Published October 2, 2014
In recent days, a small fixture of Middle East ceasefire monitoring disintegrated, with scarcely anyone noticing. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the multinational force that had monitored the Israeli/Syrian ceasefire lines since 1974, disappeared as though it had never existed. Yet, in the view of Secretary of State John Kerry, an Israeli/Palestinian peace settlement should include entrusting Israel’s security in the strategically vital Jordan Valley to international peacekeepers.
UNDOF’s fate discloses why Kerry’s idea is foolhardy. Two weeks ago, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front seized the strategic Quneitra border crossing from UNDOF, sending a contingent of Filipino peacekeepers scrambling for safety to Israeli lines. The Nusra Front also took 45 Fijian peacekeepers hostage, who were subsequently released. This was the fourth abduction of peacekeepers since March 2013, leading several countries to withdraw their troops from UNDOF.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, “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.” Mr. Dujarric added that all UNDOF forces have been withdrawn to the Israel side of the ceasefire lines.
In short, peacekeepers are fair-weather friends. It is nice to have them when the going is good. When the going gets tough, however, they get going — elsewhere, or do nothing. Meanwhile, Israel is left holding the bag.
To take one example, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been around since 1978. It was created to monitor Israel’s withdrawal from its Litani Operation in southern Lebanon, following the PLO’s coastal road terror attack on an Israeli bus in which 37 Israelis were murdered. That’s how the UN tends to operate. As in the tradition of the oft-heard schoolyard complaint, it all began when Israel struck back. The original terrorist assaults on Israel don’t produce the apparatus of peacekeeping; Israeli responses do.
Has UNIFIL supervised and enforced Hizb’allah’s disarmament, as was supposedly the solemn international demand, enshrined in a UN Security Council Resolution 1701, following the 2006 Lebanon war? Or did it became the shield behind which Hizb’allah has massively rearmed with tens of thousands of rockets since that date?
UNIFIL has backed away from its mandate to inspect and disarm, allowing its forces to be intimidated and its equipment stolen. And little wonder. Do Bangladeshis, Finns, and Nepalis, to take three of the roughly three dozen nationalities staffing UNIFIL, really wish to lose their lives crossing swords with Hizb’allah?
Yet UNIFIL remains, thus necessitating only the slightest reworking to Ronald Reagan’s observation that “the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.”
To take another example, consider the fate of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), which supervised the Egyptian/Israeli border for the decade between 1957 and 1967. Like UNDOF, not a shot was fired during this period. But, in May 1967, when Egyptian President Abdul Gamal Nasser decided on renewing confrontation with Israel and pledged to drive it into the sea, he simply told UNEF to leave, which it did, after which Nasser moved 100,000 troops and nearly 1,000 tanks into the previously demilitarized Sinai. This led Israel’s then-Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, to query, “what is the use of a fire brigade which vanishes from the scene as soon as the first smoke and flames appear?”
Clearly, not much. The Six Day War shortly followed.
We see here the heedlessness of the various, repeated suggestions over the years, including by Secretary Kerry, that a peace agreement that meets Israel’s security needs can be achieved by Israel entrusting the security of vital frontier zones to international peacekeepers.
This absurdity goes doubly for the Jordan Valley, because every Israeli government has regarded its retention as vital to Israel’s security. Yitzhak Rabin said as much in his last address to the Knesset prior to his assassination in 1995.
Peacekeepers are there to maintain an existing peace; they do not establish it. And once the peace ends, they have no function; indeed, they often turn into an additional hindrance to Israeli security, like UNIFIL, or unceremoniously decamp, as did UNDOF.
Israel doesn’t need peacekeepers in the Jordan Valley to maintain peace with Jordan. Israel needs to ensure that hostile terrorists or a new regime in Jordan doesn’t threaten Israel. That is the job of Israeli troops, who won’t run. It is not the job of UN peacekeepers, who will.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).