Irish troops forced to take cover during missile attack
Almost 100 Irish peacekeeping troops had to take cover in heavily reinforced bunkers for five hours during a series of missile attacks across the Golan Heights early yesterday morning.
The troops were ordered into "groundhog" - sheltering in bunkers fitted with full communication and medical facilities - as a reported 20 rockets were fired from the Syrian side of the Golan at targets inside Israel.
Some of the Irish remained on patrol in the area during the incidents, which lasted from shortly before midnight on Wednesday until 5.30am yesterday.
None of the Irish was injured in the attacks and the area was calm again yesterday with full peacekeeping operations resumed.
The Israeli military blamed the Iranians for the rocket strikes and retaliated by sending fighter jets to attack what were described as key Iranian military targets south of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The rockets were fired from a position about halfway between the two camps used by Irish troops and about 20km apart.
Ireland has about 150 troops in the area, the vast majority based at Camp Ziouani, which is located on the Israeli side, and attached to the contingent in the Undof (United Nations disengagement observer force) mission.
The rest of the soldiers are either located at the Undof mission headquarters at Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the Golan, or are attached as observers to a second mission, Untso (United Nations troops supervision organisation).
After being alerted by initial explosions, an assessment was carried out by the Irish Undof commander, Lieut Col Mark Brownen, who then ordered most of the troops into groundhog and restricted operations in the area.
An estimated 20 missiles were from a single multiple-barrel rocket launcher.
It was located around 10km from the Irish positions, and aimed at Israeli posts in the Golan.
In the retaliatory strikes, the Israelis said that they had destroyed the launcher site as well as other "known" Iranian military facilities in Syria.
The all-clear was given before 6am and troops immediately resumed what Col Brownen described as "business as usual".
The Irish form the force reserve company for the Undof mission and their tasks include providing armoured protection for the mission and patrolling in the area of separation between Syria and Israel, in the shadow of Mount Hermon.
The Irish also include a quick reaction force, which comprises a 30-strong platoon on permanent stand-by and ready to respond within 15 minutes.
Its average response time is nine minutes.
The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, said yesterday that his main priority was the safety of Irish troops and the area where they operate was back to normal yesterday.
Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said that he had been assured by the chief that all of the troops were safe and well.
Before they deploy to the Golan, the Irish contingents are trained to deal with a range of scenarios while on peacekeeping duty and this prepares them for incidents similar to the shootings early yesterday.
In August 2014, the Irish fired three heavy machine-gun bursts at rebel forces as they paved the way for the rescue of Filipino comrades, who had been under siege for seven hours at their post on the Golan.
The warning shots, fired from a 127mm weapon fitted to a Mowag armoured vehicle, achieved their aim, with the rebels withdrawing from the area.