March 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Golan Heights (UNDOF)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will brief Council members in consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The Secretary-General’s report is due on 19 March. No outcome is expected.

UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Its mandate expires on 30 June.

Key Recent Developments

As a result of the spillover of the Syrian civil war into UNDOF’s area of operation, most of the mission’s peacekeepers were relocated from the Bravo (Syrian) side to the Alpha (Israeli) side of the ceasefire line in September 2014. The majority of UNDOF’s 830 uniformed personnel continue to be stationed on the Israeli side, which hinders the capacity of the mission to achieve full mobility and operational capacity. 

The December 2016 UNDOF report noted that the limited redeployment of UN personnel to Camp Faouar on the Bravo side represented a major achievement for the mission. The latest UNDOF mandate renewal resolution 2330 welcomed the phased redeployment conditioned on favourable security and operational conditions. The security situation on the Bravo side remained unstable though there was no direct threat to Camp Faouar.   

The security environment in UNDOF’s area of operation varies in different sectors. The situation in the northern sector has been improving, which has led to the redeployment of UN troops to Camp Faouar. However, the December 2016 report noted that in the central sector on the Bravo side the fighting between Syrian government forces and various armed groups continued, and on several occasions resulted in shelling close to the UN positions. In the southern sector, there were persistent clashes between different armed opposition groups, including Al Nusra Front and Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. During the past two months, it seems that the number of incidents and spillovers from Syria decreased relative to the period covered by the December report.  

On 8 February, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hit a target in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights as retaliation for tank fire that hit Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. Israel characterised the incident as a spillover from the Syrian civil war. Syrian government forces have been engaged in fighting rebels near the area. The IDF has maintained the position that it would not tolerate any attempt to jeopardise Israel’s security and that the Syrian government remains responsible for anything happening on its territory.    

On the diplomatic front, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Donald Trump on 15 February. In media remarks following the meeting, Netanyahu said that he had asked the president to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights were captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and were illegally annexed by Israel; under international law, it is considered an occupied territory. Council members had voiced their concern about this issue on 26 April 2016, following Netanyahu’s remarks that the Golan Heights would remain forever under Israeli sovereignty. In elements to the press, Council president Ambassador Liu Jieyi (China) stressed that the status of the Golan Heights remains unchanged.

During the Middle East briefing to the Council on 16 February, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, briefly addressed the situation in UNDOF’s area of operations. He noted that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria is holding despite the volatile security situation on the Bravo side but that spillover from Syria continues to pose a risk of further escalation. He said that both sides expressed their commitment to the disengagement of forces agreement and the full return of UNDOF to the area of separation when the conditions permit.       

Key Issues

Considering the security situation in the Golan, the full return of UNDOF to the Syrian side seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. This is a significant issue in as much as it constrains the mission’s ability to carry out its monitoring tasks.

A re-emerging issue will be the safety and security of UN personnel in light of the redeployment to Camp Faouar.  

An ongoing issue for the Council is the violation of the ceasefire on numerous occasions, including the presence of Syrian heavy weapons in the area of separation monitored by UNDOF, and Syrian and Israeli airstrikes. No military forces other than those of UNDOF are allowed in the area of separation. 

Options

The Council is rather limited in its options for UNDOF. It was established as a Syria-based mission and how it operates, including the use of enhanced equipment or new technologies, is subject to the disengagement agreement. Any changes require agreement by Israel and Syria, which is unlikely to be forthcoming. 

Council Dynamics

There is general agreement within the Council that UNDOF contributes to stability in the region, given the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation to the Alpha side of the ceasefire line. However, the mission’s liaison function continues to be considered important for avoiding further negative developments in the region.  

Israel and Syria value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the return of the mission to the Bravo side. At the moment, the security situation on the Syrian side is still not conducive to full redeployment of UNDOF troops. Council members continue to support the eventual complete return of UNDOF to the Bravo side. However, they are mindful that this would require a favourable security environment, which is important for maintaining the confidence of UNDOF’s troop-contributing countries.

Council members have expressed concern regarding the fighting in the area of operations as well as the tension between Israel and Syria along the ceasefire line, which has been exacerbated by the presence of Hezbollah.

Since June 2012, Russia and the US have been the co-penholders on resolutions renewing UNDOF.

UN DOCUMENTS 

Security Council Resolution
19 December 2016 S/RES/2330 The Council renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 30 June 2017.
Secretary-General’s Report
7 December 2016 S/2016/1037 This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF.