March 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

UNDOF (Golan Heights)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is expected to receive a briefing on the activities of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The Department of Peace Operations (DPO) is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on UNDOF, due out in March, and on the most recent developments.

The mandate of UNDOF expires on 30 June.

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 6 December 2018 report, covering the period from 15 September to 20 November, said that despite several violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974, the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was largely being maintained. The report noted that by August 2018, conflict had largely ceased in the areas formerly held by various non-state armed groups as the government of Syria regained control. Some military activity was reported as part of the Syrian security forces’ efforts to clear the remnants of war from the area. According to the report, UNDOF also observed an increase in Syrian armed forces’ presence in the area, particularly in staffing a number of checkpoints. The Council stressed in resolution 2426 of June 2018 that there should be no military activity of any kind in the area of operations, which also relates to the Russian military police noted in the report as being present occasionally in the area of separation.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to fire across the ceasefire line and into the area of separation, according to the report. UNDOF personnel also continued to observe crossings by unidentified individuals between Lebanon and the Bravo (Syrian) side and from the Bravo side to the Alpha (Israeli) side on a daily basis. The individuals crossing were usually described in the report as shepherds and farmers. The Secretary-General’s report noted that the number of people crossing the southern part of the area of separation decreased once a hospital providing humanitarian assistance to people from the Bravo side was closed by the IDF in August 2018.

On 15 October 2018, the Qunaytirah crossing point, which had been closed since 2014, was reopened. UNDOF had been unable to help with humanitarian crossings while the point was closed, but reiterated in the Secretary-General’s report that it now remained ready to facilitate crossings. On 11 February, the Syrian state-run SANA news agency reported that Israel had fired missiles on parts of the city of Qunaytirah. At press time, the Israeli military had not responded to queries, but the incident was widely covered in the region’s press.

Two UNDOF peacekeepers were lightly injured in August and October 2018 in Camp Faouar by stray bullets, according to the Secretary-General’s report. UNDOF has not determined the origin of the shots nor their intended target. UNDOF made further progress towards a limited return to operations on the Bravo side in accordance with a phased UNDOF plan, namely on phase two: preparations for the reoccupation of observation posts. On 30 October, UNDOF’s Observer Group Golan was able to establish temporary observation posts near three empty former posts. UNDOF’s mechanised infantry company has conducted more than 80 protected patrols since such patrols resumed on the Bravo side in February 2018, as well as several assessment visits to parts of the area of separation. UNDOF still considers there to be significant threats to UN personnel in the area of UNDOF operations. The report highlighted that on 12 and 13 September, UNDOF personnel worked in the area of the Bravo and Charlie gates at the Qunaytirah crossing to remove mines, unexploded ordnance and other remnants of war.

An independent review of UNDOF was conducted in September and October 2018. The review analysed the conditions of the mandate, particularly the “assumptions that underpin” it and “the conditions for its successful implementation”. The review’s conclusions, highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, said that UNDOF plays an important role in maintaining communications with the IDF and Syrian authorities and that this function should remain. The review found that UNDOF had de-escalated tensions in several incidents. It recommended trying to find further opportunities to build trust between the parties. Regarding UNDOF’s eventual return to the Bravo side, the review urged the use of new observation technologies and noted that there would need to be significant reconstruction of the posts that had been abandoned.

The Council renewed UNDOF’s mandate in a unanimous vote on 21 December 2018 in resolution 2450.

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 as recommended. Given Syria’s reassertion of control over areas of separation and the reopening of the Qunaytirah crossing point, UNDOF may be getting close to an eventual full return to the Bravo side. The return of the situation to pre-2014 conditions may cause the Council to consider requesting the Secretary-General to resume a six-month reporting cycle instead of 90 days, as had been the practice until December 2012.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The Council remains largely united on this issue, as evidenced by the unanimous reauthorisation of the mandate in December. Negotiations on the draft were relatively straightforward and technical. There was little apparent disagreement by members, and no states felt the need to give explanations of their votes.

Russia and the US are the co-penholders on UNDOF.

Security Council Resolutions
21 December 2018S/RES/2450 The Council renewed UNDOF’s mandate until 30 June 2019.
29 June 2018S/RES/2426 The Council renewed UNDOF’s mandate until 31 December 2018.
Secretary-General’s Reports
6 December 2018S/2018/1088 This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF (Golan Heights).