Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will hold its quarterly consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan.
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 areas of separation (a demilitarised buffer zone) and limitation (where Israeli and Syrian troops and equipment are restricted) in the Golan.
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. 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.
On 10 June, the Special Coordinator on Improving the UN response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Christian Saunders, visited UNDOF. According to a press statement released following the visit, Saunders interacted with female peacekeepers and inspected their accommodations along with other basic facilities within the camp. He also discussed with mission leadership UNDOF’s commitment and efforts toward preventing and ending sexual exploitation and abuse, the statement added.
On 29 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2689, renewing the mandate of UNDOF for six months until 31 December. The resolution called on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and prevent any breaches of the ceasefire and the area of separation. It further encouraged them “to take full advantage of UNDOF’s liaison function regularly to address issues of mutual concern”.
Israel and Syria have continued to send letters to the Security Council accusing each other of violating the 1974 agreement. In a 27 July letter addressed to the Council and the Secretary-General, the Syrian government said that Israel “launched an attack against certain points belonging to the internal security forces in the town of Qahtaniyah in Qunaytirah, resulting in material damage”. The Israeli government, in turn, wrote to the Council and the Secretary-General on 28 July, noting that “Syrian violations of the Alpha line [Israeli-occupied Golan side] and armed presence in the area of separation occur daily”.
The region has witnessed a sharp rise in hostilities over the last few months. Speaking at an 11 September conference in Herzliya, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel “will not allow the establishment of a second Hezbollah in the Syrian Golan Heights, and the use of Syrian soil as a springboard for the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah”. According to media reports, on 13 September, airstrikes allegedly conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) hit the port city of Tartous, killing two Syrian soldiers and injuring six more. Later that day, Israel again conducted airstrikes in the vicinity of Hama, “causing material damage”, the media report added.
In a 21 September Twitter post, the IDF said their tanks “struck [two] temporary structures that were being used by the Syrian army”. It claimed that these structures violated the 1974 agreement, while noting that “the IDF holds the Syrian regime responsible for all activities emanating from its territory and will not allow any attempts to violate Israeli sovereignty”. According to local media reports, these positions were set up near Majdal Shams, a town in northern Golan, and were being used by the Syrian army to store military infrastructure.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 4 April, during its 52nd session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution concerning human rights in the “occupied Syrian Golan” (A/HRC/RES/52/33). Among other things, the resolution called upon Israel to comply with relevant General Assembly, Security Council and HRC resolutions, in particular Security Council resolution 497 of 17 December 1981, which decided that Israel’s decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the “occupied Syrian Golan” was null and void and without international legal effect; deplored the “continuing settlement policies and practices in the occupied Syrian Golan”; and further called upon Israel to “cease changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan”. The resolution was adopted with 31 votes in favour, 14 against, and two abstentions. Council members China, Gabon and the United Arab Emirates voted in favour of the resolution, whereas France, the United Kingdom, and the United States voted against.
The same day, the HRC also adopted a resolution (A/HRC/RES/52/35) condemning the “continuing settlement and related activities by Israel” in the Syrian Golan, including the transfer of its nationals into the occupied territory, construction and expansion of settlements, and demolition of community infrastructure. The resolution also demanded that Israel cease all settlement activities in the Syrian Golan immediately.
Key Issues and Options
One key issue is the challenges the mission faces in carrying out its mandate, such as the restrictions on the movement and access of UNDOF personnel. At next month’s consultations, Council members may be interested in receiving more information from the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) briefer on progress on UNDOF’s return to the Bravo side (Syrian Golan). The military observers of the Observer Group Golan (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 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 2689 on 29 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. No Council member felt the need to give an explanation of vote following the adoption. 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 by the UNDOF co-penholders—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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNDOF
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 June 2023S/RES/2689||This was the resolution that renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 31 December 2023.|
|31 May 1974S/RES/350||This resolution established UNDOF.|