Golan Heights Consultations: Options for UNDOF’s Mandate
On Monday (20 October), Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet will brief Council members in consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). Monday’s briefing is a follow-up to a 19 September presidential statement that requested the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to update the Council on the steps necessary to maintain UNDOF’s ability to carry out its mandate while adjusting the mission’s posture to minimise risk to personnel (S/PRST/2014/19).
UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria and has been uneventful for most of its operational life. However, since March 2012 the Syrian civil war has spilled over into the mission’s area of operation and clashes between the Syrian government and armed opposition groups have continually escalated. Developments reached a crisis point on 27 August when the Al-Nusra Front overran Syrian government forces at the Quneitra crossing, detained Fijian peacekeepers and besieged Filipino peacekeepers. While all of these peacekeepers are now safe, the crossing remains outside of Syrian government control and the extremely unstable operating environment led to UNDOF’s relocating 800 peacekeepers from the Bravo (Syrian) side to the Alpha (Israeli) side of the ceasefire line in mid-September. The Philippines subsequently withdrew its 331 peacekeepers.
Force Commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha (India) last briefed at the 9 October annual Security Council meeting with force commanders (S/PV.7275). Singha said the thrust of the mission’s activities was now on the ceasefire line, or Alpha (Israeli) side. He informed the Council that, in response to the 19 September presidential statement, DPKO had sent a high-level team to assess the mission. The DPKO team also consulted with Israel and Syria on feasible options to modify how UNDOF’s mandate could be fulfilled given the challenging security environment and the relocation of the majority of personnel to the Alpha side. Council members will be interested in hearing more about the substance of these discussions, in particular the views of both governments on the possible use of new technologies, such as unmanned, unarmed aerial vehicles or satellite imagery, to carry out monitoring tasks without exposing personnel to risk. Council members understand that preliminary indications are that both parties are reluctant to grant authorisation for the use of such new technologies.
Regarding risk mitigation, Council members will want to know how the safety of peacekeepers that remain positioned on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line will be guaranteed. Peacekeepers continue to be deployed at Mt. Hermon and one other position that is extremely close to the Alpha line. Mt. Hermon is strategically important for Israel, and if there were no UNDOF security presence there, Israel might feel compelled to man the position itself. Such a possible scenario would be an especially difficult challenge to the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement and so Council members will want assurances that UNDOF can effectively sustain its operations at Mt. Hermon.
UNDOF’s former headquarters, Camp Faouar, was one of the vacated positions. Singha has said the command is now being split between a smaller element in Damascus and the larger Camp Ziouani on the Alpha side. Council members will be interested to hear on Monday how liaison tasks between these two command centers will be carried out.
The Council has always generally agreed that UNDOF contributes to stability in the region in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Its utility is particularly high now to avoid further negative security implications for the region. In this regard, most Council members are keen to maintain good relationships with troop-contributing countries to ensure UNDOF’s ability to operate effectively.
Barring any further deleterious security developments, the Council will meet again to consider UNDOF when its mandate expires in December 2014.