Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF). Prior to the adoption, Council members will receive a briefing from the Department of Peace Operations on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on the mission, also due in June, and on the most recent developments.
UNDOF’s mandate expires on 30 June.
Background and Key Recent Developments
UNDOF was established following the conclusion of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement (the 1974 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.
Carrying out the mandate entails observing violations of the 1974 Agreement, reporting them, and liaising with both sides. UNDOF protests violations it observes of the 1974 Agreement and calls upon both sides to exercise restraint. Such violations regularly include unauthorised personnel and equipment in the areas of separation and limitation, the firing of weapons across the ceasefire line, and drones and aircraft crossing the ceasefire line. The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation from the Bravo (Syrian) side to the Alpha (Israeli-occupied) side because of the armed conflict in Syria.
As at 31 March, UNDOF consisted of 1,088 uniformed personnel. The budget allocated to the mission for the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021 is $67,574,300. The UN Truce Supervision Organization in Observer Group Golan continues to provide UNDOF with military observers who focus on situational awareness and static observation.
The Secretary-General’s 22 March report, covering the period 20 November 2020 to 20 February 2021, said that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was generally being maintained. However, the Secretary-General expressed concern about the ongoing violations of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement during the reporting period, including firing by Israeli forces over the ceasefire line, the presence of Syrian forces in the area of separation, and the existence of unauthorised weapons in the limitation area. The Secretary-General added, “I continue to encourage members of the Security Council to support efforts to sensitize both parties to the risk of escalation and the need to preserve the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic”.
Tensions continued in and near the Golan Heights in May. On 6 May, an Israeli helicopter reportedly fired on Hezbollah militants at a Syrian military position near the Syrian Golan Heights. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that three people were wounded.
On 14 May, three rockets were fired from Syrian territory towards Israel. One fell in Syrian territory, and two landed in the Golan Heights. There do not appear to have been casualties. While responsibility for the rocket fire was unclear, it occurred in the midst of an 11-day military confrontation between Israel and militants in the Gaza strip that ended with a ceasefire on 21 May.
Council members last met on UNDOF on 25 March, when they received a briefing in consultations from Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
Key Issues and Options
The numerous violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974 are an ongoing issue for the Council. UNDOF’s ability to implement its mandate, including its full return to the Bravo side, has been a key issue since 2014.
Given ongoing violations of the 1974 Agreement, the Council could consider pursuing a statement urging parties to adhere to the commitments under the agreement.
There is general agreement within the Council that UNDOF’s mandate contributes to stability in the region, given the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Both countries 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 their deep divisions regarding the Syria file, both countries are expected to continue to consider UNDOF a separate issue on which they agree.
Council members India and Ireland have a special interest in UNDOF, as both contribute a significant number of uniformed personnel to the mission. As at 31 March, the mission included 198 Indian uniformed personnel and 129 Irish uniformed personnel.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNDOF
|Security Council Resolutions|
|18 December 2020S/RES/2555||This renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 30 June 2021.|
|31 May 1974S/RES/350||This resolution established UNDOF.|
|22 March 2021S/2021/282||This was on UNDOF.|