Monday, June 06, 2011

So where was UNDOF on Sunday?

UNDOF is the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in Syria. This is its mandate:
  • Maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria;
  • Supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces; and
  • Supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as provided in the May 1974 Agreement on Disengagement.
Here is a map showing its area of operations. I have highlighted Majdal Shams, where the riots were yesterday and on May 15th.

The map shows that the Arab rioters passed through miles of UNDOF areas patrolled by the Austrian contingent of UNDOF.

The entire UNDOF forces consist of around 1200 lightly armed peacekeepers.

So what did they do on Sunday to defuse tensions on the border?

A fascinating post in Tom Lehner's blog written after the Nakba Day protests describes how UNDOF, especially the Austrian unit, normally works during demonstrations:

EGG or “Ein-Greif-Gruppe” (Interference Unit) is a small unit on permanent 24/7 alert status.

In case of protests (Nakbah, Family shouting, Quneitra Protests, and others) this unit is called out. They drive in Trucks to the place of protest, armed with light arms (Ausbatt: Glock side arms for officers, and STG 77 assault rifles for enlisted) and barbwire rolls.

After unrolling the wire, that is supposed to keep protesters in line, soldiers take position and wait for the Syrian “Liaison Officer”, usually a young Lieutenant that speaks English and you can be sure he belongs to the Military intelligence (Never officially confirmed, but everybody knows it).

Peace without force through simple presence.

Since 1967 the Austrian Armed Forces have done a marvelous job with this. The men and women are highly professional when it comes to following the orders. They have even earned (early 90’s) the Nobel Peace Prize for their outstanding job.
So why didn't UNDOF do what it normally does to keep the protesters away from the border? Why did they disappear?

Lehner believes that the UN purposefully stayed away, hoping for casualties to pressure Israel to make more concessions.

I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the absence of UNDOF in the area during the protests is very important.

Given that UNDOF is there every other May 15th, it is more than noteworthy that they did not do the same this year, especially when the protests were planned in advance. And this goes double for the "Naksa Day" protests.

The UN's only statement that refers to UNDOF was "The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is seeking to confirm facts and help calm a continuing volatile situation in the area." Shouldn't they be preventing the escalation of tension, rather than confirming facts afterwards?

The UN needs to answer these simple questions: where was UNDOF during the riots, and why did they not act to save human lives?

(h/t Vandoren)