Golan Heights (UNDOF)
Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to follow its usual practice of renewing for an additional six months the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, which expires on 31 December 2005. Traditionally, the resolution calls also for implementation of resolution 338 of 22 October 1973. This is important because that resolution in turn refers to resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, which calls, inter alia, for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories.
In addition, the President of the Council will almost certainly issue a complementary statement to the effect that, despite the apparent tranquillity in the Golan Heights, the situation in the Middle East will remain tense until a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East problem can be reached. A similar statement has accompanied each renewal of the UNDOF’s mandate since 1976.
When the October 1973 war broke out, pitting Israel against Syria and Egypt, the Golan Heights had already been occupied by Israel since 1967, despite Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, which had called for the withdrawal of forces from occupied territories.
An agreement on the disengagement of forces between Israel and Syria was signed at the Geneva peace conference on the Middle East and transmitted to the Security Council on 31 May 1974. On the same day, the Council passed resolution 350 establishing UNDOF. Its mandate, set out in the Protocol to the Agreement on Disengagement, is to maintain the ceasefire and to supervise the Agreement and Protocol.
UNDOF is also assisted by the military observers of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) Observer Group Golan.
Currently the negotiating process between Syria and Israel is at a standstill, and resolutions 242 and 338 remain unimplemented.
An important backdrop to the Council’s consultation of UNDOF is the current international pressure on Syria in relation to cooperation with the commission that Council established on 7 April 2005 (resolution 1595) to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. It remains to be seen whether Syria will decide to use the UNDOF renewal as an opportunity to challenge the Council’s approach (for instance contrasting issues of its compliance with the April 2005 resolution with Israel’s 38 years of non-compliance with resolution 242). Syria could perhaps even seek an open meeting of the Council or to try disrupting the extension of the UNDOF mandate in other ways. Alternately, it could well conclude, given its other problems at this point, including the difficulty of securing strong regional support that its long-term interests in the Golan are best served by not rocking the boat.
Another issue relating to the Golan Heights, which is relevant and has current interest but is unlikely to arise in the Council under this agenda item, involves the unresolved border between Lebanon and Syria, in particular the disputed area which has given rise to ongoing instability, called the Shab’a farms. This is addressed in Terje Roed-Larsen’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559 (S/2005/673 of 26 October 2005, paragraph 22). This area is considered by the United Nations as Syrian territory under Israeli occupation, but it is open to Lebanon and Syria to agree on a different formula to draw the border in this region. Because the farms currently fall within the scope of the UNDOF area of operations, any decision from Syria and Lebanon to demarcate the border could have consequences on UNDOF’s role. Amongst many other issues that would arise, if the farmlands became part of Lebanon, they could then fall under the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of control.
Resolutions renewing the UNDOF mandate are among the most longstanding and routine in Council practice. Traditionally, they are introduced by the President of the Council as pro forma texts with no negotiating process. There are no signs that would suggest Council members intend anything different this time around.
Despite the US desire, as a cost-saving measure, to scrutinise and eliminate longstanding peacekeeping operations where political processes are stalled, no one expects the United States to suggest such a review of UNDOF.
The strategic importance of the Golan Heights has been key in this situation. With its height averaging 600 meters and Mount Hermon reaching over 2,800 meters, the Golan plateau dominates the entire northern part of Israel stretching up to the border with Lebanon. Between 1948 and 1967, Syria constructed extensive military fortifications on the heights. In addition, the location enabled Syrian artillery to hit targets inside Israel. The Golan also gives access to the headwaters of the Jordan River, and control of the Golan permits control of the Sea of Galilee, which supplies roughly 30 percent of Israel’s water consumption.
Israel believes that its security requires retention of military control over the Golan Heights. Syria remains firm in its position that is entitled to full and unconditional withdrawal from the Golan. Negotiations between the two countries have been at a standstill for several years now, and are not likely to resume soon.
Syria wants a return to the 4 June 1967 border. Israel demands modifications of this border based on security considerations and on the fact that the border at that time included territory that Syria had seized by force during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
The continuing presence of landmines left after the June 1967 war threatens UNDOF personnel and local inhabitants in the area of operations.
Part of UNDOF’s mandate is to verify armament and force levels in the areas of limitation. Very often, both sides restrict the movement of inspection teams. Contrary to its concern about such restrictions on other peacekeeping operations, the Council has not taken up these issues in UNDOF’s case.
|Selected Presidential Statements|
|Selected Secretary-General’s Reports|
|3 to 9 January 2000||
Peace talks between Israel and Syria took place in Shepherdstown, United States. The talks were indefinitely postponed due to procedural impasse, which reflected a fundamental disagreement over the Golan Heights.
Peace talks between Israel and Syria broke down several months after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Talks were frozen over contrasting interpretations of Rabin’s offer to Syria before his death. Syrians said Rabin had promised to return the Golan Heights, while Israelis countered that no such definitive promise had been made.
In order to reduce expenditure, UNDOF underwent streamlining, with a 15 percent reduction of each military contingent and civilian staff.
The first of sporadic peace talks took place between Syria and Israel at the Middle East peace conference in Madrid. The talks remained stalled over the issue of the Golan Heights.
The strength of UNDOF was gradually brought up to 1,331 (above the originally authorized level of 1,250) following the withdrawal of UNEF.
|14 December 1981||
The Golan Heights was annexed by Israel. The area was put under Israeli law, and settlements were established. The annexation has not been recognized by the international community.
The Observer Group Golan was created. It comprises the UNTSO observers assisting UNDOF and falls under the supervision and operational control of UNDOF.
|30 November 1974||The initial six-month mandate of UNDOF expired. Since then, the mandate has been repeatedly extended by the Council upon recommendation of the Secretary-General.|
|31 May 1974||
UNDOF was created. UNTSO’s ceasefire observation in the Syria-Israel sector was terminated and 90 observers already assigned to this sector were allocated to UNDOF as an integral part of the force.
|22 October 1973||
Security Council resolution 338 called for a ceasefire between the parties and implementation of resolution 242.
|6 October 1973||
The Yom Kippur War broke out when Egypt and Syria launched coordinated attacks on Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and on the Golan Heights, seeking to regain the lost territory.
Israel’s victory in the 1967 war left it in possession of pieces of land from Egypt, Syria and Jordan (the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights). Political confrontations between Israel and its Arab neighbours increased the risks of a conflict renewal.
|9 June 1967||Israel occupied the Golan Heights, part of Syria in the course of the 1967 war.|
The Israel-Syria Mixed Armistice Commission was set up. A number of UNTSO posts along the Armistice Demarcation Line were established but incidents continued to occur until the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The first group of military observers from UNTSO, the first UN peacekeeping operation, arrived in the Middle East in order to supervise the Armistice Agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbours, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
|UNDOF Force Commander|
|Major-General Bala Nanda Sharma (Nepal)|
|Size and Composition of Mission|
|Cost (approved budget)|
|1 July 2005 – 30 June 2006: $43.71 million (gross)|