UNDOF (Golan Heights)
Expected Council Action
In March, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). No outcome is anticipated.
UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Its mandate expires on 30 June.
Key Recent Developments
The spillover from the conflict in Syria has continued to affect the security situation in the Golan. Clashes between Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups and shelling have been ongoing inside the area of separation and in the area of limitation, forcing UNDOF personnel to take shelter. Mortar rounds have landed near UNDOF positions on several occasions since December.
UNDOF’s freedom of movement has been regularly restricted by the presence of roadblocks, and its convoys have been repeatedly shot at by the armed opposition and Syrian forces (10 December, 22 January and 2 and 7 February).
On 2 December, Israel informed the Security Council that Syria fired at an Israeli military outpost. Israel returned fire. Also that day, a Syrian mortar landed in Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-occupied Golan, causing no casualties or damages. Two rockets landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan on 18 February. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Israel has maintained a neutral policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis except to block any transfer of strategic weapons via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In the last few months, UNDOF observed armed members of the Syrian opposition transferring wounded across the Israeli technical fence with media reports indicating that wounded have been treated in a hospital near the ceasefire line. The mission also reported that an Israeli military vehicle briefly crossed the ceasefire line twice on 10 December and two Israeli military aircraft flew over the area of separation on 2 January.
On 19 December and 1 January, UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition handling mines. The mission continued to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in its area of operations. Specialised counter-IED teams from Ireland are expected to arrive in March.
After decades of dealing with UNDOF twice a year in an essentially routine fashion, by the second year of the Syrian crisis, the spillover effects were prominently felt in UNDOF’s area of operations. In response, the Council has modified its handling of UNDOF by deploying additional peacekeepers and equipment as allowed by the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria. It also requested quarterly reporting whereas, until resolution 2084 was adopted on 19 December 2012, reports were semi-annual. Resolution 2108 of 27 June 2013 stressed the need to enhance the safety and security of UNDOF personnel. The budget for the period of 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014 was increased by $12.6 million in December 2013. As of 31 December 2013, UNDOF’s strength was 1,239 troops.
On 18 December 2013, the Council adopted resolution 2131, renewing UNDOF for six months after considering the Secretary-General’s report on the observer mission during 16 December consultations. The resolution drew attention to the deteriorating situation on the ground as a result of the spillover of the Syrian conflict and strongly condemned several incidents threatening the safety and security of UNDOF personnel. It also noted the increased use of IEDs by elements of the Syrian opposition in the UNDOF area of operation and underscored that the theft or destruction of UN weapons, ammunition, vehicles or other assets were unacceptable.
DPKO’s September 2013 request for authorisation to use enhanced defensive equipment has largely been approved by Israel and Syria. However, its requests regarding advanced defensive arms, such as man-portable air-defence systems, and communication systems, including jammers have not been approved by the parties. Both Israel and Syria fear such equipment might fall into the hands of armed rebel groups.
The spillover of the Syrian crisis into UNDOF’s area of operations will continue to be of primary concern to the Council. Syrian military forces are prohibited from entering the area of separation, but they have nonetheless done so 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 forces and the armed rebels.
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 all parties to exercise restraint or expressing concern for the safety and security of UNDOF personnel, or both.
The Council agrees that UNDOF contributes to stability in the region in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. From the beginning of 2013 the Council has received quarterly reporting on UNDOF, whereas previously it had only been semi-annual. The mission’s importance is particularly high now in order to avoid further potential negative security implications for the region. In this regard, most Council members are keen to demonstrate to troop-contributing countries their commitment to UNDOF’s ability to operate effectively and to the safety of its personnel.
Though in recent years the US has been the penholder on the Golan Heights, the last four resolutions renewing UNDOF were drafted jointly by the US and Russia, demonstrating consensus on an issue that is affected by the highly divisive conflict in Syria. Council members prefer to keep the Syrian conflict and the Golan Heights as discrete issues.
|Security Council Resolution|
|18 December 2013 S/RES/2131||This resolution renewed UNDOF for six months.|
|Security Council Letter|
|2 December 2013 S/2013/711||This was from Israel informing the Council that Syria fired at an Israeli military outpost.|
|3 December 2013 S/2013/716||This UNDOF report covered the period from 12 September to 3 December 2013.|
Other Relevant Facts
UNDOF Force Commander: Major General Iqbal Singh Singha (India)
Size of Mission: 1,239 troops (as of 31 December 2013)
Troop Contributors: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines
Approved Budget (1 July 2013 – 30 June 2014): $60,654,500 (A/C.5/68/21)