Long before Wednesday’s kidnapping of UN peacekeepers in the Syrian Golan Heights, segments of the the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) knew their mission was taking a turn for the worse.
In January, the Japanese government, alarmed by the quickly deteriorating security situation in southern Syria, withdrew its troops from UNDOF, bringing the number of peacekeepers to below 1,000.
Israel has long been on high – yet quiet – alert on its border with Syria, as the IDF observes the battles taking place under its nose, just over the frontier.
Soldiers can hear artillery fire and see the movement of rebel gunmen and Syrian soldiers. Although a new border fence with electronic sensors has been erected, the army is under no illusion that a hi-tech obstacle can stop all attacks. It is preparing for the potential of future jihadi attacks from the Syrian Golan, which might take the form of shells, small arms fire, attempts to infiltrate the border or bombings.
The current UN hostage crisis is being viewed by the IDF as an internal Syrian affair which has no direct consequences for Israeli security. At the same time, it is an unmistakable signal that the Syrian Golan is heading down the road of anarchy, and is quickly becoming a hotbed for gunmen with radical affiliations as Syria continues its slow-motion collapse.
Peacekeepers from the UN’s UNDOF mission have ceased patrolling the Israel-Syria Golan Heights border area at night, for fear of being kidnapped or hurt in the violence in the area, Israeli TV reported on Friday night.