Golan mission 'massive boost' for troops
DEPLOYMENT on the Golan Heights puts Irish troops in a key position if the United Nations decides in the future to send a major peacekeeping force into the region.
Senior military officers candidly admit that the Golan is a tinderbox and they face into a challenging mission.
But they see the move as highly significant for them on the international peacekeeping stage. "This is a big boost for the Defence Forces," one high-ranking officer said. "It's great to be in there at the start, as this mission could turn into the springboard for a much bigger deployment of personnel if the UN ends up with a more influential role."
Sending out a 114-strong contingent also compensates for the elimination of an Irish company from the existing battalion in south Lebanon.
At the moment, the Defence Forces has two companies, or about 330 soldiers, attached to the battalion, which also includes Finnish troops, with the Irish playing the lead role.
But from November, Finland will take the lead role and Irish involvement will be downsized from two companies to one, comprised of 180 troops.
The Lebanese contingent also has additional Mowag armed personnel carriers and some of these will now be moved from there to the Golan, eliminating the need to send out a ship to Beirut with vehicles and equipment.
As a result, the switch to the Golan is almost seamless. The Irish company will be deployed there in mid-September and the Irish downsize in Lebanon takes place less than two months later.
Overseas missions are the lifeblood of the Defence Forces as they provide vital training and experience for younger personnel, while a change of scenery also ensures that the interest of the veterans in serving abroad is maintained.
Agreement on the Golan also represents a major victory for the outgoing Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieut General Sean McCann, as he retires from the organisation.
He personally led the support group for further participation in the Middle East against a vocal lobby elsewhere in favour of opting to join a mission in Mali in west Africa.
The Golan mission always appeared more attractive as the Irish have decades of experience of peacekeeping in the region. They have a good track record there and there were no objections to the Irish from the Israelis or either of the warring Syrian factions.
The mission, United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is well established, having been set up in 1974 and the Irish have three officers attached to it since last month, with another Irish officer, Brigadier General Michael Finn, recently taking charge of United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), comprised of observers.