United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)

International Operation Name: United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)

International Operation Dates:  31 May 1974 – Present

Mandating Organization: United Nations

Region Name:  Middle East

Location:  Syria

Canadian Operation Name:

Operation DANACA

Operation GLADIUS

Canadian Operation Dates:

1974/06/03 – 2006/03/24

2006/03/24 – present

Mission Mandate:

United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established by Security Council resolution 350 (1974) of 31 May 1974 to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, to supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces, and to supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as provided in the Agreement on Disengagement.

Mission Notes: 

On 6 October 1973, the Yom Kippur War started when Egypt and Syria, in a coordinated attack effort supported by troops of other Arab nations, attacked Israel. After initial setbacks, Israel was able to regain lost ground. Along the Syrian border, Israel was able to retake the Golan Heights and captured additional Syrian territory beyond that taken in the Six Day War of 1967. Diplomatic activity was intense during the conflict, with the possibility of a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union. A cease-fire was accepted by Israel and Syria, taking effect on this front on 22 October (26 October along the Egyptian front).

In response to the cease-fire, the United Nations set-up temporary observation posts for military observers from the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO). Tensions remained high and there were continuous violations of the cease-fire. These involved artillery, armour, mortar, rockets and automatic weapons fire. The UNTSO observers were able to re-establish the cease-fire in each case. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was able to negotiate an Agreement on Disengagement between Israel and Syria, the signing of which took place on 31 May 1974.

The United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim had been kept informed of the progress of the talks in Geneva. On 30 May he provided the Security Council with the text of the Agreement, and its Protocol, which called for a United Nations force to supervise the implementation of the Agreement. On 31 May, the Security Council passed resolution 350, which called for the creation of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

UNDOF was set up with a six-month mandate, subject to concurrence from the Security Council, Israel and Syria. Its role was to supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces, and then maintain the cease-fire, and supervise the Agreement and Protocol with respect to the areas of limitation and separation. UNDOF personnel were to comply with Syrian laws and regulations and not hamper the local Syrian civil authorities. UNDOF personnel were to enjoy freedom of movement and communication, and were only permitted to carry the firearms necessary for self-defence.

The Agreement established an area of separation and an area of limitation. The former is a demilitarized zone controlled by UNDOF, approximately 80 km long and from one wide in the south the to eight km wide in the north. The latter is an area of Israeli or Syrian territory in which the number and type of military personnel and equipment is restricted. The Agreement also allows Syrian civilians to return to their homes in the area of separation.

The initial personnel for UNDOF started to arrive on 3 June 1974. These were the Austrian and Peruvian infantry battalions from UNEF II, the United Nations Emergency Force II that had been established in the Sinai to supervise the cease-fire there. They were followed the next day by elements drawn from the Canadian and Polish logistics units of UNEF II. By 16 June, UNDOF had 1,218 personnel.

Once in place, UNDOF’s observers were quickly employed observing the disengagement of the two forces, which occurred between 14 and 27 June. From 25 to 27 June, 500 Syrian soldiers cleared mines in the area of separation, an operation that required and was given Israeli approval. Unfortunately, four Austrian soldiers had been killed on 25 June when their vehicle ran over a land mine.

Once these operations were complete, UNDOF undertook the delineation and marking of the borders to the area of separation. This was completed by July 1974. Checkpoints and observation posts were also established, with two base camps, one on either side of the area of separation.

To carry out its mandate, UNDOF uses the observation posts as well as foot and mobile patrols. Even though there have been periodic mine-clearing operations, the threat from mines remains high. Patrols therefore keep to established paths and roads. Fortnightly inspections are also conducted of each side’s military forces in the area of limitation.

UNDOF has also assisted in humanitarian operations. From time- to- time UNDOF has arranged the transfer of prisoners of war and the bodies of war dead between Israel and Syria. For a period from 1976 to 1982 UNDOF supervised the periodic reunion of Druze families who were separated by the border running through the area of separation. The reunions occurred in the village of Majdel Chams in the area of separation.

Although there have been some major incidents, resulting in casualties to civilians in the area of separation, and involving Syrian personnel laying mines in the area, UNDOF has been successful in resolving problems along the border between Israel and Syria. There have been occasional restrictions placed on UNDOF’s operations by both sides; however, these have not seriously hindered UNDOF’s effectiveness.

The mandate of UNDOF has since been renewed every six months. UNDOF’s membership and strength have undergone a few changes since the original deployment. In July 1975, the Peruvian contingent was withdrawn, replaced by an Iranian contingent. The Iranians in turn withdrew and were replaced by a Finnish contingent in March 1979. In December 1993, the Polish logistics contingent and the Finnish infantry battalion were withdrawn. A Polish infantry battalion replaced the Finns and the Canadian logistics contingent was strengthened. A transport platoon from Japan joined UNDOF in February 1996, while Slovak soldiers began to be incorporated into the Austrian battalion in the late 1990s. Observers from UNTSO are also attached to UNDOF.

UNDOF’s overall strength was reduced by 15 percent in all units in 1992, and consisted of 1,054 observers in March 1996: 463 Austrians, 358 Polish, 188 Canadian and 45 Japanese. In 1999, the Austrians had reduced to 393, but were complemented by the addition of 70 Slovak personnel. Infantry personnel from Nepal also participate in UNDOF. There are also four UNTSO observers attached to UNDOF and another 85 assisting, but belonging to UNTSO’s Observer Group Golan.

Operation DANACA (3 June 1974 – 24 March 2006)

The Canadian contribution to UNDOF commenced on 3 June 1974 when a 40-vehicle convoy left the Sinai and drove through Israel to the Golan Heights. They set up in camp near the Syrian town of Kuneitra in the area of separation, in a former Syrian military camp that had been a French Foreign Legion camp in the 1920s. Their new home was initially nicknamed Camp Roofless by the Canadians, mainly because all buildings except one had been made roofless, as a result of the 1967 and 1973 wars. Camp Ziouani, as it became officially known, had to be cleared of unexploded ordnance before it could be used.

The Canadian contingent was initially a detached company from 73 Service Battalion from UNEF. As a result, the Canadian contingent had the same operation name as that of the Canadian contingent in UNEF – Op DANACA. This UNDOF detachment was under the technical and administrative control of a UNEF unit. On 8 June 1977, the Canadian UNDOF detachment gained its technical and operational independence, becoming the Canadian Logistics Company (CANLOG) and reporting to UNDOF headquarters. Administrative control for Canadian issues remained with the Canadian Contingent Administrative Unit in Ismailia until 1979, when UNEF was disbanded. Thereafter CANLOG reported to the Canadian Contingent Commander UNDOF and maintained the name Op DANACA.

The Canadians, along with the Polish logistics contingent (POLLOG), provided logistical support to UNDOF. UNDOF’s infantry battalions are responsible for minor repairs of their own vehicles and equipment (first-line maintenance). While the POLLOG was part of UNDOF, they provided second-line maintenance for Soviet-origin equipment, while CANLOG provided this service for western-origin. With the withdrawal of POLLOG, Canada took over all second-line maintenance functions.

The Canadian contingent has been responsible for the requisitioning, storage and distribution of all UN supplied items, furniture and office equipment, construction materials and UN-supplied clothing. This includes purchasing and supplying rations to all UNDOF contingents.

Canada also provides communications personnel (a Signals Troop) and facilities to the various UNDOF detachments. The 28 personnel provide not only the radio communications, but also operate the UNDOF telephone system. For the Canadian contingent, the Signals Troop provides communications back to Canada, as well as e-mail services. Sixteen of Canada’s personnel serve in UNDOF headquarters, primarily in the logistics section.

Initially, Canada provided second-line transport in Israel. Poland conducted the same service in Syria. POLLOG personnel could not enter Israel, as Poland did not recognize Israel at that time. With the withdrawal of the POLLOG, Canada took over all transport duties until the arrival of the Japanese contingent (JAPCON), who took over the transport and heavy equipment functions.

The Canadian contingent UNDOF is also responsible for providing support to the Canadian personnel serving with UNTSO. Canadian UNTSO personnel report to Camp Ziouani for in-clearances and briefings before reporting to UNTSO headquarters and operational deployment with UNTSO.

Canada’s initial contribution to UNDOF was 226 personnel. This was scaled back to 186, as UNDOF has been reduced in size in 1992 and 1993. There was a slight increase in strength with the withdrawal of POLLOG. Personnel for Op DANACA are selected from units across Canada for a six-month deployment. Half of the contingent is rotated every three months. Four Canadian personnel have died while on UNDOF service.

Op DANACA came to an end on 24 March 2006. The Government of Canada had conducted a comprehensive review of its overseas operations and decided to reduce its participation once a suitable replacement nation could be found. India agreed to replace the Canadian UNDOF contingent.

Canada’s commitment to UNDOF did not, however, end with the Op DANACA. Initially four officers remained in staff positions with UNDOF. This was reduced to two in July 2006, the officers filling the positions of Military Assistant to the UN Commander and Chief of Personnel. This new CF operation was named Operation GLADIUS, and commenced on 24 March 2006.



24 March 2006
Camp Ziouani, Golan Heights, United Nations Disengagement
Observer Force (UNDOF) mission area

The Canadian troops are leaded off the parade square at Camp Ziouani by Lieutenant Colonel (LCol) Sylvain Mongeon, after the transfer of Command Authority ceremony. The Indian Army replaces the Canadian Forces in the Golan Heights. Operation DANACA, was part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNZDOF) since its inception in 1974. More than 12,000 Canadian Forces members deployed to the mission in the Golan Heights region over 32 years. 

Photo by Warrant Officer Gerry Pilote, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

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