The Czech President, Miloš Zeman,apparently thinks that it would be a wonderful thing for the Czech Republic to contribute peacekeepers to the UN’s mission in the Golan Heights. The government is clearly feeling the pressure, as Defence Minister Martin Stropnický has told reporters that the idea is under active consideration.
There seems to be some question as to the motivation behind the current proposal, though. Czech support for a strong Israel goes back as far as 1948, when Czechoslovakia supplied arms to help the country gain its independence, but Zeman in particular has long been recognised as holding unashamedly pro-Israeli and anti-Islamist (if not outright anti-Muslim)views; he is also the man who announced that moving the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a good idea despite all the controversy over the city’s status, leading some to question his understanding of the Middle East peace process. One wonders, then, if the aim is really peacekeeping, or the use of the blue helmets as cover for protecting an old friend.
The Czechs are no strangers to sending troops to such dangerous places as Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosniaand Mali, as part of NATO obligations, EU projects and other international efforts. It’s a good way for a small country to make a contribution to world affairs and get itself both noticed and appreciated by larger powers. The Czech public, however, is still reeling from the loss of a group of soldiers in Afghanistan in July, the largest single loss Czech forces have sustained abroad since the Second World War. The general public likes to know that the country is doing its bit for international stability, but as the outpouring of grief this summer has shown, they are far from comfortable with the idea that this might actually cost lives.
Sending Czech troops to the Golan would however drop them into one of the world‘s nastier conflicts, with ISIS, al-Qaeda, Kurds and other rebel factions opposing not only the Syrian government but often each other. It’s an incredibly complex, and dangerous, situation, as shown by the besieging of Filipino UN troops and the uncertain fate of Fijian blue helmets there this week .
So the questions must be… is this country REALLY ready to commit forces to the Middle East? And what does it hope to gain by doing so?