December 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2018
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MIDDLE EAST

UNDOF (Golan Heights)

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. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the latest 90-day report of the Secretary-General on UNDOF and the most recent developments. A meeting of Council members and UNDOF troop-contributing countries ahead of the mandate renewal is also expected to take place, in line with usual practice.

Key Recent Developments

UNDOF was established following the conclusion of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria, which ended the Yom Kippur war, and is mandated to maintain the ceasefire between the parties and supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces as well as the so-called areas of separation and limitation.

The Secretary-General’s 26 September report, covering the period from 24 May to 14 September, said that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was being maintained, notwithstanding the volatile environment due to the conflict in Syria. Violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974 occurred, however. These included fighting in the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo (Syrian) side between the Syrian armed forces and non-state armed opposition groups and others, including Council-listed terrorist groups Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat Fath al-Sham and the Nusrah Front) and the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army, both of which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Additionally, Russian military police were noted by UNDOF as being occasionally present in the area of separation. No military forces other than those of UNDOF are allowed in that area. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to fire across the ceasefire line and into the area of separation. UNDOF personnel also continued to observe crossings by unidentified individuals between Lebanon and the Bravo side and from the Bravo side to the Alpha (Israeli) side on a daily basis. UNDOF has protested the violations of the 1974 Agreement and called upon both sides to exercise restraint, in line with its mandate to observe violations, report them and liaise with both sides. The Syrian government regained full control over the area of separation at the beginning of August, bringing an end to all fighting in that area, which was previously controlled by armed groups.

UNDOF made further progress towards a limited return to operations on the Bravo side in accordance with a phased UNDOF plan. Phase one was completed on 14 November 2016 with the re-establishment of the UNDOF presence at Camp Faouar. Phase two involved preparations for the reoccupation of observation posts. UNDOF’s mechanised infantry company has conducted more than 50 protected patrols since such patrols resumed on the Bravo side in February 2018. Patrols to more observation posts are expected soon. The Force Reserve Company completed its re-deployment to the Bravo side on 4 September. UNDOF’s positions on Mount Hermon and at Camp Faouar are still being supplied from Damascus. DPKO continues to engage the parties in order to seek the deployment of appropriate technologies for UNDOF, which it considers critical. The UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in Observer Group Golan continues to provide UNDOF with military observers.

On 15 October, the Qunaytirah crossing point, which had been closed since 2014, was reopened, enabling UNDOF to utilise it again.

A team led by Lieutenant General Paolo Serra has conducted an independent review of UNDOF. Selected recommendations drawn from the conclusions of the review may be shared with Council members by the DPKO representative during consultations.

Key Issues and Options

Ongoing issues for the Council are the numerous violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974 and UNDOF’s ability to implement its mandate, including the deployment of appropriate technologies. The operating environment of UNDOF experienced changes over the last several months due to Syria’s regaining control over areas formerly held by different armed actors. This will have implications for the ability of UNDOF to implement its mandate, including the eventual full return of UNDOF to the Bravo side. In that regard, the re-opening of the Qunaytirah crossing point indicates the parties’ conviction that the security situation has improved. The closure of the Qunaytirah crossing point used to be a recurring issue in the Secretary-General’s reports as a factor inhibiting UNDOF from implementing its mandate. The Council at some point could consider requesting the Secretary-General to go back to a six-month reporting cycle instead of 90 days, which was the practice until December 2012. Regarding the mandate renewal, the Council is rather restricted in its options: how UNDOF operates is subject solely to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974. 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’s mandate, including its liaison function, 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 in response to the extremely unstable operating environment due to the armed conflict in Syria. Israel and Syria still value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission return to the Bravo side. Council members support its eventual complete return, mindful of the fact that this would require a continuously favourable security environment, which is also crucial for maintaining the confidence of troop-contributing countries.

Russia and the US are the co-penholders on 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
29 June 2018S/RES/2426 The Council renewed UNDOF’s mandate until 31 December 2018.
Secretary-General’s Reports
26 September 2018S/2018/867 This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF (Golan Heights).