Irish troops may move closer to Israel and get heavier weaponry in Golan crisis
Published 03/09/2014 | 02:30
Irish peacekeeping troops may be equipped with heavier weaponry and moved to posts closer to the Israeli border under a United Nations review on the risks of its mission on the war-torn Golan Heights.
A new contingent of Irish troops, the 46th infantry group, will be deployed, as planned, from the end of the month.
But the Government wants assurances from the UN that its review will lessen the risks to the safety of the troops.
Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieut General Conor O'Boyle, said the welfare of the troops was always his main concern. They were well trained and well equipped and they and their families knew there were risks involved in every overseas peace mission.
"Our job is to mitigate that risk to the utmost degree," he added. He said he was proud of his troops and the duties they were performing with courage, restraint and professionalism.
He said a review of the events of the past few days was already under way and they would see what lessons could be learnt from that and how they could adapt to the changing circumstances in the Golan Heights.
General O'Boyle acknowledged that the troops faced risks but said they knew that from the outset and the key issue now was force protection.
At the moment, the Defence Forces were continuing to plan for the deployment of the new contingent later this month.
The personnel involved were hugely experienced and he had every confidence they could carry out the tasks they were given.
He said they had also prepared a contingency plan for withdrawal but that was not on the current agenda.
The Chief of Staff was speaking at an inaugural commemoration day for Defence Forces' veterans at the Training Centre at the Curragh. This will now become an annual event.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney, who took part in a wreath-laying ceremony there, said he intended to brief his government colleagues on the events of the past five days at today's Cabinet meeting.
He said the mission mandate for the Golan Heights had been drawn up in 1974 when they were tasked in keeping the peace in a demilitarised buffer zone between Israel and Syria.
That mandate was no longer suitable for troops who were faced with an internal conflict between government and rebel forces in Syria.
He ruled out an unilateral withdrawal of Irish troops but said the government wanted reassurances from the UN to allow them to stay there.