• Kyodo

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The Self-Defense Forces might be pulled from the U.N.’s peacekeeping operation in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights by next year because of deteriorating security conditions, government officials said Sunday.

Preparations to yank the SDF out of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has been supervising the ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974, comes amid domestic criticism that the contingent has been there for too long, the officials said.

The SDF’s deployment began in 1996 and has become Japan’s longest-running peacekeeping operation.

There are some who think Japan should reduce its overseas deployments so it can concentrate on bolstering its domestic defense capabilities to respond to China’s military buildup, the officials said.

Currently, 47 SDF members are engaged in transportation and other operations as part of UNDOF, and are rotated out almost every six months.

With the possibility that the global community would perceive the pullout as a sign of Japan’s reluctance to be involved in the Mideast peace process, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda may have to delay any decision until he can assess the situation in Syria and the results of the Dec. 16 Lower House election, the officials said. The poll may result in a change in government.

Even if the government decides by year’s end to extract the SDF, the actual withdrawal operation would take place next year.

As for the security issue, the government maintains that the existence of a ceasefire — which is part of Japan’s five principles for engagement in a U.N. peacekeeping operation — has been upheld.

But a Defense Ministry source has warned that the troops’ safety could not be guaranteed after clashes broke out in July between Syrian troops and rebel forces in an area where UNDOF was operating.

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