Irish troops prove their mettle on hostile Syrian front line

One group of surrounded Filipinos fled under cover of darkness, but the second platoon was not so lucky and it was the Irish who were called in to save them

An Irish  member of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (gestures in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.  Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

An Irish member of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (gestures in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

 

The Irish military’s status as being among the best peacekeepers and peace-enforcers in the world might seem like a tired cliché. There was nothing tired though about the actions of the Irish men and women of the Defence Forces last weekend while serving with the United Nations mission in Syria.

With 44 of their Fijian colleagues having been kidnapped by armed rebels, tensions in the Golan Heights were ratcheted up further when Filipino troops were targeted.

Last Saturday the UN positions at Breiqa and Rwihana operated by the Filipinos were surrounded by hundreds of armed Islamist insurgents. The danger posed by the rebels is put into context by the fact they had seized a Syrian border crossing at Quneitra, killing about 20 Syrian troops in a firefight, with the UN troops from Fiji disarmed and abducted in the same attack. The Fijians are still unaccounted for.

While one group of surrounded Filipinos managed to get free under cover of darkness, the second platoon at Breiqa were not so lucky, and it was the Irish who were called in to save them. They secured the area around their post and evacuated their colleagues despite the presence of an armed and hostile, battle-hardened reception party. The Irish exchanged fire a number of times with the rebels, but appeared too well drilled and well armed to be taken on.

Last week’s events have brought into focus the fact the UN mission, which includes about 130 Irish among a multinational force of more than 1,200, is being dragged away from its mandate to observe a separation zone between Israel and Syria dating back to a conflict between them in the 1970s.

On the basis of the decisive actions of the Irish last weekend, if the UN withdraws, it will not be because the Irish cannot stand the heat but because the mandate they are there to execute is being displaced by the unrelated bloody civil war.