between rebel forces and the Syrian government have landed within Israeli territory, posing a direct security threat to the residents of Northern Israel. After Israel targeted Syria in order to prevent weapons being transferred to Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have all threatened to open up a northern front against Israel. During the Shavuot holiday, Mount Hermon was closed down to visitors because of the adverse security situation in the area caused by the spillovers of the political and humanitarian crisis within Syria. Given all of this, the situation could rapidly deteriorate further if the UN is to have a weaker presence in the Golan Heights.
The UN Security Council itself has mentioned its concerns regarding the present situation in the Golan Heights and what could potentially happen with a weakened UN presence. “Everyone agreed that UNDOF should continue in its mission, even if it is temporarily reduced in its ability to fulfill the current mandate,” Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom stated. “Everyone felt that UNDOF played a key role in guaranteeing the 1974 ceasefire disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria and also acting as a conduit of communications, including in the last few days between Israel and Syria,” he added. “It was therefore an important symbol of the stability across the Israel-Syrian border.”
By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United with Israel