The Japanese government will be pulling out its Self Defense Forces (SDF) personnel from the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) stationed in Golan Heights. Government sources say that Tokyo will be issuing the announcement as early as Friday.
Golan Heights is a rocky plateau that has had a historical and strategic importance in turmoils between Israel and Syria. Israel seized the area from Syria in 1967 and Syria has unsuccessfully tried to reclaim it in 1973. The two countries have signed an armistice in 1974 and Golan Heights has been under the supervision of the United Nations’ observer force since then. However, the situation in the area has rapidly worsened after Syrian troops clashed with rebel forces last July. Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto confirmed this Tuesday that the situation in Syria has indeed deteriorated, supporting views that the government withdraw its SDF members form the embattled region.
Japan has been in Golan Heights since 1996, making it the country’s longest-running peacekeeping operation. There are currently 47 SDF personnel stationed there, which are replaced every six months. However, according to sources, Japan might not wait for the next shift in March and withdraw its forces shortly. The Japan has also previously decided to withdraw SDF troops from East Timor in September and from Haiti in October. This will leave South Sudan as the last place where SDF has been dispatched.