Golan Heights (UNDOF)
Expected Council Action
In December, the Council is expected to extend for six months the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which expires on 31 December. A representative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will brief Council members in consultations on the most recent UNDOF report.
UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.
Key Recent Developments
The situation in the Golan Heights remains tense, and the upcoming Secretary-General’s report due in December is likely to highlight several violent incidents and continued violations of the disengagement agreement. On 3 November, the Al-Nusra Front reportedly carried out a car bombing that killed nine Druze men, several of whom were Israelis, in the village of Hader in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights. On 11 November, Israel shot down a Syrian reconnaissance drone over the Golan Heights. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel viewed the incident gravely and would respond to any provocation. On 16 November, the Syrian Army’s 42nd Brigade accused the Israeli military of launching an airstrike on their positions near the Beit Jinn pocket, killing four of their soldiers.
On 27 September, the Secretary-General transmitted his most recent report on UNDOF. According to the report, the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic was maintained during the reporting period, albeit in a volatile environment attributable to the ongoing conflict in Syria. The Syrian army and non-state armed opposition groups engaged in exchanges of heavy-weapons fire in the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo (Syrian) side. The Secretary-General reported that various armed groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have continued to exchange fire in the UNDOF area of operation. Inside the area of separation, the presence of Syrian armed forces or any other armed personnel and military equipment other than that of UNDOF is in violation of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement. The situation in the area of separation, particularly during the month of June, was characterised by medium- to high-intensity fighting, and the report noted that there were five incidents of spillover fire across the ceasefire line during the reporting period.
The military violations on the Alpha (Israeli) side included 95 reports of the presence of unauthorised personnel and military equipment within the 10-kilometre zone of the area of limitation, including M-109 self-propelled guns, Iron Dome anti-missile systems, missile carriers, light armoured vehicles and armoured patrol vehicles. There were three incidents of firing into the area of separation and more than 87 instances of restrictions of movement of UNDOF by the Israel Defense Forces recorded during the reporting period.
The report noted that UNDOF continued to make progress towards the limited return of operations on the Bravo side in line with the phased UNDOF plan. Phase 1 of the plan has continued to progress satisfactorily since 14 November 2016, when UNDOF re-established an initial presence at Camp Faouar, and conditions have steadily improved in line with the mission support plan. Also, in accordance with the provisions of resolution 2361, efforts continued to deploy appropriate technology to ensure the safety and security of UNDOF personnel and equipment. This included initiating the procurement of technology, such as surveillance trailers, to enhance force protection and increase situational awareness.
On 13 October, Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana as the head of mission and force commander of UNDOF. Vib-Sanziri succeeds Major General Jai Shanker Menon of India, who completed his assignment on 30 September.
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 inasmuch 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, Syrian and Israeli airstrikes, and the presence of non-state armed terrorist groups. 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 is subject to the disengagement agreement that ended the Yom Kippur war in 1974. Any changes in the mandate would require agreement by Israel and Syria, which is unlikely.
There is general agreement within the Council that, given the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, UNDOF contributes to stability in the region. The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation to the 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, and Council members continue to support its eventual complete return. However, they are mindful that this requires a favourable security environment, which is important for maintaining the confidence of UNDOF’s troop-contributing countries, and at the moment, the situation on the Syrian side is still not conducive to the full redeployment.
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 militia forces.
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.|
|27 September 2017 S/2017/810||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force for the period from 17 May to 9 September 2017.|
|Security Council Letters|
|10 October 2017 S/2017/857||This was a letter from the Secretary-General, expressing his intention to appoint Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri (Ghana) as the Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNDOF.|