The UN Truce Supervision Organization
In May 1948, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 50, which authorized the establishment the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) to supervise armistice agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the wake of the 1948 war. UNTSO is the UN’s first established and longest-running peacekeeping mission.
The Mission's mandate includes:
• Monitoring ceasefires;
• Supervising armistice agreements;
• Preventing isolated incidents from escalating; and
• Assisting other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.
Headquartered in Jerusalem, the UNTSO operates in five Middle Eastern countries—Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. UNTSO's military observers and administrative staff support the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights. The mission also provides a monitoring team to patrol the Sinai in Egypt and Israel, and maintains liaison offices in Beirut, Lebanon (UNLOB), and Damascus, Syria (UNLOD).
On May 14, 1948, the British relinquished their mandate over Palestine and the State of Israel was declared. Palestinian Arabs and Arab States launched attacks against Israel the next day. Read more || Hide text
Later that month, the UN Security Council established UNTSO as the UN’s first peacekeeping mission to help the UN mediate and the Truce Commission manage the situation in Israel. Following 1949, UNTSO military observers stayed on to supervise the Armistice Agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors.UNTSO’s activities are now spread over five States: Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. UNTSO’s role evolved following the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973. Today, UNTSO keeps isolated incidents from escalating by acting as liaison between hostile parties.
As the conflict in Syria continues, the safety of peacekeepers are increasingly compromised. UN military observers encounter gunfire occasionally, and in October 2012, artillery fired by Syrian armed forces impacted close to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) headquarters. Armed Syrian troops also threatened UNDOF Peacekeepers at gunpoint in September and November 2012. In March 2013, 21 Peacekeepers serving in UNDOF were detained by Syrian opposition fighters in the Syrian area of limitation. After three days of captivity and negotiations between the UN and rebel forces, the 21 Filipino Peacekeepers were released in Jordan. Again, in May four peacekeepers were also captured and released.
How This Affects American Interests
- Promotes Regional Stability: UNTSO Observer Groups are based in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. Each of these groups has different goals, but the overarching mission remains to observe and report any violations of ceasefires and peace agreements and any activities that represent a threat to international peace and security in the region. The international community recognizes UNTSO's significant role in monitoring ceasefires, supervising armistice agreements, and preventing isolated incidents from escalating. More than 20 nations including Australia, Chile, Denmark, France, Italy, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the U.S. contribute to UNTSO's military personnel. Their cooperation with other peacekeeping operations makes them a valuable asset in the region. When conflict arose in 2006, for example, UNTSO immediately dispatched military observers to assist UNIFIL in implementing their mandate to patrol the Israel-Lebanon border. UNTSO’s readiness and strategic location afford it the capacity to strengthen peacekeeping efforts across the Middle East.
- Supports Conflict Resolution: UNTSO’s continued presence demonstrates the international community's interest in achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. UNTSO facilitates conflict resolution, provides humanitarian assistance (especially on the Israel-Lebanon border), and supports regional security in highly volatile areas. This assistance reinforces U.S. diplomatic efforts to reach a comprehensive peace agreement and ensure regional stability.
- Provides A Neutral Force: The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) forces work with UNTSO both provide a crucial neutral force in the area. UNTSO, UNIFIL, and UNDOF work together to maintain ceasefires and monitor agreements between a variety of countries in the Middle East. UNDOF assists in border demarcation and works with international non-governmental organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide vital services to civilians. UNFIL provides assistance in clearing landmines in Lebanon and UNIFIL’s arrangements with the Lebanese Armed Forces, which include joint capability exercises and coordinating hundreds of daily foot and vehicle patrols, have contributed to the current state of relatively low violence along the Blue Line and south of the Litani River.
- Current Syria Crisis: Heavy fighting between Syrian forces and members of the opposition spilled over into the area of separation between Syria and Israel from September to November 2012, including large ground offensives by 1700 Syrian forces. Artillery fire from both Israeli Defense Force and Syrian forces breached the ceasefire line on a number of occasions in September and November 2012, with Syrian officials reporting two fatalities in mid-November. Conflict in the area of separation has also affected civilians.
As of 2013, the Syrian crisis has threatened the peace and stability of the region. The conflict not only has contributed to both Israeli and Syrian tensions regarding repeated violations by both parties of the Area of Separation, but has led to violence toward the Lebanese on the part of the Syrian Armed Forces. Political and civil instability has risen in Lebanon due to disagreement regarding the Syrian crisis.
- Disparities in Golan Heights: Nearly 20,000 Israeli settlers live alongside 23,000 Druze in the Golan Heights area. The coexistent populations have opposing outlooks on the future status of the Golan Heights, which could lead to increased tension and instability. Despite these disparities, the Druze and Israelis in this region are generally cooperative and nonviolent.
- Tensions Continue in the Middle East: The UNTSO mission continues due to the regional tensions undermining the peace processes necessary to make the Middle East a safe and stable place. Recent civil unrest in Egypt and Syria bring to light their governments’ histories of human rights violations and other abuses; UNTSO helps to report these activities as it becomes aware of them. As countries in the Middle East and neighboring regions struggle with popular uprisings, regime change, and internecine disputes—and as the wake of the Arab Spring spreads to already unstable nations—UNTSO must continue to vigilantly play its observer role.
- Increase in Number of Refugees: Protracted conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has led to a massive exodus of Palestinian refugees, with over 400,000 living in Lebanon as of April 2013, according to the official registries of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The refugees present enormous humanitarian, socioeconomic and political challenges to Lebanon. Palestinian refugee camps along the Lebanese border area continue to suffer from insecurity, as well as poor living conditions. The UN has pushed to improve these conditions and some progress has been made.
The conflict in Syria has led to a migration of Syrian refugees to neighboring countries as well as massive internal displacement. As a result of the fighting, it is estimated that three million refugees have been displaced and are in need of humanitarian aid. Simultaneously, there is a growing risk to aid workers within Syria.
* Updated May 2013