by Elliot Abrams
After 40 years, the U.N. forces meant to separate Israel and Syria have fled their posts -- fled into Israel, for safety. Here is the account from The Tower website:
"The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which was established in 1974 to 'maintain the cease-fire between Israel and Syria' and … 'supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as provided in the May 1974 Agreement on Disengagement,' withdrew its peacekeepers from Syrian territory today because 'the situation has deteriorated severely over the last several days.'"
Reuters quoted United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric: "'Armed groups have made advances in the area of UNDOF positions, posing a direct threat to the safety and security of the U.N. peacekeepers along the 'Bravo' (Syrian) line and in Camp Faouar,' he said, adding that all U.N. personnel in those positions have been moved to the Israeli side."
The collapse of this force in the face of a deteriorating situation raises questions, and Yossi Klein Halevi put it squarely to his fellow Israelis:
"During the recent failed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John F. Kerry suggested that Israel yield control over the West Bank border with Jordan to an international peacekeeping force. Yet last week hundreds of U.N. peacekeeping troops on the Israeli-Syrian border barely escaped into Israel after al-Qaida forces overran their position. Whom should we rely on to protect us if not ourselves?"
International forces in the West Bank are an old nostrum, but the failure of UNDOF is a reminder that it won't work. Until the region is at peace and all terrorist groups defeated, or the Palestinian Authority is clearly able to defeat terrorism and assure law and order, the only thing that prevents a powerful terrorist presence in the West Bank is the Israeli military.
What ought to be better appreciated is that not only Israelis, but also Palestinians and Jordanians, depend on the IDF to prevent groups like Hamas, al-Qaida, and even Islamic State from gaining ground in the West Bank. U.N. forces in southern Lebanon have been unable to control Hezbollah and unwilling to challenge it, and UNDOF has fled in the face of terrorists; the same outcome is entirely predictable in the West Bank today and tomorrow should Israeli forces leave. To admit this is not to hope for permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank, but surely any hopes or plans for peace must be based in reality.
As Yossi Klein Halevi said in the article quoted above, Israelis' views of these questions are based in a tough assessment of their situation: "Israelis watch the fate of the Yazidi and Christian minorities in the Middle East and tell each other: Imagine what would happen to us if we ever lowered our guard." That guard, essential for their safety and for that of Palestinians and Jordanians, cannot be replaced by an amorphous international or U.N. force that, judging by experience, will shrink from confrontations and flee in the face of real danger.
Elliot Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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