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Impartiality is the key in the Middle East

Sandra Stewart, Communications SWISSINT, spoke with Major General Patrick Gauchat, Head of Mission UNTSO, Middle East

19.07.2022 | Communications SWISSINT

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Major General Patrick Gauchat has prevailed against six international competitors and leads as Head of Mission the UN mission UNTSO since December 2021. He already served in UNTSO as a military observer on the Golan Heights and in the Sinai (2000–2001) and as Deputy Head of Mission (2011–2013).

 

Major General, as Head of Mission you are the first Swiss officer to lead an UN mission. What does this mean for Switzerland and the Swiss Armed Forces? And what for the UN?

It is an honor for Switzerland to have a general at the head of United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation (UNTSO). This encompasses Swiss high visibility at top UN levels as well as in the five countries linked to the UNTSO mandate which are Israel, Syria, Libanon, Egypt and Jordan. The region is politically sensitive and the Head of Mission must work with tact and diplomacy which is a trademark of Swiss citizens. It emphasizes also a commitement of our country to the world peace precisely in a year when Switzerland is seeking a seat at the UN Security Council. For the Swiss Armed Forces it shows the UN respect for and confidence in the high-level skills and training the Swiss military provides to its members. For the UN and the hosting nations Swiss nationality brings an added value in form of its identity as a neutral, impartial and non-aligned member state. The importance of that impartiality is expressed by the fact that Israel, Syria and Lebanon asked me directly to remain neutral in the work of UNTSO namely regarding the observation and report on military incidents and presumed violations.

What are your tasks?

As Head of Mission I am responsible for the entirety of UNTSO’s operational and substantive activities, as well as for the mission governance, management and resources. Required are effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out the mandate within the capacities approved by the member states. In terms of the political and liaison role, I regularly hold highlevel talks with the five parties of the armistice agreements. This is critical to ensure relations of confidence and a solid communication with the parties, as well as with international and UN actors, including the contributing coutries. In relation to the military component, I ensure that the mandated operational monitoring tasks are well performed and that their evolving conflict deterrence requirements are fulfilled by the military observers of UNTSO. This is key in allowing conditions for the political level to discuss a longlasting peace and for the population to live in relative security.

How do you benefit from your broad mission experience?

Having served in Korea, in Kosovo and in the UN headquarters in New York for instance gives me a broad understanding and experience to work in a high political-military environment as well as a benchmark to develop new ideas for Confidence Building Measures. During my two missions in UNTSO I learnt a lot about the history and geography, as well as about the different cultures and religions in the Middle East. It provided me with a deep insight into the scope of UNTSO tasks and the close cooperation needed with its regional partners. As a result, the “learning curve” at my deployment in December 2021 was small and I could launch new initiatives and maintain the in - tegrity of the mission from the start.

Can you perceive changes in the environment of the mission?

The most obvious change is the evolution of the Syrian conflict, now entering its 11th year. This had direct security and operational impacts on the Observer Group Golan. The effects are now being overcome through an incremental process of full return to the Syrian-controlled side with additional protections, constructions, and procedures. Especially new for the last three years are the Israeli normalisation agreements with some Gulf States, the Iran nuclear talks and the risk of financial collapse in Lebanon.

What are the biggest challenges?

The duration of the mission, regular rotations among its military and civilian staff and changes in the regional states relations have contributed in my view to a narrowing of mandate implementation space by the parties across theatres. On a tactical level, this takes the form of restrictions on freedom of movement and access, as well as increasing administrative requirements for movement of people and supplies across the five countries. COVID-19 constraints have also pushed us to adapt and be flexible.

In what form does UNTSO work together with UNDOF and UNIFIL?

We have a smooth, close and substantial cooperation between UNTSO and UNIFIL respectively UNTSO and UNDOF. This is a necessity for all three missions to operate most effectively and to ensure that the impact of each mission’s role is enhanced by the other. The UN political and peacekeeping architecture is complicated in the Middle East but tries to answer the needs and to fit to the requests of the conflict parties. It is one of my priorities to work closely with my counterparts at UNDOF and UNIFIL – a good cooperation cascades logically through the rest of the mission offices, both civilian and military.

Does the conflict in Ukraine have an impact on your work?

There is no direct impact on our work at the different ceasefire’s lines or limitations zones. But the five countries of our mandate have been hit hard by food and fuel price increases. That could become a source of tensions and civilian unrest, but so far we have not seen it.

 

More exciting reports from the world of peace support in the magazine Swiss Peace Supporter 2/22


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