UNDOF (Golan Heights)
Expected Council Action
In October, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will brief Council members in consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). No outcome is expected.
UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Its mandate expires on 31 December.
Key Recent Developments
While the ceasefire between Israel and Syria is being maintained, the environment in the Golan Heights remains volatile because of the ongoing Syrian conflict. On 15 September 2014, the majority of UNDOF peacekeepers relocated from the Bravo (Syrian) side to the Alpha (Israeli) side of the area of operations after the Al-Qaida affiliated Al-Nusra Front overran Syrian government forces in August 2014 in Quneitra, a Syrian district close to the Israeli-occupied Golan. On 14 November 2016, the UN reported an initial return of 150 troops to Camp Faouar on the Bravo (Syrian) side. A majority of peacekeepers remain on the Alpha (Israeli) side with limited mobility and insufficient equipment to carry out fully its monitoring tasks.
Violations of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces continue. On 19 September, Israel said it shot down an unmanned aircraft that entered the airspace over the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it believed the aircraft was an Iranian-made drone operated by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces. It was not clear if the drone entered Israeli-controlled airspace deliberately. In April, Israel shot down an unmanned Syrian aircraft after it entered the airspace over the Golan Heights. It also attempted to intercept a drone that entered Israeli airspace last year.
According to the 8 June report of the Secretary-General, which covered the period from 2 March to 16 May, military activity across the ceasefire line increased during the reporting period. On 13 May, UNDOF observed three armed IDF personnel in a vehicle in the area of separation near the Mount Hermon complex, which constituted a violation of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement. There was one incident of spill-over fire across the ceasefire line during the reporting period: on 21 April, UN personnel observed a high explosive impact approximately two kilometres north of the UN position. Evidence indicated that the impact was likely to have been a 105 mm or 120 mm calibre artillery shell from the Bravo (Syrian) side. According to Syrian officials, the IDF responded to the spill-over fire with air strikes across the ceasefire line in the Khan Arnabeh region. Also during the reporting period, open and government sources reported several additional alleged incidents of Israeli air strikes or air activity in the Syrian Arab Republic.
On 29 June, the Council adopted resolution 2361, which extended the mandate of UNDOF for an additional six months. In the resolution, the Council condemned the use of heavy weapons by both the Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the ongoing Syrian conflict in the area of separation between Israel and Syria, and underlined that there should be no military activity by armed opposition groups in that area. The resolution also urged member states to convey strongly to the Syrian armed opposition groups in UNDOF’s area of operations that they should halt all activities that endanger UN peacekeepers and accord them the freedom to carry out their mandate safely and securely.
Key Issues and Options
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.
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.
The Council is, however, 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, as is any outcome in October.
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 (Israeli) side of the ceasefire line. However, the mission’s liaison function continues to be considered important in avoiding further negative developments in the region.
Israel and Syria value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission return 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 ON UNDOF
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 June 2017 S/RES/2361||This was a resolution renewing UNDOF’s mandate for an additional six months.|
|8 June 2017 S/2017/486||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF.|