US inspects terrain for policing a Golan deal: UN peace-keepers set to hand over after Israeli withdrawal

AN AMERICAN rear-admiral from the Pentagon arrives in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights today. And next week, only hours after President Hafez al-Assad of Syria tells President Bill Clinton in Geneva that he still wants the return of all occupied Golan, the US Defense Department's Executive Agent for UN Operations, Major John Kintsev, will be turning up for his own briefing from the United Nations soldiers who have kept the peace in Golan for 19 long and freezing years. Everyone knows - but no one says - that the next 'buffer' force between the Israeli and Syrian armies is likely to be chiefly composed of US troops.

An Israeli withdrawal from Golan is a sine qua non in Damascus, whatever the conditions of that withdrawal may be. Months of negotiations are likely to follow Sunday's Assad-Clinton summit, but current thinking here suggests that a 16km-wide demilitarised buffer zone will be set up along the Israeli-Syrian frontier north of Lake Tiberias when - or if - Israel hands back all of Golan to Syria. One option would be to push the UN Area of Separation (AoS) - which runs along an 80km strip from Mount Hermon through Kuneitra to the Jordanian border - west to the internationally recognised Israeli frontier, before replacing UN troops with US peace-keepers.

Syria's determination to retrieve the Golan Heights should not obscure the complexity of the military talks which will have to precede any Israeli withdrawal. At present, the Israeli and Syrian armies are each limited to a total of 6,000 soldiers, 450 tanks and 162 artillery pieces within 25km of the UN's separation line, statistics which are bound to change - almost certainly in Israel's favour - if the Israelis pull back to their real frontier and revoke their annexation of the Syrian Golan.

But the Israeli officers in Golan are already trying to woo their Syrian opposite numbers. General Spiegle, the commander of Israeli troops on the Heights, and his colleagues have tried to send a wine and sweets to their Syrian opposite numbers in Damascus, an offer that was pointedly ignored by the potential recipients. No Syrian officer would accept a gift from an Israeli as long as Syria is technically at war with Israel - and certainly not while the Israelis continue to display the noticeboard which greets visitors to occupied Syrian land with the words: 'Welcome to Israel.'

Yet it is not difficult to see how quickly Israeli and Syrian personnel could be prepared for a redeployment. General Shafir, the Israeli officer who signed the original disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria after the 1973 war, is still a serving officer, while Major-General Tayara, the Syrian signatory to the disengagement documents, still holds the same post: Senior Syrian Arab Delegate for Golan. Israeli and Syrian officers have been liaising through UN officers along the frontlines since 1974, a system that could easily cover a redeployment.

Ever since they took up positions in Golan, the UN's Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and Truce Supervisory Observers (UNTSO), have refused to accept Israel's territorial annexation. It is a policy that naturally finds favour with the Syrians.

UNDOF has a complement of 1,248 Polish, Canadian and Austrian soldiers with 225 UN observers. Even these small detachments, however, cost an annual dollars 35.46m ( pounds 23.7m) - a figure which is likely to be at least quadrupled if a US-led multi-national force of more than 10,000 men was to be inserted between Israelis and Syrians west of a liberated Golan. No one has calculated the cost of returning more than 100,000 Syrian refugees to the region to join around 45,000 Druze and Muslim villagers who still live there, let alone the cost of moving out an estimated 12,000 Israeli settlers.

Yet the Assad-Clinton summit is not going to be deflected by the cost of peace, even if it can draw some lessons from what must be the UN's most effective peace-keeping operation. Late last summer, it transpires, the UN ordered its observers to record only those Israeli aircraft ceasefire 'violations' above Golan which could be 'proved' to have passed over their lines - something almost impossible when a plane is at high altitude. The result was predictable: a sudden and dramatic fall in the number of provocations by the Israeli airforce - much to Syria's satisfaction. Which is presumably called 'bending the rules for peace'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'