Senior Irish officers seeing increased tensions along Israel-Syria border since start of Gaza assault

About 130 Defence Forces soldiers stationed along border, in the Golan area, as part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof)

Tensions on the border between Syria and Israel have escalated significantly since the start of Israel’s assault on Gaza last October, according to senior Irish officers stationed in the area.

About 130 Defence Forces soldiers are stationed along the border, in the Golan area, as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof), which was established 50 years ago to monitor a truce between Israel and Syria.

The Irish troops, under the command of Lieut Col Oliver Clear, act as the mission’s “quick reaction force” (QRF), meaning they have to be prepared to deploy in armoured cars on 15 minutes’ notice to assist other peacekeepers if they get into difficulty.

Lieut Col Clear said it is “very obvious” there has been an increase in tensions since Hamas launched its attacks on October 7th and Israel responded with an invasion of Gaza. “There’s a lot more kinetic activity we would see. There’s a lot more movement on both sides you would see on a daily basis.


“That means we have to plan more about what we’re doing and be more deliberate.”

Rather than being specifically targeted, the real risk for Irish troops is “arriving into something that is occurring or has just occurred”, the officer said.

Since arriving in Syria five months ago as the 68th Infantry Group, the unit has had to take cover in fortified bomb shelters on four occasions.

Aside from training, the QRF has also been deployed on multiple occasions to respond to dangerous situations. In one incident, it arrived on the scene of a suspected Israeli drone strike on a car which killed members of the Lebanese militant group Hizbullah operating in Syria.

There has also been increased activity by Russian troops, who are providing assistance to the Syrian regime, in the Undof area of operations. On one recent occasion, a Russian military helicopter flew very low over the Irish camp.

The events of October have had “huge implications” for Undof troops and for Irish troops stationed on the Israel-Lebanon border, said Capt Gerard Duff, the operations officer for the 68th.

He said in the Undof area there has been an increase in “armed elements” operating near the border fence on the Israel side. “This has been seen as trying to distract Alpha side forces from their mission in Gaza,” said Capt Duff, using the official term for Israeli forces.

“Most definitely since October, we have seen a sharp increase in that.”

After 10 years’ continuous service, Irish involvement in Undof is set to end in April, aside from a small number of staff officers.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times