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Friday, April 12, 2013

Austria to withdraw troops from UNDOF?

In the event that an arms embargo on Syria is lifted next month, as might happen, Austria is threatening to withdraw its troops from the UNDOF observer force that has helped to maintain peace on the Golan for the last 40 years. With three of the other five countries who contribute troops to UNDOF having withdrawn in the last few months, Austria's 377 troops are the largest contingent of the roughly 1,000 troops who remain in the neutral zone on the Heights. But according to the Austrians, the mission is becoming impossible.
If the embargo is lifted at the end of next month, “it would be difficult in that moment to maintain the security [of the Austrian soldiers],” he said.
[Deputy Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael] Spindelegger arrived in Israel earlier in the day for a 24-hour visit during which he will travel to the Golan Heights, examine the terrain and meet with Austrian soldiers and their commander, so he can personally assess the situation.
He also wants to stress to Israeli leaders the danger to Syria and the mission’s future, if the arms embargo is lifted.
Austria is one of only three nations, along with India and the Philippines, that remain in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force; it recently lost three of its members – Croatia, Canada and Japan.
“The problem is that more and more it is not possible to do this mission,” he said.


But if the embargo is lifted and European countries export arms to the Syrian opposition, Austria will no longer appear neutral to forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The absence of such neutrality would increase the danger to the extent that it may not be possible to remain, he said.
“If Syrian opposition could have more weapons from the European side, than we are really on one side, and it would be a hard job just to be present, and this would be the moment where we would think to pull out,” Spindelegger said.
Neutrality is such a critical component, he said, that Croatia pulled out, fearing for its troops’ safety, after a rumor surfaced that Croatia had delivered weapons to opposition forces, Spindelegger said.
He explained the situation to President Shimon Peres and to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in separate meetings on Thursday.
Israel agreed with him that no more arms should flow to Syria.
 What could go wrong?

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