The US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory is another sign of the ongoing collapse of the establsihed system of international relations.
The UN Disengagement Observer Force’s (UNDOF) mandate was renewed on December 21st, 2018 to June 30th, 2019. Thus, it’s peacekeeping operation in the Golan Heights continues despite the recent US move to recignize Israel’s sovereignty over this territory.
The latest UNDOF report was published on February 28th, underlying that there are on-going issues of numerous violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement of 1974 and UNDOF’s ability to implement its mandate, including the deployment of appropriate technologies as recommended.
“Given Syria’s reassertion of control over areas of separation and the reopening of the Qunaytirah crossing point, UNDOF may be getting close to an eventual full return to the Bravo side. The return of the situation to pre-2014 conditions may cause the Council to consider requesting the Secretary-General to resume a six-month reporting cycle instead of 90 days, as had been the practice until December 2012.”
The report covers a 90-day period between September 15th and November 20th.
The report noted that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to fire across the ceasefire line and into the area of separation. UNDOF personnel also continued to observe crossings by unidentified individuals between Lebanon and the Bravo (Syrian) side and from the Bravo side to the Alpha (Israeli) side on a daily basis. The individuals crossing were usually described in the report as shepherds and farmers. The provided data confirms that Israel is the aggressive party in the situation and no misconduct was noted on Syria’s side.
The most recent data provides details into the period between November 21st, 2018 and March 14th, 2019. It noted that the UNDOF peacekeeping mission could achieve little result in the area:
“On 29 November 2018, UNDOF personnel observed heavy explosions and tracer rounds of heavy and anti-aircraft machine guns in the vicinities of Turunjah, in the area of separation, and Camp Faouar. UNDOF personnel were forced to go into shelters. The Syrian authorities informed UNDOF that the military activity was associated with air defence weapons of the Syrian armed forces directed at “hostile targets”. The Israel Defense Forces informed UNDOF that they “had not engaged any targets in the Syrian Arab Republic” and that the remnants of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile had impacted an area 5 km from Camp Ziouani. An UNDOF team, accompanied by the Israel Defense Forces, visited the scene of the impact on the Alpha side (Israeli-occupied Golan) and saw remnants of an anti-aircraft missile.”
Thus, the UNDOF’s presence in the area appears to be more formal move than anything, since no peacekeeping is being established, the representatives hide in shelters and do not have any actual authority on-site.
The US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory happened on March 25th, which is in the next 90-day period. So a report elaborating on the results of the action would be presented sometime in June, prior to the expiry of the UNDOF mandate on June 30th, 2019.
The 1,000-strong force was dispatched to a buffer zone between Israel and Syria in 1974 to observe a ceasefire, and it is simply doing that – observing the breaches. It should be reminded that in the overwhelming number of cases Israel is the side that carries out any misconduct.
The US on March 27th said that it wished for the UNDOF peacekeeping force to remain in Golan Heights. US Diplomat Rodney Hunter told a Security Council meeting on the Golan that “this announcement does not affect the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, nor do we believe it undermines UNDOF’s mandate in any way.”
“UNDOF continues to have a vital role to play in preserving stability between Israel and Syria, most importantly by ensuring that the area of separation is a buffer zone free from any military presence or activities other than those of UNDOF,” he added.
The council met at Syria’s request to discuss the US decision, which Damascus said was a “flagrant violation” of UN resolutions.
In total, three UN resolutions call for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Golan Heights. Despite that, the US, the permenent UNSC member, said that the decision would bolster Israel’s security and “can contribute to the stability of the entire Middle East” by keeping Syria and its Iranian ally in check.
The EU said they will continue to view the Golan as Israeli-occupied territory and will not follow in Trump’s footsteps.
At the UNSC meeting, Israel’s Envoy Danny Danon criticized anger over the US decision:
“For 19 years, Syria used the Golan as a forward outpost against Israel, and today it’s Iran that wants to put its soldiers on the shore of the Sea of Galilee,” Danon said in a statement.
“Israel won’t allow such a thing ever, and it’s time the international community recognize the fact that the Golan will remain under Israeli sovereignty forever. The United States and Israel will stand as a united front in the face of the hypocrisy and lies.”
The US recognition of the Golan Heights creates a complicated situation in the UNSC as well, since a permanent member recognized it as Israeli territory, while all UN documents have referred to it as a Israeli-occupied territory since 1974.
It is possible also that the US decision was announced at this moment, since the UN is undergoing deep reforms. It wouldn’t be surprising if it would receive a weaker response, simply due to the changes being introduced in the world body.
At the same time, the decision is a stark reminder that international public law is collapsing, mostly due to US conduct, which is also paving the way for other countries to partake in such misconduct. One of the obvious examples of the US unanimously going against international law is the bombing of Yugoslavia.
The UN and its Security Council managed to establish a somewhat peaceful zone in the Golan Heights, but the US decision threatens it profoundly. Syria had little chance of militarily returning its own territory despite the fact that it has all legal rights to do so. But now, that is questionable, despite Syria claiming that it is prepared to employ all necessary means to take its territory back.
A military escalation in the area has also become more likely. This undermines efforts to de-escalate the Syrian conflict even further. The US already called for Syrian forces to withdrawl from the separation line, but is also unlikely to happen.
For a long period of time, the Golan Heights situation was kept balanced by a large number of internationally recognized documents and mechanisms. However, now, these mechanisms seem to be de-fact destroyed.
The US is, in essence, destroying one of the last standing “pillars of international law,” and is in fact creating a global situation in which the only means of settling conflicts is threat of military power and economic sanctions of individuals, businesses and government bodies.
It’s interesting to note that the US action actually goies in contrary to the US’ won stance twards the Crimea issue. Russia officially, and mostly formally, condemned the US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. However, in fact, Washington just created a precedent for Crimea to be recognized as an official part of Russia on the highest international level.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- After Recognizing Golan Heights As Israel, U.S. Calls On Syrian Army To Withdraw From Separation Line
- International Community Uproar Against US Recognition Of Golan Heights As Israeli Territory