Austria is pulling its peacekeeping contingent from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights. Austrians contribute 380 troops out of a total peacekeeping force of 1,000 so this is a big diminution. The impetus for the withdrawal is an ongoing battle between rebels government forces in a strategic town near Golan. Austria says that the situation has simply become too dangerous to justify a peacekeeping mission.
UNDOF has been in operation since the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but it’s increasingly looking like the mission will fold under the pressure of the Syrian civil war. Peacekeepers have been kidnapped, shot at, and there is growing cross border hostility between Israel and Syria. With over one third of the force heading home, it is hard to see how the mission can survive.
So what does the shuttering of UNDOF mean for the conflict? Peacekeepers provided a buffer between Syria and the Golan Heights by patrolling a small sliver of land to ensure that no hostile forces crossed the line of demarcation. After 30 years, that buffer is starting to disintegrate. Israel may now feel compelled to patrol that demarcation line itself to prevent incursions into Golan. But doing so would be inserting Israeli soldiers rather directly into the Syrian civil war. The diplomatic and on-the-ground consequences of such a move would be hard to predict.
I fear the situation on is about to get much, much more complicated.