UNDOF (Golan Heights)
Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to extend for six months the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which expires on 30 June. A representative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is expected to 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
Between 9 and 10 May, Israel carried out dozens of strikes against presumed Iranian and Syrian government military targets across southern Syria, claiming it was responding to Iranian forces firing rockets from Syrian territory at Israeli military targets in the Syrian Golan. According to UNDOF, 12 rounds were fired by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) main battle tank, striking close to an UNDOF observation post on the Bravo (Syrian) side. Three other missiles struck observation post 71. UNDOF was unable to determine the origin of the missiles. In the same area, about 20 surface-to-surface missiles, 30 air-to-surface missiles, and 100 anti-aircraft gun rounds were fired. One surface-to-air missile fired from an IDF position intercepted a missile from the Bravo side. Two missiles impacted near Jabhata al Khashab, and three heavy explosions occurred near Al Baath. Seven high explosive rounds originated from the general area of Al Qunaytirah. UNDOF was unable to determine the point of impact. During the 10 May events, UNDOF was in contact with both parties urging them to respect the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura reported to the Council on this escalation of incidents during his monthly briefing on political developments in Syria on 16 May, describing the regional tensions as unprecedented since 1973.
The Secretary-General’s 20 March report, covering the period from 25 November 2017 to 23 February, noted that during the reporting period the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was maintained, albeit in a volatile environment attributable to the ongoing conflict in Syria and notwithstanding a number of violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974. One incident of particular concern occurred on 10 February when the IDF informed UNDOF that it had “intercepted an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle launched from Syria” and had taken defensive action against the unmanned aerial vehicle and Syrian targets. The IDF also reported that one of its F-16 fighter jets had been shot down, crash-landing on Israeli territory and injuring two Israeli pilots. Syria informed UNDOF on 10 February of air strikes by Israeli aircraft in Homs and east of Damascus. On the same day, UNDOF observed that three rockets had been launched from the vicinity of Harrah on the Bravo side, about 10 kilometres from UN observation post 54, had flown over observation posts 53 and 54, and had subsequently crossed the ceasefire line. UNDOF was not in a position to determine the exact point of impact.
According to the report, Syrian armed forces and non-state armed opposition groups engaged in exchanges of heavy weapons fire in the area of separation and the area of limitation on the Bravo side, while various armed groups, including Jabhat Fath al-Sham, which is listed as a terrorist group by the Security Council, and Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Walid, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, continued to exchange fire in the UNDOF area of operation.
During the reporting period, UNDOF made progress towards the limited return to Bravo-side operations in line with the phased UNDOF plan. Following the completion of phase one of the plan, with the re-establishment of the UNDOF presence at Camp Faouar on 14 November 2016, UNDOF continued to develop the infrastructure at the camp and steadily improved the living conditions there. Phase two will involve the resumption over a period of six to eight months of limited patrolling of the northern part of the area of separation by the Nepalese mechanised infantry company from Camp Faouar. In line with the plan, the mechanised infantry company commenced limited protected patrolling on 8 February from Camp Faouar to Jaba, Khan Arnabah, Mount Hermon and Ya’fur. The limited patrolling was suspended on 10 February because of the security situation and resumed on 14 February. The return of the UNDOF temporary headquarters from Ya’fur, Damascus, and of the Force Reserve Company from Camp Ziouani to Camp Faouar is foreseen during phase three.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 37th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) voted 25 to 14 (with 7 abstentions) on 23 March to adopt resolution 37/33. The resolution expresses grave concern about Israeli practices in the occupied Syrian Golan, which it details, and requests the Secretary-General to bring the resolution to the attention of all governments, competent UN organs, and intergovernmental and humanitarian organisations. It also requests the Secretary-General to report on the matter at the HRC’s 40th session in March 2019. Security Council and HRC members the UK and the US voted against the resolution.
Key Issues and Options
Considering the recently worsened security situation in the Golan, the full return of UNDOF to the Syrian side seems even less likely 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. At press time, it was unclear whether the escalation of fighting might result in long-term effects on UNDOF’s ability to implement its mandate. The Secretary-General is expected to make his usual recommendation for a six-month extension of the mandate in his upcoming report.
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 is subject to the 1974 disengagement agreement that ended the Yom Kippur war. Any changes in the mandate would require agreement by Israel and Syria, which is unlikely.
Council and Wider 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 regarded as 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. However, 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 but are mindful that this would require a favourable security environment, which is crucial for maintaining the confidence of troop-contributing countries.
Since June 2012, Russia and the US have been the co-penholders on resolutions renewing UNDOF. Despite the deep divisions between the co-penholders regarding the Syria file, both countries are expected to continue to consider UNDOF as a separate issue and not to politicise it.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 December 2017 S/RES/2394||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 30 June 2018.|
|20 March 2018 S/2018/244||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in the Golan Heights for the period of 25 November 2017 to 23 February 2018.|