Guarding the line: Canadian officers support UN peace mission in the Middle East

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Article / December 1, 2016

As the sun rises in the Middle East, United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) in Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and in Tyre on the Mediterranean Sea are loading their vehicles with personal protective equipment and first aid kits. The radio waves become busy with the morning rush hour as patrols depart, leaving a unique aroma of diesel fumes and coffee behind them.

Meanwhile, on the Occupied Golan, other observers are going through the daily ritual of changing from night to day, closing down thermal cameras and switching over from noisy generators to silent solar panels. All the while, they scan their areas of observation. Inland from Tyre, other UNMOs are loading their armoured patrol vehicles for another day on the Blue Line-the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel.

It is the start of another day for the four Canadian Armed Forces officers who are deployed on Operation JADE. They perform the UNMO tasks of observing, reporting, inspecting, and investigating in support of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which is both the UN’s and Canada’s longest mission.

Two Canadian officers currently serve with Observer Group Lebanon, and the other two, including the Task Force Commander Major Adrian Fyfe, serve with Observer Group Golan. All four serve in different teams alongside officers from over thirty different nations.

UNTSO has its origins in the conflict that arose in May 1948 when the United Kingdom relinquished its mandate over Palestine, and the State of Israel was proclaimed. UNTSO military observers also responded to the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973. More recently, UNTSO has reacted and adapted to the changing security situation in Lebanon and the civil war in Syria.

Every day, Major Fyfe and his fellow UNMOs from Team Eagle establish a temporary observation post on Mount Bental, overlooking the ruined Syrian city of Al Quanaytirah which has seen some of the worst fighting in recent months.

As the only UN observation post in the world that civilians have open access to, they are visited daily by coachloads of tourists looking to witness the civil war being fought only a couple of kilometres to the East. Each day the UNMOs answer the same question: “Why are you here?”

“Simply put, we are in the Golan to observe the 1974 Agreement on Separation signed by both Syria and Israel,” said Major Fyfe. “The reality of this is we frequently observe what we term as spillover fire: artillery and mortar rounds, as well as machine gun fire spill over from the Syrian civil war into Israeli controlled territory.”

If spillover fire is observed, UNMOs will report the violation before patrolling forward, often to the Technical Fence that divides Syrian and Israeli controlled territory, in order to conduct an investigation of the impact site. On occasion, these investigations have occurred within shouting distance of rebel forces.

A Canadian captain splits his time between two observation posts. One is within viewing distance of Mount Bental, and the other is in the foothills of Mount Hermon. The latter is subjected to upwards of six feet of snow in the winter. The captain works with two other UNMOs, spending his day manning the observation platform for up to eight hours, conducting routine maintenance, training newly-arrived UNMOs, helping out with cooking, and catching the occasional break.

The night shifts are rarely quiet, and in one eight-hour period the captain reported observing over 200 artillery impacts in a local village about three kilometers from where he was observing.  

Another member of the Task Force, a major, lives in a coastal city on the Mediterranean, but frequently operates out of a small room in a patrol base inland from the sea. Each day, he deploys in an armoured patrol car for eight hours, monitoring the border between Lebanon and Israel.

“Although there is tension in the region, my team members perform their duties with the calm conduct that we expect from Canadian UNMOs,” stated Major Fyfe. “After all, we all completed an excellent training package at the Peace Support Training Centre in Kingston before we deployed.”

Their days are long and demanding, but the Canadian contingent makes a strong contribution to UNTSO.  

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