PEACEKEEPING troops on their way to Golan Heights in Syria are being deployed to a volatile zone, a senior military officer has warned.
Major General Ralph James said the Golan was an area which could "bubble over" at any moment and they had to be prepared for any eventuality.
The deputy chief of staff (operations) of the Defence Forces was commenting after overseeing a mission readiness exercise for 129 soldiers from the 44 infantry group. They are due to depart for a six-month tour of duty in the Golan next month.
The troops have been put through a series of tough tasks, based on potential threats they could encounter in Syria during the mission.
The exercise at the Glen of Imaal in west Wicklow, which ends next week, included simulated explosive strikes, air mobile helicopter drills, anti-ambush tactics, carrying out detailed operational planning and medical evacuation.
The unit is due to depart on March 19 and 26 and includes a mix of soldiers on their first mission overseas, to highly experienced commanders and non-commissioned officers.
Asked for his view of yesterday's training, General James said: "You have to be impressed. They have to be ready to hit the ground running, so we have to push them here. They responded and have shown themselves up to it.
"We have to plan for the worst possible scenario and that is the standard we set for them."
He described the Golan currently as "nice and calm, relatively speaking" but warned that the troops had to be prepared for a scenario where it could suddenly "bubble over" because of its volatility.
"The test for these guys is that they have to stay at that standard for six months."
He said the troops had to be ready for a range of military challenges, from the dangers posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and roadside bombs to negotiating their way through checkpoints mounted by the two sides in the conflict.
"It is a case of always being on your guard and applying the tactics and techniques in which you have been trained."
General James said their biggest threat was likely to come from the IEDs.
"We believe we have the best equipment and match that with the best training and we are ready for the challenges. It's something in which we can take pride."
He believed an incident involving the current Irish unit in the Golan, in which a wheel was blown off a Mowag-armoured vehicle showed that their equipment could stand up to an attack. Nobody was injured in the attack and the Mowag was driven to safety.
There have been two other minor incidents in which there was a burst of small arms fire in areas where the Irish were on patrol, but nobody was hit and the patrols left the areas.
The 44 infantry group is commanded by Lieut Col Paul Kennedy, of Naas, Co Kildare, who is embarking on his seventh overseas mission.
Col Kennedy said that under their mandate the Irish had no role to play in the current internal conflict in Syria and their job was to help maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria and supervise areas of separation and limitation, agreed in 1974.
Among the troops are brother and sister, Gemma (31) and Craig (22) Lacey, from Wexford; and Kildare camogie star Lieut Angela Lyons.