Defence Minister Alan Shatter dismissed fears about a chemical attack on Irish peacekeepers on their upcoming deployment to Golan Heights between Israel and Syria through September.
Shatter said about the 115 troops going to Syria that he was confident that they would return safely. Although he said that their safety was a “primary concern,” he admitted that he had not considered the possibility of a chemical attack.
The Golan Heights hold strategic value for their vantage point over southern Syria and Damascus. The Golan is also a key source of water, providing a third of Israel’s water supply.
Shatter stated, “As in every mission, there will be continuous assessment. We know we’re in a very volatile region. We’re in a country with enormous difficulties.”
He added, “We are obviously very conscious of the volatility in the area and in the region.”
Syria is currently heavily militarized and subject to potential missile threat by the United States. Following the attack on Damascus earlier this month, there have been international calls for US action, but such action is unpopular with the American public.
Shatter stated that the Irish peacekeepers will perform an observational role and they will not be involved in a civil war. Commanding officer of the 43rd Infantry Lieutenant Colonel Brendan Delaney confirmed that the troops would be evacuated from Golan Heights in the event of a chemical attack. He said an arrangement was already in place with the Israeli government to allow troops across the border.
The troops are serving in a demilitarized zone as part of the mobile reserve for the UN disengagement observer force. They will take part in regular patrols and escorts. Japan, Croatia, and Austria have withdrawn soldiers.
There is always some risk. Corporal Claire Powell from Dublin said, “There are elements of danger in all places we serve.”
Shatter reviewed the troops at the Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin and said that Major General Conor O’Boyle assured him the soldiers had completed rigorous training and that extensive risk assessment had been done. The troops were trained in the Glen of Imaal in Wicklow and had training in how to deal with chemical, biological, and nuclear incidents.