Withdrawing Irish troops from Lebanon due to Israel-Hamas war may cause added ‘carnage’, says Martin

Minister for Foreign Affairs visits troops in southern Lebanon where Israel and Hamas ally Hizbullah trade fire daily

Irish troops will not be withdrawn from the Lebanon-Israel border for fear of “carnage” developing in the region in their absence, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said.

Though more than 150,000 people had been evacuated from the region since the Israel-Hamas war began last October, an assessment concluded that the Irish troops would not be withdrawn, Mr Martin said.

Speaking on a three-day visit to Lebanon, where on Sunday he met Defence Forces personnel serving with United Nations Interim Force Lebanon (Unifil), Mr Martin said the Hamas attack in Israel last October and the bombardment of Gaza by the Israelis since then had made conditions for the Irish troops much more dangerous.

“We obviously did an assessment,” he said when the Israel-Hamas war broke out, adding he spoke to Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy and his advisers. “But you just don’t overnight pull out of a peace operation. We saw where that happened in previous conflicts in the past in different parts of the world with horrendous consequences. And … it’s only when peacekeepers pull out that real carnage develops.”


The Israel-Hamas war had also resulted in Israel and Iran-backed Hizbullah, an ally of Hamas, trading fire daily along the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the region where the Irish are based, mainly in Camp Shamrock.

Mr Martin said this was “very challenging” for Irish troops, who have been forced to take cover in bunkers hundreds of times, including in recent days, and the Government was “very conscious” of the risks involved.

“There has been an escalation in this region [but] not to levels that would be akin to a war or anything like that yet,” said Mr Martin, who is also Tánaiste and Minister for Defence. “Nonetheless, it has resulted in up to 70,000 to 80,000 people having to leave this area [in southern Lebanon] and likewise up to 90,000 people on the Israeli side of the border having to be evacuated.”

He added an extra platoon, comprising 33 personnel, including from the Army Ranger Wing, were being deployed in a bid to shore up force protection. Mr Martin added that the bombardment of Gaza by the Israelis needed to stop and aid be permitted to flow into the region.

Lieut Gen Clancy, who is accompanying Mr Martin, said the Hamas attack on Israel last October and retaliatory strikes by Israel had brought about death and destruction “beyond our imaginations”.

However, while that conflict had ratcheted up tensions in the region where the Irish troops were operating, the Unifil mission “tempo” and security measures had been adjusted accordingly. The 391 Irish troops, and their international Unifil colleagues, were proving a stabilising force in the region, including performing patrols amid the significantly heightened security environment since last October.

“We are well equipped and well trained and well able to sustain and be resilient in our resolve here towards maintaining our operations,” said Lieut Gen Clancy.

Mr Martin is on Monday due to meet Lebanese ministers to press them for progress on bringing to justice the killers of Private Seán Rooney. The 24-year-old, from Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, was killed in an attack on a convoy of Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanese town of Al-Aqbiya in December 2022.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times