A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

After 40 Years, UNDOF Withdraws Behind Line "A" in Golan: Nusra Now Occupies Disengagement Zone

Yesterday the United Nations announced:
The 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.
Deciphered from opaque UN-ese (which is probably why this has been little commented upon in the Western media), this means that UNDOF has completely withdrawn from the Golan disengagement force zone it has held since 1974 and into Israeli-controlled territory. There is nothing between the Israel Defense Forces and Jabhat al-Nusra, though UNDOF  says it will "carry out its mandated tasks."

Put that way, it sounds a bit more dangerous, doesn't it?  Line A is the line east of which Israeli forces are prohibited; line B the line west of which Syrian forces are (or were) prohibited; UNDOF controlled the territory between the two. Now, it appears Jabhat al-Nusra does.

And Syria's Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari is claiming:
"The terrorists are now using United Nations cars, which hold the emblem of the United Nations forces in the Golan. They are using the uniform of the UNDOF, the weapons of UNDOF, the positions of UNDOF to shell on the Syrian army as well as on the civilians in villages," Jaafari told reporters.
Other reports seem to support this.

The Buffer is Gone
While the Israeli media has been on this for obvious reasons, I suspect that the UN statement about "Line Bravo" and "Line Alpha" meant little to most reporters. But a disengagement line created in 1974 (40 years ago) just effectively disappeared.

All this follows the recent release of the Fijian UNDOF peacekeepers captured by Nusra, and amid reports originating with Asharq al-Awsat quoting Syrian opposition sources as claiming Qatar paid a $20 million or more ransom to free the Fijians. (Given the current rivalries between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Saudi claims about Qatar may include disinformation; Fiji says it knows nothing about any ransom.)

The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from a longstanding disengagement zone after 40 years would normally be considered a major crisis (threat level: holy shit!), but with the front porch on fire and all eyes on ISIS, no one was watching the back.

Well, Israel is of course, but whether that's reassuring or part of the danger remains to be seen.

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