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The Austrian Armed Forces in the Middle East

From the Arab-Jewish conflict at the of the 19th century to the UNDOF operation

For 36 years the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) has been keeping peace on the Golan Heights between the frontlines of Syria and Israel. From the very beginning, the Austrian Armed Forces have contributed a substantial amount of UN soldiers.

At the end of the 19th century many Jews (among others from the Russian Empire) emigrated to Palestine (then part of the Ottoman Empire). This movement was also fueled by the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl and his newly published idea of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. At the beginning of the First World War there were already 90,000 Jews on Palestinian territory that later became a British Mandate. Most settlements were west and north-west of the Sea of Galilee. Later the Arab population in Palestine had grown to 500,000. During the First World War not only a 5,000-strong Jewish Brigade fought alongside the British in Gaza and Palestine but also Arab tribes who fought in the Hedshas area, being led among others by the English officer T. E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia). The Arab warlords proved to be excellent guerilla fighters, who managed to repeatedly interrupt the so-called Hedshas railroad from Damascus to Medina (Saudi Arabia), thereby severely hampering the Turkish supply. The British government had, however, made political concessions concerning the future of the territory to both sides in exchange for their readiness to take part in the war, yet the establishment of a Greater Arab empire and the establishment of a Jewish state at the same time largely excluded each other.

The British-French Sykes-Picot Treaty of May 1916 intended to divide the Middle and the Greater Middle East into French and British zones of influence and rule.

After the defeat of the Ottoman forces in the Middle East, in October 1918, Palestine, Trans-Jordan and Iraq came under British administration in 1920, while Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates. During that same year the first armed conflicts between Arabs and Jews broke out. The reason for that was that the Arab leaders were displeased with the sales and tenancies of land to Jewish settlers. The British Mandate administration restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine to 15,000 per year. As of 1921 the British administration of Trans-Jordan prohibited any immigration of Jews into the territory. The paramilitary organisations of the Arabs were faced by the Jewish "Haganah” and the "Irgun”. The "Haganah” (self-defence), which was set up in 1921, was to defend the Jewish settlements against Arab guerillas. The "Irgun”, set up in 1927, carried out counter-terror attacks in the entire area. At that time the territory was populated by approximately 150,000 Jews and almost 600,000 Arabs.

Between 23 and 26 August 1929, 133 Jews were murdered or lost their lives defending their settlements. At the same time the British Mandate police executed 116 Arabs.

The Underground War in Palestine

Between spring and fall 1936 the actions were mainly directed against Jewish settlements. In 1937 and 1938, however, also British Mandate facilities such as railroads and communication lines became targets.

In 1938 the British government deployed more troops to Palestine. With a total strength of approximately two divisions the insurgencies were ended by April 1939.

Great Britain wanted to further restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine in order to deescalate the explosive situation between the two ethnic groups. Tragically, however, this happened during a time when the discrimination policy of the Third Reich against the Jewish population turned into one of elimination. Yet, Jewish immigration - organised by the Haganah - continued illegally and by far surpassed the 15,000 immigrants per year the British Mandate administration permitted.

The radical Irgun on the other hand continued its war against the British. The acme of their terror was reached when the British High Commissioner for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, was assassinated in Cairo on 6 November 1944.

In 1945 open conflicts between Arabs and Jews resurfaced. Despite the massive troop presence in spring 1946, which amounted to roughly 27,000 British soldiers as well as 10,000 police and members of the intelligence services, the British Mandate power found it increasingly hard to keep control.

On 22 July 1946 an Irgun team disguised as caterers blew up parts of the King David Hotel, which was the seat of the British Mandate administration. 91 people were killed and 45 badly injured. By the end of 1946 the terror campaign of the Irgun and other radical groups had left 373 dead - not counting own casualties.

As of 1947 the Palestine problem was to be resolved. On 29 November 1947 the General Assembly of the United Nations voted with 33 against 13 votes for a Partition of the Mandate Territory of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

After this decision the conflict between the two parties changed immediately and larger battles between Jewish and Arab underground fighters ensued. The British government wanted as little involvement of the British police and army as possible in this conflict.

When in May 1948 the last British troops left Palestine the fights between Jews and Arabs had already reached the dimensions of a war.

Already the day after the proclamation of the State of Israel, on 14 May 1948, which was to comprise the entire area settled by the Jews, a massive attack was launched by regular Lebanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Trans-Jordanian, and Egyptian forces in support of the Arab guerillas. With the departure of the British High Commissioner General Alan Cunningham the day before the British League of Nations Mandate had run out.

Israel’s Independence War of 1948/49 (First Middle East War)

Approximately 21,500 men of the regular Arab forces and roughly 3,500 Arab guerilla fighters were facing 25,000 armed Israelis. The nine Israeli brigades included 19,000 experienced former underground fighters and ex-members of the Jewish Brigade of the British Army. The other at first 6,000 then 36,000 men formed a kind of territorial militia whose main task it was to defend Israeli settlements.

The objective of the Arab operation was to split up the area of Israeli settlements and put an end to the Jewish state, which did not have any guaranteed territory yet.

Within the first two weeks the Arab troops succeeded in taking large parts of Palestine. Yet, nowhere did the Arabs penetrate into the unified territory of Jewish settlements.

While the UN mediated a preliminary ceasefire, both parties used the time to reorganise their units and bring in reinforcements.

Following further ceasefire negotiations on the Isle of Rhodes the Independence War came to an end on 20 July 1949, when Syria ratified the ceasefire agreement. The area of the Jewish settlements could, in essence, be kept and, after the Negev Desert was conquered, become part of the state territory of Israel. Israel was accepted into the United Nations as a sovereign state.

Approximately 600,000 Arabs fled the battle area and crossed into the neighboring states, which marked the beginning of the still unresolved Palestinian problem.

The Suez-Conflict of 1956 (Second Middle East War)

Three Egyptian divisions were stationed on Mount Sinai. The Israeli assault plan was to have a parachute unit land at the eastern exit of the strategically important Mitla Pass to prevent the Egyptians from bringing in reinforcements from Suez and to cut off the escape route for Egyptian units. The Israeli leadership also planned to have their brigades penetrate the line of Egyptian positions and make a rapid advance to the Suez Canal.

On 30 October 1956, Great Britain and France put up an ultimatum for the belligerent parties to withdraw their troops from the Suez Canal zone. Since Israel was still far away from the Canal at that time, the measure was clearly directed against Egypt. But as Egypt refused to withdraw, an allied air strike was launched against Egypt on 31 October 1956, which destroyed a substantial part of the Egyptian air force - mainly on the ground. After that, Britain and France, in accordance with Israel, prepared for a landing operation with the objective of seizing Port Said and Port Fuad. During this operation helicopter carriers were used for the first time. The defence against the British-French landing remained weak until a local ceasefire was agreed upon through the mediation of the Italian Consul.

In the meantime there was a dramatic development on the geopolitical level. In the night from 5 to 6 November, Soviet Prime Minister Bulganin directed massive warnings against Great Britain, France, and Israel, in which he threatened to use nuclear weapons against Great Britain and France - while at the same time Soviet troops marched into Hungary to suppress an uprising. At the same time the Soviet Union tried to persuade the U.S.A. to take joint measures against Great Britain and France. Eventually, the governments in London and Paris had to give in to the pressure and, on 7 November 1956, agreed to the UN resolution adopted by the General Assembly to come to a ceasefire agreement.

Until January 1957 the British and French troops left the Suez Canal zone. In April 1957 Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and a UN troop contingent (UNEF, United Nations Emergency Force) was stationed along the Egyptian-Israeli border.

The Six-Day War from 5 to 10 June 1967 (Third Middle East War)

Soon after 1956 Israel had to realise that it had failed to reach one of its war objectives, namely the destruction of the Palestinian guerilla organisations that were responsible for the raids in Israel. In addition, more and more Arab actions were launched out of Jordan and Syria. Israel, in turn, retaliated more and more massively with its regular military forces. Finally, on 1 April 1967, open fights broke out on the Israeli-Syrian border, that involved tank and air force units.

On 14 May, Egypt concentrated its troops on the Sinai Peninsula. The UN troops stationed there were forced to withdraw. Until 25 May also Syrian, Jordanian and some Iraqi units were pulled together. The Israeli leadership decided to first neutralise its most dangerous opponent, the Egyptian army on the Sinai Peninsula then take up the battle over Jerusalem with lighter forces and, for the time being, remain in defence against Syria.

But before that, air superiority had to be established, as the Arab air force, which was more than three times stronger, could hit Israeli soldiers and the hinterland hard. The Israeli air force launched its attacks against Egyptian air bases on Sinai and in Lower Egypt during the early morning hours on 5 June 1967 and subsequently against those of Syria and Jordan. By the evening Israel had established total air superiority.

During the morning hours of 7 June the fleeing Egyptian columns were attacked by the Israeli air force on the Sinai Peninsula and hit hard. The Egyptian units, now mostly without leaders, had no chance to change the development of the war in their favour. With additional Israeli air landings the war on the Sinai Peninsula was practically over.

However, the Israeli parachute brigade had to stand much harder battles when seizing East Jerusalem. On 6 June at 02:30 the parachutists launched their attack, supported by 30 Sherman tanks of the Jerusalem Brigade. In a bloody battle in built-up terrain the city was seized by day’s end. During the course of 6 June the counter-attack of the 40th Jordanian Tank Brigade was disrupted by Israeli air strikes at Nabatiya and Jenin and the withdrawal route was blocked by an Israeli reserve brigade with tank support. After an Israeli pincer attack against Nablus, the Jordanian resistance in the northern part of the West Bank collapsed and, on 7 June, also the south (Bethlehem, Hebron) were occupied by Israeli troops.

The last but no less bloody and decisive phase of the war was the occupation of the Golan Heights by Israeli troops. This mountain range overlooking the land stretch of Galilee with exceptionally strong Syrian fortifications provided numerous tactical advantages for the four Syrian brigades, which were concentrated in the area of Kuneitra (then a town of 30,000 inhabitants). On 8 June the Israeli air force launched heavy bomb and Napalm attacks against the fortifications. Only in desperate close combat operations could the fortifications finally be taken. The Syrian defence collapsed.

Under the pressure of the Soviet Union, which was to prevent the total defeat of its Arab allies, and the U.S.A., which feared to get directly involved or even risk a confrontation of the two super powers, a ceasefire was accepted on 10 June.

The Yom Kippur War of 1973

In 1967 Israel occupied an area that was more than four times the size of its state territory. In the autumn, artillery engagements occurred at the Suez Canal and an Israeli destroyer was sunk by Egyptian speed boats.

In October 1970 Egypt (assisted by 20 Soviet military advisers) was preparing a major attack against Israel in order to re-conquer large parts of the Sinai Peninsula and bring them under Egyptian control again.

On 6 October 1973 the 2nd and 3rd Egyptian Army launched an attack at the Suez Canal simultaneously with Syrian troops on the Golan Heights. Israel was unable to carry out an overall mobilisation, due to the fact that it was the highest Jewish holiday. Thus, the Egyptians gained a 15 to 20 km strip along the entire length of the Suez Canal. Israel was to be drawn into a war of attrition which, with regard to personnel and materiel, it would not be able to sustain for long.

Yet, from 12 to 14 October the Israelis brought new tank brigades to the front, which disrupted a major Egyptian attack on 14 October.

On 15 October three Israeli brigades with some 200 battle tanks began to systematically eliminate Egyptian antiaircraft rocket positions, supply columns as well as artillery and infantry positions. This way the Israeli land forces cleared the way for the air force. Also in the northern part the Egyptian attacks collapsed.

On 6 October, the Syrians launched an attack on the Golan front, with several hundred tanks at the same time when the Egyptians advanced over the Suez Canal. The Syrian operation had the objective to drive the two Israeli tank brigades assembled there down the slopes of the Golan Heights and then advance into the plain of Galilee, thereby restoring the military situation to what it was "prior to June 1967”. The two bridges over the Jordan River (north of where it feeds into the Sea of Galilee) were to be taken by the Syrian commandos in order to prevent the Israelis from bringing in reinforcements.

Between 13 and 18 October the Israeli forces repelled several attacks of Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian tank brigades south of the Golan Heights and started to advance toward Damascus.

On 25 October 1973, the warring parties negotiated a preliminary ceasefire agreement. A Disengagement Agreement with Egypt was ratified on 18 January 1974. UN troops (UNEF), including an Austrian battalion, which had already arrived in Egypt on 26 October 1973 had established a preliminary buffer zone in the Suez region and on the Sinai Peninsula.

On 31 May 1974, a Disengagement Agreement could also be signed with Syria. Syria and Israel agreed on having UN troops (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force - UNDOF) stationed between their front lines on the Golan Heights.

The Mission of UNDOF:

  • To carry out static and mobile operations by day and night to maintain the ceasefire between the Area of Limitation and the Area of Separation (AOL/AOS) as agreed by the belligerent parties. Mobile as well as night operations are to be the main effort.
  • To check and report all violations of the Ceasefire Agreement.
  • To control and supervise the AOL/AOS according to the Ceasefire Agreement.
  • To sustain operational readiness and build reserves and rapid reaction units in order to ensure quick and efficient action, when needed. To do so, the troop contingents are to elaborate plans adjusted to their area of operation.
  • To develop and maintain close cooperation with UNIFIL and UNTSO.
  • To ensure updating of the operational situation within the AOL.
  • To develop appropriate political, strategic and negotiation-tactical behavior toward the belligerent parties.
  • To develop, standardise and coordinate training and exercises for military and civil UNDOF personnel.

The History of UNDOF

UNDOF - a paradigmatic example of an Interpositioning Force - has been carrying out its tasks between the belligerent parties along the ceasefire line with Syria. Such operations are becoming increasingly rare within the conflict scenarios of the 21st century. This operation is based on Israel’s concession of the territories it had seized during the Six-Day War. Since it was established in 1974 the buffer zone has remained unchanged and has not seen any further combat actions. UNDOF has led to sustained stabilisation. Also during the negotiations concerning the troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon the issue of maintaining the status quo on the Golan Heights has never been called into question or even been addressed. In the near future one can therefore not expect a change of the mandate, nor of the operational concept of UNDOF.

Ordinance and Mandate of UNDOF

A conference organised by the United Nations in Geneva on 31 May 1974 led to the Disengagement Agreement between Syria and Israel. Three documents (the Disengagement Agreement, the Additional Protocol to the Disengagement Agreement, and the Statement by the Chairman as agreed by the Parties) were signed. Among other things, they set the rules for the operation of UN troops within the buffer zone, established through these documents.

On the same day the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 350; the mandate required for it specifies UNDOF as a classical peacekeeping operation. With the Disengagement Agreement (Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces) UN Resolution 338 on the ceasefire in the Middle East was adopted, stating that with immediate effect neither of the two parties shall undertake any further military action against the other. The Israeli army had to withdraw behind the A-Line delineated on a map. The entire area east of the A-Line is under Syrian administration and Syrian civilians are allowed to return to the area. The second line delineated on the map, the so-called B-Line, is the prohibition line for the Syrian troops which may only be stationed east of it. Between both lines is the Area of Separation (AOS) in which UNDOF operates. On both sides of the AOS an Area of Limitation (AOL) was installed. The air forces of both sides are allowed to operate up until the AOS. In the area between the A-Line and the A1-Line no military forces are to be stationed. UNDOF’s areas of operation are the AOS and the AOL. In view of an intended peace agreement between the two states both parties were urged to agree to a Security Council resolution, in an Additional Protocol, according to which UNDOF receives a 6-month mandate to supervise the disengagement. Any extension of the operation mandate requires a UN Security Council decision. UNDOF, therefore, finds itself in the situation that for more than 30 years its mandate has been extended again and again by 6 months each time. The Additional Protocol also formulates the UNDOF mission as accepted by both sides.

The Statement by the Chairman as agreed by the Parties contains mainly details concerning the implementation of the Additional Protocol. The regulations according to which inspections within the AOL have to be carried out every two weeks are of special significance for the current mission accomplishment. In addition, this statement contains the maximum number of troops, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces within the AOL.

UNDOF had 90 observers to supervise and inspect troop limitations. As of 1979 the structures of UN operations in the entire Middle East were changed and all UN observers were subordinated to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). Within UNTSO the former UNDOF observers are grouped together in the Observer Group Golan/OGG. They are subordinated to the Force Commander UNDOF in all operational matters, while in all administrative matters they are subordinated to UNTSO.

Structure and Operation

UNDOF consists of a military component on the one hand, and an administrative component recruited from civil UN personnel, on the other. It is headed by the Force Commander (FC), an officer in the rank of a general. In his function as Head of Mission he is the highest UN authority in the area of operation and acts on behalf of the UN Secretary General. The altogether 1,050 soldiers (excluding the military observers) are structured into an UNDOF HQ, two Infantry Battalions (AUSBATT and PHILBATT), a Logistics Battalion (LOGBATT) and a Military Police (MP) Platoon.

The structure of the HQ is comparable to that of an Austrian brigade HQ. It is headed by the Chief of Staff (COS) who deputises the FC when the latter is absent. Directly subordinated to him are a planning officer for special projects, a military assistant (comparable to an ADC) and a driver. The staff is organised as follows:

Military Personnel/Public Relations and Welfare Branch:

This branch takes care of the entire personnel administration of UNDOF soldiers, of the personnel steering with regard to rotations of individual contingents, of the documentation and record-keeping of official documents, in the sense of a head office, as well as of PR work and provides care for the troops.

Liaison/Protocol and Information Branch:

The primary task of this branch is to ensure the liaison between the conflict parties, governmental organisations (GO’s), nongovernmental organisations (NGO’s) and the HQ UNDOF. In addition, it is responsible for open-source information gathering, processing and analysis for the Force.

Operations Branch:

Its main tasks are the ongoing operations to supervise the 1974 Agreement. In cooperation with the Force Security Adviser and under the responsibility of the COS it also elaborates alert plans, for instance for the purpose of self-defence, as well as for possible evacuations, NBC defence measures and other scenarios. The lessons learned are then handed on during exercises.

Medical Branch:

It coordinates all medical matters concerning the provision of medical care within UNDOF, provides medical support for the OGG/UNTSO and takes care of all measures concerning troop hygiene and veterinarian matters.

Military Police (MP):

In order to support the commander with regard to security, supervising troop discipline, escorting and regulating traffic the COS has an MP platoon with personnel from Austria, the Philippines, India and Croatia at his disposal.

Geographic Information Section (GIS):

The GIS generates analogous and digital geo-data of the AOS and the AOL. This way, for instance, UNDOF Positions and Patrol Routes are surveyed with most modern methods. A current project of political explosiveness is the re-surveying of the A-Line and the B-Line (see TD issue 6/2010). The data are also forwarded to the armies of the conflict parties.

Force HQ Coy:

To provide UNDOF with more freedom of action, two mobile platoon-strength elements were set up in 2007, the so-called Force Headquarters Company (Force HQ Coy). As a reserve unit of company strength it has the task to support the line battalions within the AOS (formerly disengagement zone) with day and night patrols, temporary observation posts and temporary checkpoints as well as to provide platoon-strength stand-by units for special tasks (e.g. CRC operations, evacuations and securing vehicle transports). In addition, a so-called Command Patrol - an inspection patrol along the Israeli-Lebanese border is carried out monthly. Command authority lies with the Force Commander, the COS and the Chief Operations Officer (COO).

Other Elements:

The Chief of Mission Support (CMS) heads the UNDOF support element, mainly made up of civil personnel. It comprises the areas of General Services, Civil Personnel and Travel Issues, Budget and Finance, Procurement, Information and Communication Technology as well as the Integrated Support Service (ISS). The ISS Branch is comparable to a G4 Division consisting of a Transport element that aside from transport management also carries out maintenance and repair tasks, a Construction and Engineer element as well as a Logistic Support and Supply element.

Troop Contributing Countries

Troup Contributing Countries (TCC) commit themselves by contract to contribute troops and military personnel to the operation. Currently Austria, Canada, Croatia, India, Japan, and the Philippines are contributing troops to UNDOF. The soldiers from the respective countries form National Contingents and, with respect to all national matters (e.g. pay, equipment, disciplinary issues), are subordinated to their own states, being represented by their National Contingent Commander (NCC).

In the UNDOF HQ all nations are represented according to a fixed distribution code for position assignments. Depending on that distribution code, there are Fixed Positions, which are always manned by the same nation, and Shared Positions with periodic rotations among the nations. The position of the COS, for instance, rotates every two years between India, the Philippines and Austria. Currently the LOGBATT is made up of Indian and Japanese soldiers.

The Operation

The AOS extends approximately 90 kilometers in length in a north-southerly direction, starting at the Lebanese border in the north and ending at the Yarmouk River, which forms the border to Jordan in the south. In the north the terrain is dominated by Mount Hermon, which rises to 2,814 meters above sea level. On its top there is the highest UN base worldwide called Position Hermon Hotel. Towards the south the terrain descends to approximately 1,000 meters in the area of Kuneitra. At the very southern tip of the buffer zone the terrain drops steeply into the Yarmouk Valley, the river bed of which is 50 meters below sea level. Thus, in the north-southerly direction the zone has a 3,000-meter difference in altitude. This fact alone has great impact on the conduct of operations, simply because of the climatic differences (spring/summer in the south and meters of snow in the north).

The northern buffer zone extends to nine kilometers at its widest point, while the narrower southern half of the zone measures only some 200 meters at its narrowest point. Because of the terrain a quick and massive advance of mechanised troops is only possible in the northern part of the Golan Heights. In the south hills and a steep canyon in north-southerly direction (the Wadi Al Raqqa) and, in particular, the steep drop of the Golan Heights toward the Jordan Valley in the west and toward the Sea of Galilee make this impossible.

Situated in the center of the buffer zone is the ruined town of Kuneitra, which was largely destroyed during the Six-Day War in 1967. For the Syrians it serves as national memorial and is therefore left to remain in its condition. Kuneitra also forms the border between the two UNDOF battalions. In the north the Austrian battalion (AUSBATT) surveys the zone with three companies, while the southern part is under Philippine responsibility (PHILBATT), comprising two companies.

In the terrain the A-Line and the B-Line are marked by red-white-red barrels mounted on poles at a height of five meters. Each barrel has to be within sight of the next one in the southern as well as in the northern direction. Only a few meters west of the A-Line the Israelis set up a contact-sensitive fence (Technical Fence) and behind it a sand strip and patrol road. This is to prevent trespassing into Israeli-occupied territory.

Eleven UNTSO-OGG Observation Posts are distributed over the entire zone. From there 80 observers from 23 nations monitor compliance with the mandate and conduct inspections within the AOL. Control of the AOS is conducted from a total of 20 Positions and their 10 Outposts. From these permanently manned Positions with living quarters for the soldiers all operations are conducted, such as for instance patrolling the zone.

On occasion, motorised patrols can set up Temporary Checkpoints in the AOS. Off the constructed lines of movement the troops can only operate on marked patrol routes, since the areas in between are usually mined.

UNDOF’s tasks within the framework of surveying the AOS are:

  • to ensure permanent presence (24/7) in the zone,
  • to stop Syrian and Israeli force members in the AOS and expel them,
  • to ensure the operation of investigation teams and conduct investigations after incidents,
  • to provide reserves when needed,
  • to maintain permanent liaison with the armies of the conflict parties,
  • to mark the A-Line and the B-Line and
  • to use adequate means to prevent unintended violations of the Agreement.

If violations of the 1974 Agreement occur, the Force Commander will decide whether these are severe enough to send a note of protest to the representative of the respective country at the United Nations in New York. From 22 February 2007 to 1 March 2010 Austria held this position with Major General Wolfgang Jilke. The current Force Commander is the Philippine Major General Natalio Cabili Ecarma III.

Due to increased settling of the area and related building of transport infrastructure it became necessary to reevaluate the military operation. Therefore, in addition to the existing mobile elements of squad strength integrated in the battalion companies - the so-called Ready Reaction Groups (RRG) - a Force HQ Coy was established. All these mobile elements are equipped with armoured personnel carriers of the type SISU (Finnish APC) or with armored patrol vehicles of the type RG32M (two axle off-road all-round protection vehicles) and conduct control and surveillance operations in the AOS. In addition so-called Rapid Reaction Patrols (RRP) are kept ready at the Positions, which in case of an Agreement violation can be rapidly employed on the ground.

The Austrian Contingent

Currently there are 378 Austrian soldiers in the area of operation, although the number varies throughout the year.

AUCON soldiers do their duty in the UNDOF HQ element as well as in the Austrian-Croatian Battalion (AUSBATT). The responsible commander for all AUCON elements is the National Contingent Commander (NCC). If Austria provides the Chief of Staff, he is also the NCC for the duration of that period. During the times in between the Commander AUSBATT (CO-AB) or the head of a S-branch in the UNDOF HQ acts as NCC/AUCON. The COS is always a general staff officer, while the CO-AB is always a flag officer with completed battalion commander training. As a rule, AUCON rotations are done on a half-yearly basis, although some key positions in the UNDOF HQ and the AUSBATT HQ work exclusively on a one-year rotation. Currently 70 percent of the positions are manned by militia soldiers, while 30 percent are cadre personnel of the Austrian Armed Forces.

UNDOF HQ Element:

All UNDOF HQ divisions together provide 115 positions for officers and non-commissioned officers. 20 of the officer positions are so-called Shared Positions which, within the framework of the rotation system, alternate between the UNDOF nations. Currently 43 Austrian soldiers (15 officers and 28 NCO’s) are serving in the UNDOF HQ.


AUSBATT has the mission to supervise compliance with the 1974 Disengagement Agreement in its Area of Responsibility (AOR). Violations of the agreement, such as for instance building military facilities in the AOS, airspace violations or borderline crossings are, if possible, to be prevented by means of negotiation or reported to the HQ, respectively. The use of force is only permitted for the purpose of self-defence.

AUSBATT consists of an HQ and four companies. The HQ (consisting of Austrian and Croatian soldiers) and the HQ Company are located in Camp Faouar, from where the line companies are commanded and supplied. The 1st Company operates on Mount Hermon and is called a High Mountain Infantry unit. The 2nd Company is stationed in the area of Kuneitra and surveys the southern part of the Austrian AOR. The 3rd Company operates in the central part and is provided by the Croatian contingent.

The Battalion HQ: It comprises the S-branches of an Austrian battalion. There is an additional position for a military chaplain to provide pastoral care to AUCON soldiers. Another special thing is the Austrian field post office in Camp Faouar, which since 1974 has provided direct national postal service between Austria and Austrian UNDOF and OGG soldiers.

Headquarters Company (HQ Coy): The HQ Coy - with 202 soldiers numerically the strongest unit - includes many specialists such as cooks, mechanics, administrative personnel, tanker and bus drivers, radio communication personnel, demining specialists, medical doctors and emergency medics as well as craftsmen, waiters and sales personnel for the duty free shop.

The Line Companies: The Line Companies consist of a Company HQ and platoons that operate from company and platoon positions. The positions are typical for command functions on company, platoon and squad levels as well as for the company sergeant major and the supply, quartermaster, chief clerk and transport NCO. Yet, the bulk of the soldiers serving in the line companies are (mobile or stationary) sentries and observers. As a special feature there are the cooks, who are principally also detailed as sentries and observers, but whose additional task is preparing the food. While the food is provided by the HQ Company its preparation is in the responsibility of the posts.

The soldiers are equipped with the Steyr assault rifle 77 and, as additional equipment, the Steyr Mannlicher/Beretta machinegun 74 is available and special functions such as medics are equipped with the pistol Glock 80, while some other functions carry the pistol as additional weapon.

Current Challenges

Over the past few years there has been a substantial population increase within the AOS to be surveyed. While in 1974, when the UNDOF operation started, the population was approximately 5,000, it had already reached 45,000 by 2009. This necessitated the construction of new houses leading to settlement expansions, intensified farming, the expansion of transport infrastructure and new settlements close to the "Technical Fence”. In earlier times the mission could be accomplished mainly from static positions because of the few communication lines leading into the AOS and because of the limited number of agriculturally used areas. In the meantime, however, additional day and night patrols have become necessary. On average, UNDOF carries out 400 night and 2,200 day patrols per month on foot and with twelve SISU and three RG32M (with three more to be added).

The author: A short version of the historical development of the conflict in the Middle East as well as the development of international interventions up to the deployment of UNDOF are taken from the TRUPPENDIENST paperback "UNDOF/Das Buch zum Einsatz”. Updates were made by Major Gerold Fraidl, currently Media&Public Relations Officer UNDOF.

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