Renewal of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights
Tomorrow morning (26 June), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution renewing the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) for six months.* Russia and the US jointly authored the draft resolution which was circulated on Friday (21 June). Following one round of negotiations the draft resolution is expected to be put in blue later today.
The draft resolution reflects the deteriorating situation on the ground as a result of the spillover of the Syrian conflict. This has adversely affected UNDOF and its area of operations and potentially jeopardised the integrity of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. The Secretary-General’s most recent UNDOF report (S/2013/345) detailed multiple violations in recent months of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria. Both the report and the draft resolution express particular concern over the 6 June clashes between the Syrian government and armed opposition in the area of separation near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. (Under the terms of the 1974 agreement, no military forces, other than those of UNDOF, should be in the area of separation.)
Yesterday’s expert-level negotiations on the draft resolution were apparently largely constructive, as Council members all agree on the importance of UNDOF to peace and security in the Middle East. However, there were a couple of issues that needed to be resolved. It seems some Council members, who are also troop-contributors, wanted to see more explicit operational language on the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel. The draft text has a significant amount of new and strengthened language taking this concern into account including an endorsement of the Secretary-General’s recommendation to implement additional measures to enhance UNDOF’s self-defence capabilities. In addition it also explicitly requests the Secretary-General to ensure that UNDOF has the required capacity and resources to fulfill its mandate as well as to enhance its ability to do so in a safe and secure way. Apparently there was also discussion about how the draft should refer to Syrian government forces and armed anti-government forces.
The draft resolution includes new language on enhancing the safety of UNDOF personnel but also the safety of the Observer Group Golan, responding to the fact that three military observers were detained by Syrian armed opposition elements on 15 May. The UN Truce Supervision Organization, headquartered in Jerusalem, has over twenty troop contributing countries which regularly contribute unarmed military observers to UNDOF’s Observer Group Golan.
In addition, the draft resolution also includes new language regarding alternative ports of entry and exit for secure troop rotation. This reflects rising security concerns of troop-contributors, and is likely a reference to the recent practice of UNDOF personnel no longer using the Damascus airport, instead travelling to and from the mission via Tel Aviv.
Finally, the draft resolution again requests the Secretary-General to report every 90 days (versus every six months which had been the reporting period until resolution 2084 was adopted in December 2012), signaling that Council members will continue to pay regular attention to the situation.
Regarding troop-contributors, Croatia and Japan, and more recently Austria, have taken the decision to withdraw their troops due to the security situation. It seems Fiji will replace the Croatian and Japanese contingents and will also send enough troops to partially fill the gap left by the Austrian withdrawal. The Secretary-General’s report recommended, as a matter of priority, increasing the force strength to 1,250. It seems DPKO has advised it will be able to generate the military personnel needed to meet this recommendation with remaining troops expected, possibly from a Nordic or Asian country, or a combination of both.
*The adoption of the resolution renewing UNDOF’s mandate was moved to Thursday, 27 June.