October 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

UNDOF (Golan Heights) 

Expected Council Action

In October, the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing on the activities of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights from the Department of Peace Operations (DPO). The briefing will be on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on UNDOF, which is due in October, and on the most recent developments.

UNDOF’s mandate expires on 31 December.

Background

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 observed violations of the 1974 Agreement and calls upon both sides to exercise restraint. 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) to the Alpha (Israeli-occupied) side because of the armed conflict in Syria.

Key Recent Developments

In his most recent report to the Security Council, dated 3 June, the Secretary-General concluded that while the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was generally being maintained, ongoing violations of the 1974 Agreement persist—including firing by Israeli forces over the ceasefire line, the presence of Syrian forces in the area of separation, and the presence of unauthorised weapons in the limitation area. These violations, the Secretary-General noted, come at a “volatile time for the region”.

In addition to the violations highlighted in the report, there have been ongoing tensions in and around the Golan Heights in recent weeks. For example, international media have reported several instances of Hezbollah rockets being launched near the area, including a 6 August incident during which Hezbollah launched 19 rockets toward northern Israel from Lebanon. Tensions between Israel and Syria have also affected the Golan Heights. On 17 August, Israel launched a missile attack into southern Syria, purportedly striking Iranian-backed militias operating near the town of Quneitra, which lies within the Golan Heights.

On 10 June, the Security Council held a meeting with UNDOF’s troop- and police-contributing countries. The Council then held its regular consultations on UNDOF on 14 June. The 10 June session was a private meeting and thus closed to the public. (A private meeting differs from Council consultations, which are also closed, in being a formal meeting of the Security Council. In addition, in line with rules 37 and 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, member states whose interests are directly affected and Secretariat officials may be invited to participate in a private meeting. The rules of procedure also require that a communiqué be issued following a private meeting, unlike consultations, for which no written record is created.) According to the communiqué, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed Council members and the troop- and police-contributing countries on the current situation. No other information was provided about the meeting’s contents.

On 29 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2581, which renewed UNDOF’s mandate for six months.

Key Issues and Options

The renewal of UNDOF’s mandate is expected in December and will be a key issue for the Council as it holds consultations on DPO’s briefing.

The numerous violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974 is 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.

Council Dynamics

There is general agreement within the Council that UNDOF’s mandate is an important component of regional stability, given the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Both countries 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 deep divisions overall on the Council regarding the Syria file, particularly between Russia and the US, the two countries continue to consider UNDOF a separate issue on which they agree.

Council members India and Ireland have a particular interest in UNDOF, as both contribute a significant number of uniformed personnel to the mission. On 30 June, UNDOF included 175 Indian and 125 Irish uniformed personnel.

UN DOCUMENTS ON UNDOF 

Security Council Resolutions
29 June 2021 S/RES/2581 This renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 312 December 2021.
31 May 1974S/RES/350 This resolution established UNDOF.
Secretary-General’s Reports
3 June 2021S/2021/516 This was the latest report on UNDOF.