UNDOF (Golan Heights)
Expected Council Action
In March, Council members will receive a briefing in consultations from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF). This will be the first report on UNDOF under a more frequent reporting cycle following the adoption of resolution 2084 on 19 December 2012. No outcome is likely.
The mandate of UNDOF expires on 30 June.
Key Recent Developments
The Council renewed UNDOF for six months in resolution 2084. In response to the deteriorating situation in the area of operations, including incidents across the ceasefire line and the presence of both armed opposition fighters and Syrian Arab Armed Forces in the area of separation, resolution 2084 also changed the reporting requirement on UNDOF, requesting a report from the Secretary-General every 90 days rather than every six months. The resolution also strengthened language regarding the safety and security of UN personnel and the need for all parties to respect their obligations under the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement.
During the most recent open debate on the situation in the Middle East on 23 January, several speakers made passing reference to the situation in the Golan Heights. Ambassador Bashar Ja-afari (Syria) called for the restitution of the Golan Heights to Syria and expressed alarm that Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, had not addressed the situation in his briefing.
An Israeli airstrike on 30 January reportedly targeting a convoy of anti-aircraft weaponry, thought to be in transit to Hezbollah in Lebanon, also damaged the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre, allegedly Syria’s primary research centre for work on biological and chemical weapons. On 31 January, the Secretary-General expressed grave concern over the airstrike and called on all parties in the region to prevent any escalation of the situation.
Syria summoned the UNDOF force commander to protest the incident. Syria also sent a letter to the Secretary-General and the President of the Council, asserting that it had a “right to defend itself, its territory and sovereignty” and that it held Israel “fully responsible for the consequences of this aggression”. On 3 February, President Bashar al-Assad cited the incident as evidence that Israel was actively supporting the insurgency in an effort to destabilise the country.
In recent months, spillover from the conflict in Syria has continued to affect the situation in the Golan Heights. Minor incidents continued throughout the period, and Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) sources quoted in multiple news reports indicated that such incidents were becoming increasingly frequent. On 16 February, seven wounded Syrians who approached Israeli positions within the Golan Heights were transported by the IDF to an Israeli hospital for treatment. Though it appeared the seven had been wounded in the ongoing Syrian conflict, authorities did not reveal whether the injured were members of the Syrian armed forces, the opposition or civilians. Speaking to the press a day later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that such border crossings would only be allowed in “exceptional cases”.
A key issue will be how Council members can best take advantage of the increased attention the Golan Heights will receive due to the more frequent reporting.
The spillover from the Syrian crisis into UNDOF’s area of operations will continue to be of primary concern for the Council. Syrian rebel forces control many of the villages within the area of separation, where Syrian military forces are prohibited from entering (Syrian civilian authorities are responsible for policing and administering the area).
Related issues include the deteriorating relationship between Israel and Syria following the 30 January airstrike and ongoing concern over the safety and security of UN personnel in the region. (On 29 November 2012, four UNDOF personnel were wounded near Damascus International Airport while rotating out of the mission. Since the incident, mission personnel have been travelling to and from the mission via the airport in Tel Aviv. On 25 February the UN confirmed that an UNDOF staff member was unaccounted for, but provided no further details.)
The most likely option is for the Council to receive the report and briefing and take no additional action. One additional option would be for the Council to adopt a statement reiterating the need for cooperation between Israel and Syria and for all parties to exercise restraint or expressing concern for the safety and security of UNDOF personnel, or both.
The Council generally agrees on the necessity and utility of UNDOF in contributing to stability in the region in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. (Regarding the Israel-Syria peace track, Turkey mediated the last attempt at talks in early 2008. Turkey suspended its efforts after Israeli incursions into Gaza in December 2008. Previously, the last attempt was in 2000.)
Though the US holds the pen on the Golan Heights, the last two resolutions renewing UNDOF (resolutions 2052 and 2084) have been jointly authored by the US and Russia, suggesting some surprising consensus on an issue that is increasingly impacted by the highly divisive conflict in Syria. Most Council members strive to keep the Syrian conflict and the Golan Heights as discrete issues—a position that remains difficult in practice.
The most recent effort to achieve a press statement on the Golan Heights (in November 2012) featured a US draft that faced opposition from Russia and failed to achieve consensus. Some Council members feel a Council statement would not do much to impact the situation on the ground in the Golan Heights and that any necessary messages to the parties involved could and should be communicated bilaterally. Additionally, many Council members view the changed reporting cycle as a caution to Syria regarding the escalating incidents in the region. That the situation has been relatively calm since December suggests that the message may have been effective.
UN Documents on UNDOF
|Security Council Resolutions|
|19 December 2012 S/RES/2084||This resolution renewed UNDOF for six months and requested reporting every 90 days (previously it had been every six months) and strengthened language regarding the security of UN personnel.|
|27 June 2012 S/RES/2052||This resolution extended UNDOF for six months and noted that events elsewhere in Syria had started to manifest themselves in UNDOF’s area of responsibilities.|
|31 May 1974 S/RES/350||This resolution established UNDOF.|
|22 October 1973 S/RES/338||This resolution decided that, concurrently with a ceasefire, peace negotiations should start in the context of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.|
|22 November 1967 S/RES/242||This resolution called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.|
|Security Council Letter|
|31 January 2013 S/2013/70||This was a letter from Syria protesting an Israeli airstrike on a convoy and research centre north of Damascus.|
|27 November 2012 S/2012/897||This was a report on UNDOF covering the period from 1 July to 31 December 2012.|
|30 May 1974 S/11302/Add.1||This report contained the Agreement on Disengagement between Syrian and Israeli Forces.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 January 2013 S/PV.6906||This was the most recent quarterly open debate on the Middle East.|
|23 January 2013 S/PV.6906 (Resumption 1)||This was the resumption of the most recent quarterly open debate on the Middle East.|
Other Relevant Facts
UNDOF Force Commander
Major General Iqbal Singh Singha (India)
Size and Composition of Mission
1,013 troops (as of 31 December 2012), assisted by 77 military observers of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation’s Observer Group Golan (as of 20 November 2012)
Austria, Croatia, India, Japan and the Philippines
1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013: $46 million (A/C.5/66/18)