As violence near the border between Israel and Syria has heated up in recent months, there was a fear that fighting in Syria might over into spill over into Israel (as it continues to do in Lebanon). Following an uptick in fighting between pro-Assad troops and the rebels, the Austrian delegation of United Nations peacekeepers who were stationed in the Golan up and quit their posts, leaving some to wonder if the entire peacekeeping force might abandon the border entirely. Enter UN Chief Ban Ki-moon, who asked for more support on the border.
His push to bolster the force comes even as the U.N. lobbies other countries to send replacements for Austrian peacekeepers who began withdrawing from the Golan this week after fighting from the Syrian civil war threatened their positions.
This afternoon, word is trickling in that those placid Swedes are in negotiations with the United Nations to possibly help out, which could help the four-decade-long ceasefire between Israel and Syria intact.
Ban and the former UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke by phone with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and asked that his country send soldiers to UNDOF. Bildt’s initial response was positive, the Israeli official said, however the Swedes made it clear they are willing to send soldiers only as part of a larger Scandinavian force that will include troops from Finland, Norway and Denmark. The Swedes are also interested in commanding the entire UNDOF force, which also includes units from India and the Philippines.
The Swedes also want to boost UNDOF’s mandate and turn it into a more robust force that would be able to defend itself if attacked. They have received the opinion of the UN legal adviser that even the current mandate allows the use of armored personnel carriers equipped with machine guns and for all UNDOF soldiers to be given personal weapons. Today only some UNDOF soldiers carry weapons.
The shift would also alter how the rules of engagement are dictated to United Nations forces. As it currently stands, even if UN troops are fired upon, it remains unclear whether they are allowed to fire back or not.