As the news hit the airwaves that a Syrian rebel group called Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade captured four UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights earlier this month, the international community reacted with rhetoric that amounted to their typical lackluster bluster. No solutions were found, and since the captives were returned in good health days later, it is easy to see how no bold action to assert order was taken.
As the Golan Heights is such a contested area it has often been used as a bargaining chip in the middle-east peace process. The fact that there are Israeli settlements there is one of the major factors for unrest in the Arab world. The UN is charged with enforcing “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force” (UN Resolution 242). However, the recent kidnappings fly in the face of these doctrines.
The four were “detained [today] by an unidentified armed group while they were patrolling near Al Jamlah in the zone between Israel and Syria,” said UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero. The rebels have since stated that they took these high-level captives to “prevent them from harm,” but this argument is thin at best. It is impossible to conceive that the rebels had their prisoners’ best interests in mind since it has been reported that they were used as human shields while their captors fought Syrian government troops. In fact, this is the second time in two months that troops have been abducted in the Golan Heights. In March, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were seized; fortunately they were also released days later. For this reason, many in the international community were not surprised that the four recent captives were also released once they had served their purpose of intimidating the local authorities.
How long will this cycle continue?
This recent spree of aggressive unrest has caused many countries to reconsider their efforts in the Middle East, including the Philippines who are threatening to withdraw 300 peacekeepers “at the soonest possible time.” This possible pullout is a sign of the ineffectualness of the UN’s Observer Forces, which has merely played a symbolic role in “keeping” peace in the area.