Expected Council Action
In March, the Council expects 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. Its mandate is 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 at January 2020, UNDOF comprises 1,139 personnel and has a budget of $2,762,400 for the year 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 4 December 2019 report, covering the period from 18 September to 22 November, said that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was being maintained but that while the overall security situation in the UNDOF area of operations remained stable, some military activity in the area of separation had taken place. On both the Alpha and the Bravo side, military equipment was present in the area of limitation and, UNDOF reported, Syrian armed forces are still present in the area of separation, where only UNDOF military forces are permitted. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have also continued to fire across the ceasefire line. UNDOF has protested all violations of the 1974 Agreement and called upon both sides to exercise restraint. On 19 November 2019, UNDOF personnel at the Hermon South position observed two unidentified objects being fired from a location approximately 50 meters from an IDF position. In addition, UNDOF reported three explosions and was subsequently informed by the IDF that rockets fired from Syria had been intercepted. Meanwhile, UNDOF personnel observe daily crossings by unidentified individuals (farmers and shepherds tending livestock) from the Bravo side. To deter such crossings of the ceasefire line, UNDOF has put up warning signs.
According to the Secretary-General’s report, there has been an improvement in the security situation on the Bravo side, allowing UNDOF to plan for progressively resuming inspections in the area of limitation, which had been suspended for security reasons. In this context, UNDOF has recently increased its monthly operational patrols on routes in the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo side from 573 in August 2019 to 886 in October, and its patrols now cover approximately 95 percent of the area of separation and approximately 50 percent of the area of limitation. Of note, on 29 October 2019, UNDOF resumed night patrols in the area of separation; they had also been suspended in 2014. In addition, UNDOF sent patrols to a UN temporary observation post, known as 80A, for the first time since 2014. This has increased UNDOF’s situational awareness of the area of operations.
UNDOF continues to use the Qunaytirah crossing point, which reopened in October 2018 after having been closed in 2014, to move personnel and equipment between the Alpha and Bravo sides. However, administrative measures have created procedural and logistical burdens for UNDOF, and conversations continue with the IDF on ways to make the use of the crossing point easier. The report also notes that developments in Lebanon have affected the primary supply route for UNDOF between Beirut and Damascus since 17 October 2019, which is having an impact on the movement of UNDOF personnel, fuel and other supplies. As a result, the mission has faced a series of challenges, including delays in troop rotation.
Because of “explosive remnants of war, including unexploded ordnance and mines, and from the possible presence of sleeper cells of armed groups, including listed terrorist groups”, the Secretary-General’s report concludes that there continues to be “a significant threat” to UNDOF personnel in its area of operations.
The Council renewed UNDOF’s mandate in a unanimous vote on 19 December 2019 in resolution 2503.
On 24 February, the Secretary-General announced his appointment of Major General Ishwar Hamal of Nepal as Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNDOF.
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 full return to the Bravo side, has been a key issue since 2014. Given UNDOF’s increased operational patrols on routes on the Bravo side, the Council may consider requesting the Secretary-General to resume a six-month reporting cycle instead of 90 days, as had been the practice until December 2012.
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 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|
|19 December 2019S/RES/2503||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 30 June 2020.|
|4 December 2019S/2019/923||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF for the period from 18 September to 22 November 2019.|