The United States said Wednesday the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights has “a vital role to play in preserving stability between Israel and Syria,” an assurance that the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau won’t affect its operation.
Acting US Ambassador Jonathan Cohen told an emergency meeting of the Security Council the force’s mandate to ensure that the area of separation between Syria and Israel “is a buffer zone free from any military presence or activities” is of “critical strategic and security importance” to Israel, and “can contribute to the stability of the entire Middle East.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the strategic plateau in 1981. President Donald Trump’s proclamation that the US recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of Israel on Monday raised questions about the future of the peacekeeping force, known as UNDOF, after its mandate expires on June 30.
Mr. Cohen told an emergency meeting of the Security Council late Wednesday that US recognition that the Golan Heights are part of Israel doesn’t affect the 1974 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria officially ending the 1973 Mideast war, “nor do we believe that it undermines UNDOF’s mandate in any way.”
The open meeting was held at Syria’s request, and speaker after speaker opposed Mr. Trump’s recognition and 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights. Many cited a December 1981 Security Council resolution that called Israel’s annexation “null and void and without international legal effect.”
Mr. Cohen strongly criticised “the daily presence of the Syrian armed forces” in the area of separation, where UNDOF is the only military force allowed, calling their presence a violation of the 1974 cease-fire agreement.
The United States calls on Russia, Syria’s close ally, to use its influence with President Bashar Assad “to compel the Syrian forces to uphold their commitment” to the cease-fire agreement “and immediately withdraw from the area of separation,” he said.
Mr. Cohen said the U.S. is also “alarmed” at reports of Hezbollah fighters in the area, “which further heightens the potential for hostilities.” “There is no chance for peace between Syria and Israel if Hezbollah is present in the area of separation,” he said.
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo expressed hope Wednesday that “the recent developments will not be used as an excuse by anyone to pursue actions that could undermine the relative stability of the situation on Golan and beyond.” She reiterated that the United Nations’ position remains unchanged — it adheres to all Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.