The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force must retain control of its positions on Mount Hermon on the Syria-Israel border, since their capture by Sunni terrorist factions, or by elements from the radical Shi’ite axis, would form a “severe threat to IDF posts” in the area, a former senior military official warned.
In a paper published in recent days at the Institute for National Security Studies, where he is a senior research fellow, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion said the IDF would have to “respond accordingly” if UNDOF’s border posts on Mount Hermon in Syria fall to radical elements.
Between 2010 and 2015, Orion headed the Strategic Division of the IDF’s Planning Directorate, and had previously spent two decades in Military Intelligence’s 8200 signal intelligence unit.
UNDOF was originally created in 1974 to separate the IDF from the Syrian military. Today, however, after the Syrian military’s withdrawal from the border with Israel, UNDOF mainly acts as a communications channel between Israel and the Assad regime, reducing escalations following cross-border incidents, whether deliberate or accidental, Orion said.
Israel should weigh new steps to grant UNDOF relevancy in its new chaotic environment, at a time when an array of Syrian rebel groups control the border area with Israel, and the Assad regime lost the monopoly of military means in the area, he added. The core goal of preventing war between Israel and Syria is no longer relevant, Orion said.
He noted the “growing gap between UNDOF’s mandate, structure and missions, and the reality in which it operates.”
Its new missions should include reaching understandings with local forces that have reshaped the Syrian landscape, and carrying out humanitarian missions – including medical and food aid, and assistance to civilians – to help the local population, he argued.
UNDOF has shrunk in recent years, with the force now made up of a Nepalese company that holds four Hermon posts, a company from Fiji that holds a post near Israeli territory, and an incoming Irish company that will take over Ziwani Camp on the Israeli side of the border.
UNDOF also retains a number of lookout posts. Forty six posts previously held by UNDOF have been abandoned and captured by rebels, who looted them in recent years.
UNDOF’s Nepalese commander has set up his headquarters in Damascus, where he spends most of his time, unlike his predecessors who used to travel back and forth across the border between posts, Orion said. The commander’s current location “does not help UNDOF ensure excellent working relations at the senior level, which it needs on both sides of the border, even with the presence of the deputy force commander in Israel,” he added.
A new force commander is expected to arrive at the start of February.