Israel, Lebanon and Syria
The UN's very first peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), was established in 1948. Norway has taken part since 1956.
As of October 2023, thirteen Norwegian officers serve in UNTSO. Norway has two officers at the UNTSO Headquarters in Jerusalem, while the others serve as UN observers in Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.
Norway has had four force commanders in UNTSO: Lieutenant General Odd Bull (1963–1970), Lieutenant General Martin Vadset (1987–1990), Lieutenant General Robert Mood (2009–2011), and Major General Kristin Lund (2017–2019).
The UNTSO military observers monitor the ceasefire between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In addition, UNTSO assists other UN peacekeeping operations in the region with monitoring arms control agreements and preventing the escalation of incidents.
UNTSO was the very first UN operation, and Norwegian observers first joined in 1956 and have been there ever since. Several have also been involved in other operations through UNTSO.
In recent years, about a dozen Norwegian officers have served in UNTSO at any time. Since 1956, more than 500 Norwegian women and men have served in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as a part of UNTSO.
In 1948, Israel declared its independence and the Arab neighbours attcked the country. The first Arab-Israeli war was a fact.
The UN had to handle its most serious crisis to date. The young organisation already had the Palestine question on its table when the Brits in 1947 announced that they would withdraw from their mandate area the following year. Acts of violence were already widespread, and the UN recommended that the area should be divided into a Jewish and an Arab state, with Jerusalem under international rule. While the solution is rejected by the Arab states, the Zionists use the opportunity to establish the state of Israel on May 14. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria immediately attack the young state. The Israelis strike back and secure a larger territory than the UN partition proposal.
The conflict is still unresolved. While it has for a long time been a political conflict that is being resolved by military means in the struggle between Israel and the neighbouring states, it has later become more of a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. After the war in 1948, there new Israeli-Arab wars took place in 1956, 1967 and 1973. They are all about Israel's existence, and after the Six Day War in 1967 Israel took control of the Gaza Strip (from Egypt), the West Bank (from Jordan) and the Golan Heights (from Syria).
In the 1960s, a Palestinian guerrilla group emerges. It is fighting to make the entire old mandate area into an independent Palestinian state. In the early 1970s, the guerrillas are driven out of Jordan and establish themselves in southern Lebanon. From here, it directs operations against Israel, which responds by attacking targets in Lebanon.
After Norway facilitates the peace process, it appears in the early 1990s that a political solution can be found, and the Oslo Accords are entered into an agreement. They lead to autonomous Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank, but not to peace. Separate peace processes with Egypt and Jordan result in bilateral peace agreements in 1979 and 1994, respectively. But there is still a formal state of war between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and Syria. Israel withdraws from Sinai and Gaza in 2005, but is considered an occupier of the West Bank under international law.
The mission of UNTSO has changed several times since the start. The observer force remains, but the political-military environment has changed, and the mission with them. The first UN observers are deployed in June 1948 to assist the United Nations mediator, the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, in monitoring the ceasefire agreement between the parties. The agreement was negotiated through the United Nations. Folke Bernadotte is killed in Jerusalem in the autumn of 1948. Before that, the first Norwegian has fallen in the service of the UN. The civilian driver Ole Helge Bakke was shot and killed on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem in July 1948.
In 1949, bilateral ceasefires agreements are established between Israel and the four neighbouring countries, and UNTSO is commissioned to monitor them. UNTSO heads the ceasefire commissions, and observers are stationed along the borders, where they, among other things, conduct patrols and carry out observations. UNTSO reaches its highest number of forces, 572 officers, during this period. Thereafter, the tasks and the deployment are changed in line with the consequences of the political and military development, not least the wars in the region. Nevertheless, UNTSO is as important a player today as it was when it was established, and is, by the Arab states, regarded as a guarantor of the agreements from 1949 that still are in force. UNTSO has, as an important professional and personnel resource, also assisted in the establishment of other UN operations, including UNEF, UNOGFIL, UNDOF, UNIFIL and UNIMOG in the Middle East.