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. 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 in June, and the most recent developments.
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. UNDOF 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 implementation of the mandate entails observing any violations of the 1974 Agreement, reporting them, and liaising with both sides. The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation from the Bravo (Syrian) to the Alpha (Israeli-occupied) side because of the armed conflict in Syria. As of 15 May, UNDOF comprises approximately 1,064 personnel. The UN General Assembly last year approved a budget of $60,295,100 from July 2018 through June 2019.
On 27 May, Israel confirmed with UNDOF that Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had carried out a rocket attack targeting the Tal Al Shaar area on the Bravo side that same day. According to the Syrian state media organisation SANA, one Syrian soldier was killed and another injured. The IDF stated that the airstrike was carried out in response to anti-aircraft fire by Syria. A 28 May statement by the Secretary-General expressed concern about the “developments in the Golan”, called upon the parties to adhere to the 1974 Agreement and liaise with UNDOF.
On 25 March, US President Donald Trump signed a presidential proclamation recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said on the same day that Secretary-General António Guterres considers “that the status of Golan has not changed.” Previously scheduled consultations on UNDOF on 27 March were changed into a public briefing under the agenda item “The Situation in the Middle East” to discuss the situation as well as UNDOF’s activities. Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacekeeping Affairs, and Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, briefed, and representatives from Israel and Syria participated.
In that meeting, the US representative said that the proclamation did not affect the 1974 Agreement, nor did it undermine UNDOF’s mandate. Other Council members reiterated that the Golan Heights is occupied territory. Lacroix said the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was being maintained, but violations of the 1974 Agreement continued to occur. These included firing into the area of separation and across the ceasefire line, civilians crossing the ceasefire line from the Bravo side, and the presence of unauthorised equipment and personnel in the areas of separation and limitation. The 1974 Agreement does not allow military forces other than those of UNDOF in the area of separation. Lacroix further said that UNDOF has consistently protested the violations, calling upon both sides to exercise restraint.
On UNDOF’s phased return to the Bravo side, Lacroix reported progress, including visits to vacated observation posts and positions to assess whether the conditions would allow for a return of UNDOF personnel. He also stressed that there is still a “significant threat” to UN personnel stemming from explosive remnants of war and the possible presence of sleeper cells of armed groups. For the mission to implement its mandate effectively, Lacroix re-emphasised the need to deploy appropriate technologies and utilise fully the Qunaytirah crossing point, both of which require cooperation and support from the two sides. Before its closure in 2014, the Qunaytirah crossing point was used for humanitarian crossings, facilitated by UNDOF and in cooperation with the ICRC. On 28 April, the ICRC observed a transfer of two former prisoners from Israel to Syria through the crossing point.
In his 19 March report, covering the period from 21 November 2018 to 14 March, the Secretary-General detailed violations of the 1974 Agreement on both sides. These include military presence and activities in the area of separation on the Bravo side by Syrian Armed Forces, firing across the ceasefire line by the Israel Defense Forces, and the presence of unauthorised equipment and weapons in the area of limitation on the Alpha side. The UN Truce Supervision Organization in Observer Group Golan continues to support UNDOF with military observers. The Secretary-General stressed that it was important for the Council to influence the parties to ensure the safety and security of UNDOF and its ability to implement its mandate.
In a 20 April press statement, UNDOF announced that its head of mission and force commander, Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana, had died unexpectedly on 19 April. On 29 May, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Major General Shivaram Kharel of Nepal as acting Head of Mission and Force Commander.
Key Issues and Options
Ongoing issues for the Council are the numerous violations of the 1974 Agreement and UNDOF’s ability to implement its mandate, including the deployment of appropriate technologies, and the eventual full return of UNDOF to the Bravo side. Regarding the mandate renewal, the Council is restricted in its options: how UNDOF operates is subject solely to the 1974 Agreement. Any changes in the mandate would require agreement by Israel and Syria, which remains unlikely. The Council, in renewing UNDOF’s mandate, could consider changing the Secretary-General’s reporting cycle back to six months instead of 90 days, which had been the practice until December 2012.
Council and Wider Dynamics
At press time, it was not clear whether the change in the US’s long-standing position would complicate the mandate renewal negotiations. Generally, Council members agree that UNDOF contributes to stability in the region, given the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, both of which still value UNDOF’s presence. Council members support its eventual complete return to the Bravo side, mindful of the fact that this would require a continuously favourable security environment to maintain the confidence of troop-contributing countries.
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.|
|19 March 2019S/2019/248||This was the report of the Secretary-General on UNDOF, covering the period from 21 November 2018 to 14 March 2019.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|27 March 2019S/PV.8493||This was a briefing by Rosemary DiCarlo, Undersecretary-General of DPPA and Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Undersecretary-General of DPO.|
|21 December 2018S/PV.8436||This was the adoption of resolution 2450, renewing UNDOF’s mandate until 30 June 2019.|