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Dublin: 11 °C Sunday 20 April, 2014

Ireland wants to send troops to Syria

The Dáil has to approve a decision by the Cabinet and Minister Alan Shatter to send members of the Defence Forces to a UN mission in the Golan Heights.

UN vehicles drive into a UN base near the Quneitra crossing between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria
UN vehicles drive into a UN base near the Quneitra crossing between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria
Image: Sebastian Scheiner/AP/Press Association Images

THE DÁIL IS due to discuss a proposal which could see up to 15o members of Ireland’s Defence Forces joining a United Nations mission in Syria.

The Government has approved a proposal from Defence Minister Alan Shatter to deploy Irish troops to UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force), which operates in the Golan Heights region of war-torn Syria.

The proposal will now be sent to Dáil Éireann to seek approval for the mission. understands that up to 150 members of the Irish Permanent Defence Force may be deployed to Syria as soon as September.

The armed UN force has been depleted in recent weeks as Austria withdrew its personnel from the area on 5 July as violence associated with the internal conflict continues to escalate. It issued a request to Ireland to consider contributing to the force to bring the strength of the mission back up to the authorised level of 1,250.

The situation in the UNDOF area has been incredibly volatile over the past few months because of fighting between Syrian Arab Armed Forces and anti-government rebels.

In a recent statement, the mission reiterated that it does not have a role in the current crisis in Syria and that it remains ‘paramount for it to retain its impartiality and not be seen as supporting either side’.

Downsizing the Lebanon

Currently, Defence Force troops are based in the Lebanon but Irish participation is set to be downsized in the autumn as Finland make up the bulk of the battalion.

The joint Irish-Finnish Battalion comprises two-thirds Irish Defence Force soldiers and one-third Finnish troops. That is due to be reversed on the next deployment.

According to one source, although there would not be a direct transfer of personnel, there is equipment and knowledge available in the key strategic area as a result.

Now that it is approved by Cabinet, the troops could deploy to Syria as early as September. Orders could be issued to soldiers within weeks. However, any decision must be approved before the Dáil breaks for summer recess next week.

Keeping the peace

UNDOF was established by the UN’s Security Council in 1974 to maintain the ceasefire in the area. It continues to liaise with both parties – Syria and Israel.

The Agreement provided for an area of separation and for two equal zones of limited forces and armaments on both sides of the area, and called for the establishment of a United Nations observer force to supervise its implementation.

There is also a second, sister force, in the area to which there are already seven or eight Irish Defence Force members. The key difference is that the second mission is unarmed.

There would be substantial monetary remuneration from the UN for participation in the mission.

Where UNDOF operates. (Image: United Nations)

The role of the Defence Forces will be to provide a mobile company as Force Headquarters Reserve in UNDOF to cater for reinforcement, escort and other operations in the ‘Area of Responsibility’. Those functions are similar to those provided in Liberia and Lebanon.

Shatter welcomed the decision by Cabinet, noting the importance of the mission in maintaining “some level of stability” in the region.

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