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 closed consultations on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on UNDOF, due on 1 December, and the most recent developments. A meeting of Council members and UNDOF troop-contributing countries is also expected to take place in December, in line with usual practice.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNDOF’s activities, dated 22 September, notes that while the ceasefire between Israel and Syria has generally held during the reporting period, covering 21 May to 20 August, violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement have persisted. As such, the report says that the overall security situation in UNDOF’s area of operations remains volatile, raising concerns about the safety and security of the military and civilian personnel of UNDOF and Observer Group Golan (OGG), which provides military observers to UNDOF. The report also highlights that UN personnel at various positions observed 26 drones that crossed the ceasefire line from the Alpha side (Israeli-occupied Golan) and flew over the area of separation.
The Secretary-General’s upcoming report is expected to focus on the continued violations of the disengagement agreement, especially firing from the Israeli side over the ceasefire line, the presence of Syrian forces in the area of separation, and the existence of unauthorised weapons in the limitation area. Moreover, the report is expected to focus on the volatile situation in the region, especially the southern part of the area of limitation.
During Council members’ last quarterly consultations on UNDOF, which took place on 17 October, the issue of the handing over of posts to Syrian authorities was discussed. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who briefed at the meeting, apparently emphasised that the posts’ handover will be carried out in a consultative manner with both parties as well as with Council members.
The region has witnessed several notable developments over the last couple of months. On 15 November, the commander of the US Central Command, General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, conducted his fourth visit in the past seven months to Israel, meeting with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Kurilla, along with the IDF’s head of the Northern Command, Major General Ori Gordin, visited the Alpha line in the Golan and observation posts overlooking the Golan. In a press release, he said that “our strategic partnerships within the region—to include our longstanding, ironclad partnership with the IDF—are critical to regional security and stability. All these trips to the region inform my understanding of the threats and challenges faced by each country and the capabilities available”.
On 9 November, Israel carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria near the town of Abu Kamal, hitting a convoy of vehicles allegedly smuggling Iranian weapons. At least ten people, several reportedly from Iran, were killed in the attack. The IDF has previously carried out strikes against targets near Abu Kamal in early 2021, targeting weapons depots and pro-Iranian militias.
According to media reports dated 10 November, the Israeli army has started building a paved road in the Golan, in the northern and western parts of the Quneitra region, an area that borders the Alpha line.
On 15 July, Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Major General Nirmal Kumar Thapa as UNDOF’s force commander. In an 8 November statement, Thapa outlined the mission’s priorities, noting that “[a]dherence to the mission mandate will be our primary concern, i.e. to establish peace and security in the Golan through maintaining the ceasefire agreement and scrupulously observing, and supervising the disengagement of forces”.
Key Issues and Options
A key priority for the Council in December is the renewal of UNDOF’s mandate. A related issue is ensuring that UNDOF personnel are equipped with the necessary resources for the fulfilment of the mission’s mandate, along with maintaining the safety and security of the peacekeeping personnel.
At next month’s consultations, Council members may inquire about the challenges on the ground in regard to UNDOF’s work and on any difficulties the mission faces in carrying out its mandate. They may also be interested in more information from the DPO briefer on progress on UNDOF’s return to the Bravo side (Syrian Golan). The military observers of the OGG had to vacate the observation posts in 2014 owing to the deteriorating security situation in Syria.
Another issue for Council members is the ongoing violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement. Members may consider pursuing a press or presidential statement urging parties to adhere to their commitments under the agreement while expressing concern about the risk of escalation resulting from these violations and the potential danger they pose to the safety of peacekeepers.
The unanimous adoption of resolution 2639 of 27 June, which reauthorised UNDOF’s mandate for six months, illustrated that the Council remains united in its view that UNDOF plays an important role in regional stability. Members also seemingly perceive UNDOF as a positive aspect of the Council’s work. There was little disagreement among Council members during the negotiations, which were apparently straightforward. Some Council members believe that the situation has turned into a protracted conflict owing to continued violations of the disengagement agreement by both sides
Despite deep divisions in the Council regarding the Syria file and opposing positions held by the co-penholders on UNDOF, Russia and the US, about who holds sovereignty over the Golan, the two countries continue to consider UNDOF as a separate issue on which they agree. This arrangement has enabled close engagement with the parties on the ground. It seems that the antagonism between Russia and the US over the conflict in Ukraine has not affected their work on UNDOF; the difficult dynamics witnessed in other Council files were not evident during the negotiations on UNDOF’s mandate in June.
Council members India and Ireland have a particular interest in UNDOF, as both contribute a significant number of uniformed personnel to the mission. UNDOF currently includes 200 Indian uniformed personnel and 130 Irish uniformed personnel.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNDOF
|Security Council Resolutions|
|27 June 2022S/RES/2639||This renewed the mandate of UNDOF for six months.|
|31 May 1974S/RES/350||This resolution established UNDOF.|
|22 September 2022S/2022/711||This was the Secretary-General’s quarterly UNDOF report.|
|1 June 2022S/2022/447||This was the Secretary-General’s quarterly UNDOF report.|