Muhammad Hamed / Courtesy Reuters Filipino U.N. peacekeepers address a news conference after being released by rebels in southern Syria, March 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Buffer

UN Peacekeepers Face Crisis in the Golan Heights

On the eve of a basketball game between the United States and Angola during the 1992 Olympics, a reporter asked NBA superstar Charles Barkley how he felt about the coming matchup. “I don’t know anything about Angola,” Barkley replied, “but Angola’s in trouble.”

Two weeks ago, a Lebanon-based journalist told me that a Salafi Syrian rebel commander gave him a similar response when asked what he thought about the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the multinational force put in place in May 1974 to preserve the cease-fire between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The mere presence of UNDOF, the militant said, would not change his military calculations nor make him more cautious in his fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It should come as a slight relief to peacekeepers that the prominent commander, whose group is active just a few miles away from their area of operations, did not seem to care much about UNDOF’s presence -- as opposed to actively trying to target it. But that will hardly be enough to reassure the international forces. Thanks to the raging civil conflict in Syria and the resurgence of extremists in the country and across the Middle East, UNDOF’s role is at serious risk for the first time in its history. The weakening of UNDOF will further destabilize an already dangerously unstable region.

UNDOF’s initial task, in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, was to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli and

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