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An Irish armoured personnel carrier in Lebanon. Irish Defence Forces

Danger still high for Irish troops but no change to 'force posture' following Govt diplomatic move

Close to 350 Irish troops are deployed on peacekeeping duties in South Lebanon.

THE MILITARY HAS not changed the “force posture” of Irish peacekeepers in South lebanon since Ireland declared recognition for Palestine, sources have confirmed to The Journal.

Concerns had been mooted in recent days that Irish troops may face a heightened threat because of the Government’s diplomatic move, which was announced on Tuesday morning and is set to come info effect next week. 

Military and diplomatic sources here in Ireland and an official comment from the UNIFIL press office in South Lebanon have said that there has been no change in how troops are dealing with issues of force protection since Ireland declared the recognition.

All sources we spoke to said there continued to be concerns around the safety of Irish soldiers – particularly from stray rockets and ordnance. 

They all said that Irish troops face dangers from both Israeli forces and the local militant group Hezbollah.

Multiple sources confirmed that Israel has stopped informing the Irish troops of their activities in the area – but that this development happened post-7 October and not more recently.  

It is understood that Hezbollah also in the past has occasionally informed the Irish of its activities.

A source with direct knowledge of operations said there are currently concerns around radicalised young men living in refugee camps in the region who have fled the violence in Palestine and Syria.

“There is a general distrust of the United Nations in the area and that causes some flash points from some of those people,” the source said. 

Sources we spoke to said that while they didn’t expect the situation faced by Irish troops to change significantly, the Government’s latest move may make life more difficult for the soldiers in certain ways. 

Dangerous environment

The Journal has travelled and reported from South Lebanon on a number of occasions. It is a hugely complex and dangerous environment. There are close to 350 Irish soldiers based in the area – Ireland has announced that it has increased its establishment by 33. 

Some 47 Irish soldiers have been killed while serving in the UNIFIL mission – they have been killed by fire from disparate militant groups such as Hezbollah but also by members of a Christian militia that is aligned with Israel during the infamous At Tiri incident in 1980.   

The most recent loss of life was Private Sean Rooney who was killed in December 2022 by alleged Hezbollah members. 

an-israeli-mobile-artillery-unit-fires-a-shell-from-northern-israel-towards-lebanon-thursday-jan-11-2024-ap-photoleo-correa An Israeli mobile artillery unit firing on positions in Lebanon in January. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Irish Footprint

Defence Forces soldiers are stationed at three locations in South Lebanon – they patrol a ceasefire measure known as the Blue Line which divides Lebanon and northern Israel. 

Their main base is Camp Shamrock located on a hillside near the town of At Tiri. They also have a presence on the Mediterranean coast in the UNIFIL Headquarters at Naqoura and an outpost dubbed UNP 6-52 on the blueline overlooking the Israeli town of Avivim.

Map NOC Map showing Irish positions. Nicky Ryan / The Journal. Nicky Ryan / The Journal. / The Journal.

Since the Hamas 7 October attack both Hezbollah and Israel have traded ordnance – artillery, rockets, tank fired munitions and bombs – from fighter jets. We have seen camera footage of some of these incidents taken from Irish military camps. 

Naqoura has come under fire since the start of the war – particularly facing the risk of Hezbollah rockets launched from near the historic city of Tyre. Sources have said that these rockets are destined for targets inside Israel but fall short due to malfunctions – the base has been hit on a number of occasions. 

Camp Shamrock has seen non-essential staff members going into bunkers, known as Groundhog, repeatedly as Israeli fire lands at locations nearby. Groundhog is declared in response to attacks or in anticipation if intelligence is received. 

It is the small team at Camp 6-52 which has been the busiest – with largescale attacks happening in the area on both sides of the Blue Line. As recently as Friday of last week the town of Aitaroun, which is close to 6-52, was hit in an Israeli attack.

Irish troops have been out patrolling and also responded to a strike by Israel on a group of journalists in the area - they assisted to take the journalists out of the area safely and assisted wounded people. UNIFIL troops from other states have been injured in the incidents

It is difficult to get anyone to speak on the record in regard to this situation due to rules about discussing ongoing operations with journalists.

All sources said that the situation is as tense as it has been in many years – they reference the 2006 Lebanon War as a recent benchmark. Civilian sources in South Lebanon and security contacts in Ireland have said that a great majority of the civilian population on both sides of the Blue Line have evacuated from the area.  

The concern for the sources is that an Israeli officer may inadvertently target an Irish location. As one experienced source put it: “The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has claimed incidents as a mistake in the past and there is always that possibility”. 

IMG_1390 Irish soldiers at the memorial to their 47 fallen colleagues in Tibnine. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Another source said that there are concerns about other issues that may cause difficulties for Irish soldiers with a risk that personal enmities may cause IDF personnel to treat injured soldiers badly. 

A source with direct knowledge of operations in the region said there are concerns that agreements to assist injured troops may not be met. 

Generally Irish soldiers go to the “Indian Hospital” in Naqoura for treatment but there are other hospitals in Tyre or in Beirut. Previously there were agreements to send seriously injured soldiers to facilities in Israel.

“There is no need for a direct order from the Israeli Minister for Defence to take a particular line with the Irish – this is down to individual attitudes and they can make things difficult,” a source said.

One former soldier who knows the lie of the land well and can speak on the record is TD and former Army Ranger Wing operator Cathal Berry. 

“As we have seen in Gaza the Israeli Government do not have full control over their military. However the risk is mitigated here as Ireland has done this with Spain and Norway – if it was fully unilateral we would be singled out. There is strength in that 143 nations in the UN general assembly also voted in favour. 

“There is a lot of bluster coming from Israeli officials and they didn’t show much respect in 2009 and 2010 when their Mossad agents forged Irish passports to carry out an assassination.

“We’ve seen all this before – in the comments at the time of that incident the officials in their commentary appeared to have a persecution complex,” he said. 

soldiers-before-the-visit-of-tanaiste-micheal-martin-to-meet-members-of-the-124th-infantry-battalion-at-camp-shamrock-in-debel-during-a-visit-to-lebanon-to-meet-irish-troops-serving-with-the-united-na Irish soldiers photographed in Camp Shamrock last week. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo


We contacted the Irish Defence Forces who referred us to UNIFIL. 

In a statement the Israeli Embassy in Dublin said:  “Any suggestion or inference that Irish troops would be targeted by Israel is outrageous and entirely without foundation.

“The Israeli Defence Forces liaises closely with United Nations peacekeepers while maintaining security along Israel’s northern border.”

The embassy went on to say that “the main danger” posed to both Israel and UN peacekeepers comes from Hezbollah activities.

“Israel will continue to defend its people and its borders from these ongoing attacks,” it said. 

UNIFIL’s press spokesperson Andrea Tenenti also responded to a query and said: “However, security concerns for all our 10,500 peacekeepers coming from almost 50 countries have not changed from previous days. Our liaison and coordination activities are continuing with both parties (LAF and IDF) on a regular basis.

“UNIFIL with all his contingents is playing an impartial role, strictly working for the full implementation of UNSCR 1701. We continue our interaction with the parties to decrease tensions and support the international community in their efforts to find viable solutions.”

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