UNDOF (Golan Heights)
Expected Council Action
In September, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous is expected to brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s report, due early in the month, on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). It is likely the briefing will focus on the security situation in the Golan, troop generation for the mission and risk-mitigation measures UNDOF is taking to increase the safety and security of its personnel. Following the briefing, Council members will meet in consultations. No outcome is anticipated.
UNDOF’s mandate expires on 31 December.
Key Recent Developments
The Council adopted resolution 2108 on 27 June, renewing UNDOF for six months. The resolution reflected the deteriorating situation on the ground as a result of the spillover of the Syrian conflict, which has jeopardised the integrity of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. The resolution included stronger language on UNDOF’s risk mitigation and enhanced self-defence capabilities, reflecting the importance the Council places on the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel.
The Secretary-General’s most recent UNDOF report detailed multiple violations in recent months of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria (S/2013/345). Both the report and resolution expressed particular concern over the 6 June clashes between the Syrian government and armed opposition in the area of separation near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. (Neither Israeli nor Syrian military forces should be in the area of separation under the terms of the 1974 agreement.)
Austria announced that it would withdraw its troops from UNDOF shortly after the 6 June clashes, fully withdrawing by the end of July. (Croatia and Japan had previously withdrawn troops in late 2012 and early 2013.) Fiji, Ireland and Nepal have since contributed troops to UNDOF to fill the gap left by these withdrawals. The Philippines—which in June had also signalled its growing discomfort with the increasingly dangerous situation for its troops—committed to remain in UNDOF for a further six months.
The Secretary-General has recommended, as a matter of priority, increasing UNDOF’s force to 1,250 troops—the allowable number under the 1974 agreement. It seems DPKO has advised it will be able to meet this recommendation by October.
In recent months, spillover from the conflict in Syria has continued to affect the security situation in the Golan. Clashes between Syrian government forces and armed opposition, particularly shelling, have been ongoing. On 16 July Syrian tanks and armoured personnel vehicles entered the area of separation during heavy clashes with the armed opposition. As a result of these clashes, several shells crashed into the Israeli occupied Golan. Media reports indicate that Syrian gunmen (unspecified whether government or opposition forces) infiltrated an unmanned Israeli position later the same day. As Israeli troops approached the position, they were fired upon from inside Syria, and they returned fire. On 17 August, after Syrian mortars errantly landed in the Israeli occupied Golan, Israeli forces returned fire with a missile to destroy the source of the shelling.
UNDOF has also recently found improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in its area of operations. As a result of this new development, it seems DPKO has requested troop-contributors to provide specialised counter-IED teams to the mission. UNDOF convoys have been forcibly stopped at Syrian military checkpoints, and UNDOF personnel and observation posts exposed to stray fire and warning shots.
Another potential risk to both UNDOF and regional stability is Hezbollah’s overt involvement in Syria on behalf of the government, accompanied by claims that Hezbollah would open a new front against Israel in the Syrian Golan and that Syria would provide Hezbollah with “game-changing” weapons. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Israel has maintained a neutral policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis with a parallel policy to take action to stop any transfer of strategic weaponry through Syria to Hezbollah. The most recent Israeli airstrike in Syria was on 5 July, targeting anti-ship cruise missiles. Similar airstrikes on weapons depots in Syria occurred on 30 January and 3 and 5 May.
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, which Syrian military forces are prohibited from entering. But they have done so nonetheless in response to the rebel presence.
A continuing key issue will be the safety and security of UN personnel given the proximity of UNDOF positions to the areas where there have been clashes between Syrian government forces and the Syrian armed opposition.
A further key issue is the deteriorating relationship between Israel and Syria following the recent Israeli airstrikes and threats by Hezbollah that it would open a new front against Israel in the Golan.
The most likely option is for the Council to receive the report and briefing and take no additional action. One other 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.
Council members are concerned about the recent exchanges of fire and the escalating tension between Israel and Syria, especially over the issue of arming Hezbollah. The Council has always generally agreed that UNDOF contributes to stability in the region in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. However, its utility is particularly high now in order to avoid any potential negative security implications for the region. In this regard, most Council members are keen to demonstrate to the troop-contributing countries their commitment to UNDOF’s ability to operate effectively and the safety of its personnel.
Though in recent years the US has been the penholder on the Golan Heights, the last three resolutions renewing UNDOF were drafted jointly by the US and Russia, demonstrating consensus on an issue that is increasingly affected 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.
UN Documents on UNDOF
|Security Council Resolution|
|27 June 2013 S/RES/2108||This was a resolution adopted on 27 June 2013 renewing UNDOF for six months.|
|12 June 2013 S/2013/345||This was the most recent UNDOF report.|
|30 May 1974 S/11302/Add.1||This report contained the Agreement on Disengagement between Syrian and Israeli Forces.|
|Security Council Letter|
|16 July 2013 S/2013/425||This letter was from Israel regarding violations of the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel, in particular the incident of 16 July.|
Other Relevant Facts
UNDOF Force Commander
Major General Iqbal Singh Singha (India)
Size and Composition of Mission
Strength: 1,165 troops and 68 police (as of 31 July 2013), assisted by 79 military observers of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation’s Observer Group Golan
Troop contributors: Fiji, India, Ireland, Philippines, Nepal
1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014: $45.992 million (A/C.5/67/19)