The United Nations announced yesterday that it was withdrawing all of its United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers out of Syria due to “[t]he situation in UNDOF on the Syrian side and the area of separation has deteriorated severely over the last several days.”
Armed groups have made advances in the area of UNDOF positions, posing a direct threat to the safety and security of the UN Peacekeepers along the “Bravo” line and in Camp Faouar.
All the UN personnel in these positions have thus been relocated to the “Alpha” side.
UNDOF continues to use all available assets to carry out its mandated tasks in this exceptionally challenging environment.
The “Alpha side” is Israel.
— LTC (R) Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) September 15, 2014
This wouldn’t be the first time that UN peacekeeping forces charged with protecting Israel have failed to do their job. A few weeks before the Six Day War in 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered the UN peacekeeping forces that had been in the Sinai since 1956 to leave. The UN complied immediately. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) failed to keep Hezbollah from arming and in one especially egregious instance abetted Hezbollah in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers.
The serial failures of the UN to protect Israel should be a signal that Israel alone has to be in charge of its security. This isn’t ideology, but the lesson of bitter experience.
In January, Secretary of State John Kerry presented a “security plan” for the West Bank. Despite Kerry’s efforts, “Israeli leaders are as resistant as ever to trading this more than 80 kilometer-long, up to 7 kilometer-deep stretch of territory for technology, US security assurances and joint force patrols.” “Security assurances” from outside parties have notoriously failed Israel.
A decade ago Israel’s former national security adviser Gen. Yaacov Amidror explained why territory is essential for security.
The most significant aspect of the Oslo experiment, from 1993 to 2000, was the surrender of control over Palestinian populated areas. It was due largely to this surrender that the Palestinians were able to launch and fight a war that, in its first three years, cost Israel nearly 900 lives, mostly civilians. (While Israel eventually did reassert control in populated areas throughout most of the West Bank and Gaza, the damage had already been done.) In comparison, during the final seventeen months of Israel’s military deployment in southern Lebanon, Israel lost a total of just twenty-one people—all soldiers—resulting in fewer casualties than the number of civilians killed in many single Palestinian terror attacks.
Control of territory is an essential advantage in fighting terror. It is the key to gathering intelligence. Without control, it is exponentially more difficult to recruit agents and sources, to monitor suspects and terror sites, to question and arrest terror suspects, and to take the many measures by which counterterrorist experts learn the terrorists’ modus operandi and prevent terrorists from getting close to their target. A military force without control of the territory from which terrorism emanates cannot destroy the infrastructure of terrorism (such as laboratories, training centers, and safe houses). Without territorial control, counterterrorism operations become risky, both in terms of physical danger and political cost.
Without being invested in the consequences of security failures, no party outside of Israel is going to care. Every time Israel has withdrawn from territory over the past twenty years it has been followed by a growing terror threat. The withdrawal from the most populated areas of the West Bank was followed by a wave of terror in 1996 and the “second intifada” beginning in 2000. The withdrawal from Lebanon was followed by the war with Hezbollah in 2006. The “disengagement” from Gaza has now been followed by three wars with Hamas.
We don’t know what the flight of the Syrian peacekeepers means for the future; but past experience tells us that Israel cannot rely on anyone else for its own security.
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