December 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 November 2019
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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. Ahead of the mandate renewal, 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 December, 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 (a demilitarised buffer zone) and limitation (where Israeli and Syrian troops and equipment are restricted) in the Golan Heights. 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 17 September, UNDOF comprises 1,184 personnel and has a budget of $2,762,400 from July 2019 through June 2020. The UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in Observer Group Golan continues to provide UNDOF with military observers.

The Secretary-General’s 24 September report, covering the period from 30 May to 17 September, said that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was being maintained. Violations of the 1974 Agreement occurred, however. On both the Alpha and the Bravo side, military equipment was present in the area of limitation. Additionally, UNDOF noted Syrian armed forces still present in the area of separation, where only UNDOF military forces are permitted. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to fire across the ceasefire line and into the area of separation. On 1 June, according to the IDF, projectiles originating from the Bravo side were fired towards a ski resort in the Mount Hermon area on the Alpha side. UNTSO found a crater and indications of a projectile having been fired from the south-east. UNDOF personnel also continued to observe daily crossings by unidentified individuals (farmers and shepherds tending livestock) from the Bravo side. In order to deter such crossings of the ceasefire line, UNDOF started putting up warning signs. UNDOF has protested all 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.

UNDOF’s operating environment experienced changes over the last year due to Syria’s regaining control over areas formerly held by different opposition armed actors. UNDOF made further progress towards a limited return to operations on the Bravo side, including a reoccupation of two observation posts; its patrol routes were able to cover about 50 per cent of the area of limitation and about 90 per cent of the area of separation. The Secretary-General’s report stresses however that there continues to be “a significant threat” to UNDOF personnel in its area of operations, originating from explosive remnants of war and the possibility of “sleeper cells of armed groups, including listed terrorist groups.” The Secretary-General emphasises the need for both Israel and Syria to support the clearance of explosive remnants of war, and also refers to incidents of “assassination and attempted assassinations” of Syrian opposition leaders that had supposedly reconciled with the Syrian government, as reported by open sources.

UNDOF was able to regularly utilise the Qunaytirah crossing point (which reopened in October 2018 after having been closed since 2014) to move personnel and equipment, conversations with the IDF on increased facilitation of its use continue to be ongoing. On 15 July, UNDOF reoccupied a position at the crossing full-time. In the report’s observations, the Secretary-General underlines that UNDOF has to be able to fully utilise the crossing point in order to implement its mandate. Likewise, UNDOF continues to face restrictions of movement and access to their positions by the IDF in the area of separation.

On 16 October, Council members were briefed in consultations on the 24 September report and the most recent developments by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

On 16 September, Brigadier General Maureen O’Brien of Ireland assumed the position of Deputy Force Commander of UNDOF. Major General Shivaram Kharel of Nepal continues to be the acting Head of Mission and Force Commander. He was appointed to the post on 29 May, following the sudden death of Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana on 19 April.

On 18 November, the IDF reported that their Iron Dome defence systems had intercepted four rockets launched from Syria towards the Alpha side. UNDOF considers the Iron Dome systems “unauthorized military equipment in the area of limitation”, a violation of the 1974 Agreement, as regularly stated in the Secretary-General’s reports.

Key Issues and Options

Ongoing issues for the Council are the numerous violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974. UNDOF’s ability to implement its mandate, including its eventual full return to the Bravo side, has been a key issue since 2014. Regarding the mandate renewal, the Council’s options are restricted, as 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. Bearing that in mind, the Council could renew UNDOF’s mandate for a period longer than six months. The Council might further 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 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, both of which still value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission’s full return to the Bravo side. Council members also 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.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS

Security Council Resolution
26 June 2019S/RES/2477 This resolution renewed UNDOF’s mandate until 31 December 2019.
Secretary-General’s Report
24 September 2019S/2019/774 This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF.