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UNDOF (Golan Heights)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will brief Council members in consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). No outcome is expected.

UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Its mandate, which is renewed bi-annually, expires on 30 June.

Key Recent Developments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare visit to the Golan Heights on 6 February. Netanyahu was accompanied to a hilltop observation point, some three kilometres from the 1974 ceasefire line, by his security cabinet. According to a statement by the prime minister’s office, Israel’s armed forces chief and the military commander of the northern region briefed the group on the security situation in the area. In broadcast remarks made during the visit, Netanyahu asserted that Israel is “prepared for any scenario and I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that they test us”.

On 23 January, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas was seeking to set up a military force in the Syrian Golan Heights to fire rockets at Israel. The broadcaster quoted Israeli security sources as saying that Iran had instructed Hamas to set up such a force in order to strike Israel from the north.

The 6 December 2017 report of the Secretary-General, covering the period from 10 September to 24 November, noted that during the reporting period the ceasefire between Israel and Syria was maintained, albeit in a volatile environment attributable to the ongoing conflict in Syria and notwithstanding a number of violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974.

There were three reports of spillover fire from the Bravo (Syrian) side across the ceasefire line into the Alpha (Israeli) side during the reporting period, on 18, 19 and 21 October. While open sources reported that the IDF responded to the incidents with retaliatory fire across the ceasefire line, UNDOF was unable to confirm the incidents.

According to the report, Syrian armed forces and non-state armed opposition groups engaged in exchanges of heavy weapons fire in the area of separation and the area of limitation on the Bravo side, while various armed groups, including Jabhat Fath al-Sham, which is listed as a terrorist group by the Security Council, and Jaysh Khalid Ibn al-Walid, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, continued to exchange fire in the UNDOF area of operation.

Fighting intensified on 3 November in the northern part of the area of separation and the area of limitation on the Bravo side when armed groups launched an attack involving heavy machine gun, small arms, and indirect fire from the tri-village area of Jubbata al-Khashab, Turunjah and Ufaniyah in the area of separation against pro-government forces in the vicinity of Hadar, largely inhabited by members of the Druze community. Preceding the attack, open sources reported that a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device targeted a pro-Syrian forces checkpoint in Hadar, killing nine people.

On the same day, approximately 200 civilians from Majdal Shams, which is inhabited by members of the Druze community on the Alpha side, gathered at the Israeli technical fence gate leading to UN observation post 73, reportedly in support of the Druze community in Hadar. The civilians dismantled the Israeli technical fence gate and crossed the ceasefire line. Approximately 150 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel, equipped with riot control equipment, were deployed in the area.

During the reporting period, UNDOF made progress towards the limited return to Bravo-side operations, in line with the phased UNDOF plan. Following the completion of phase one of the plan, with the re-establishment of the UNDOF presence at Camp Faouar on 14 November 2016, UNDOF continued to develop the infrastructure at Camp Faouar and steadily improve the living conditions at the camp. Phase two will involve, over a period of six to eight months, the resumption of limited patrolling of the northern part of the area of separation by the Nepalese mechanised infantry company from Camp Faouar.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The Human Rights Council will consider the Secretary-General’s report on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/HRC/37/40) and the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/HRC/37/43), during its 37th session in March.

Key Issues and Options

Considering the security situation in the Golan, the full return of UNDOF to the Syrian side seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. This is a significant issue in as much as it constrains the mission’s ability to carry out its monitoring tasks.

An ongoing issue for the Council is the violation of the ceasefire on numerous occasions, including the presence of Syrian heavy weapons in the area of separation monitored by UNDOF and Syrian and Israeli airstrikes. No military forces other than those of UNDOF are allowed in the area of separation.

The Council is, however, rather limited in its options for UNDOF. It was established as a Syria-based mission, and how it operates, including the use of enhanced equipment or new technologies, is subject to the disengagement agreement. Any changes require agreement by Israel and Syria, which is unlikely, as is any outcome in March.

Council and Wider Dynamics

There is general agreement within the Council that UNDOF contributes to stability in the region given the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation to the Alpha side of the ceasefire line. However, the mission’s liaison function continues to be considered important in avoiding further negative developments in the region.

Israel and Syria value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission return to the Bravo side. However, the security situation on the Syrian side is still not conducive to full redeployment of UNDOF troops. Council members continue to support the eventual complete return of UNDOF to the Bravo side but are mindful that this would require a favourable security environment, which is crucial for maintaining the confidence of troop-contributing countries.

Since June 2012, Russia and the US have been the co-penholders on resolutions renewing UNDOF.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS

Security Council Resolutions
21 December 2017 S/RES/2394 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNDOF until 30 June 2018.
Secretary-General's Reports
6 December 2017 S/2017/1024 This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF for the period of 10 September to 24 November 2017.

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