August 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 July 2006
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Lebanon

Expected Council Action
At press time, the Council is considering a one-month technical rollover of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in order to provide some time either to reconfigure UNIFIL or replace it with a stronger force.

The Council will continue to address the wider issue in early August, including:

  • the humanitarian situation;
  • conditions to establish a cessation of hostilities (including perhaps the mandate for a stabilisation force and implementation of resolution 1559);
  • the future of UN forces in Lebanon, given that the rollover of the UNIFIL mandate will expire in August; and
  • a political framework for long term peace.

Further discussion of the related events in Gaza is also expected as some delegations are likely to want to emphasise the linkages between the two situations (and also their assessments of the roles of Syria and Iran). The latter could bring discussion of the wider regional dimension including the Sheb’a Farms and the Golan, and implementation of resolutions 242 and 338, onto the table.

Recent Developments
On 25 June, Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier and killed two others. They demanded in exchange the release of Palestinian prisoners. Israel refused to negotiate, launched a military operation in Gaza in order to retrieve the soldier and arrested Palestinian leaders.

On 13 July, the Council debated a draft resolution (S/2006/508) sponsored by Qatar, but the US vetoed it, wanting more time to negotiate the text because it did not reflect important new developments (i.e. the emerging crisis in Lebanon), and because the draft was too “unbalanced”.

On 12 July, the south Lebanon based militia Hezbollah crossed the Blue Line, killed a number of Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two. Hezbollah then followed Hamas by announcing that the soldiers were being held hostage against the release of various prisoners detained in Israel. This latter action, widely recognised as a war crime, was denounced almost universally, including by the Secretary-General.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the Hezbollah actions as “an act of war”. Israel’s right to respond in self-defence was recognised by many members of the international community. An air and sea blockade was imposed on Lebanon complicating the evacuation of many thousands of foreign nationals, particularly following attacks on the Beirut airport.

The Government of Lebanon announced that it had been unaware of Hezbollah’s plans and did not endorse them.

Israeli planes and artillery have now bombarded Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon and elsewhere for 14 days. But because Hezbollah operates within civilian areas, there have been large numbers of civilian casualties.

Israeli troops have crossed into Lebanon and fierce ground fighting is underway. An Israeli Minister has said that all civilians should evacuate southern Lebanon as it intends to intensify its aerial bombardment.

Extensive Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israeli towns continue with many civilian casualties. Hezbollah has made no denial of the fact that its rockets are targeting civilians.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has warned both sides that the impact on civilians may constitute war crimes.

On 12 July, Kofi Annan sent a mission to the Middle East.

A meeting of the Security Council was held on 14 July. The Council had a public briefing from senior Secretariat officials and heard statements from Lebanon and Israel.

Israel gave three conditions for a cessation of hostilities:

  • the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers;
  • the cessation of rocket attacks into Israel;
  • the full implementation of Council resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including the disarmament of Hezbollah and the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rejected those conditions.

The League of Arab States held an emergency summit meeting in Cairo on 15 July. There are media reports that several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and some Persian Gulf states find Hezbollah’s action “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible”. But as the crisis has deepened the mood in Arab states has swung increasingly against Israel. The Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called on the Security Council to tackle the crisis. He also stated that the conditions imposed by Israel for a ceasefire were impossible to meet.

The G8 countries, meeting in Saint Petersburg, issued a statement on the Middle East on 17 July:

  • blaming Hamas and Hezbollah for triggering the crisis;
  • recognising Israel’s right of self-defence;
  • calling on Israel to exercise utmost restraint, avoid civilian casualties and refrain from destabilising the Lebanese government;
  • calling for a cessation of violence; and
  • urging the UN to implement resolutions 1559 and 1680.

However, G8 countries were divided over some aspects of the issue, with France, Russia and Italy believing that some of Israel’s actions are disproportionate. The US rejected this analysis and defended Israel’s right to self-defence.

At the margins of the G8 summit, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair developed the idea of an international stabilisation force in Lebanon as a part of a ceasefire package.

On 20 July, Kofi Annan briefed the Council and proposed a package of actions to stop the fighting. He also qualified Israel’s use of force as “excessive” but recognised that there were serious obstacles to reaching a ceasefire, or even to diminishing the violence quickly.

The Council on 21 July held a public meeting at which many UN members expressed their concerns. Initial proposals for reaching a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire had been circulated by France, but the Council failed to adopt any text due to US reluctance to agree to any language referring to an immediate ceasefire.

On 21 July the Secretary-General advised the Council that the mandate of UNIFIL could not be fulfilled anymore. He recommended a one month technical rollover to allow the Council to decide on what to do with the force.

On 24 July, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Lebanon and Israel.

On 25 July, four UN observers were killed by an Israeli attack. Kofi Annan expressed shock over what he called an “apparently deliberate targeting” on the UN Observer post in southern Lebanon and called for a joint UN-Israeli investigation. Israel has apologised to the UN and promised an investigation but denied that the attack was deliberate. The Council adopted a presidential statement on 27 July expressing deep shock and distress.

On 26 July, a high-level meeting was convened in Rome, attended by 15 countries. The conference failed to call for a cessation of hostilities (see Final Declaration), but agreed on the urgent need to work towards a ceasefire and a framework for a lasting solution. They also decided to work urgently on the mandate for a UN authorised force.

On 26 July, the Secretary-General requested the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to convene a meeting of potential troop contributors.

At press time, at least 433 people, mostly civilians, have died in Lebanon and 51 in Israel. More than 500,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon.

Key Issues
The first issue will be whether the Council can agree on s ceasefire, or even a pause to permit evacuations of refugees and humanitarian access perhaps along with some understandings on protected corridors.

An important issue will be the concept of operations for an international force. There are several subsidiary issues.

  • Should it be a UN force? The UN has particular strengths in peacekeeping, where the parties consent to the mandate, but is less experienced in managing enforcement operations. Nevertheless, if the mandate will require enforcement of resolution 1559, and there is a real risk that this will be contested with military force by Hezbollah, there will be pressure (including from Israel) for the operation to be conducted by a coalition under a Chapter VII mandate. However, others including Lebanon and regional neighbours seem likely to prefer a UN force. A related matter is funding. Under a coalition, troop contributors have to meet all their own costs, meaning that it will be very difficult for any but developed countries to participate.
  • Who should participate? In the current situation participation by troops from moderate Muslim countries could be a very important balancing factor. Breadth of participation may therefore become an important political condition for brokering any eventual package.
  • A major issue is the timing. Without an associated commitment to some form of ceasefire, it is highly unlikely that the Council will accept the deployment of a force. A related issue is whether some form of de-escalation can be agreed as an interim measure.
  • While a mandate requiring implementation of resolution 1559 may be the key to unlocking agreement by Israel on a ceasefire, Hezbollah may prefer the status quo to continue for quite some time rather than accepting that an international force should be empowered to disarm it.
  • The Lebanese government’s willingness and capacity to implement resolution 1559 will also be an issue.

A further issue for the Council is whether the Israel/Lebanon matter can or should be separated from the situation in Gaza. It is the view of some that these issues are intimately linked and that the Council should adopt a holistic approach to the current situation.

Finally, in the elaboration of a political framework, the issue of the wider regional context, including the Golan and resolution 242 seems likely to be raised.

Council Dynamics
Council members are divided.

  • Delegations such as the US are unwilling to take action which would undercut Israel’s right to self-defence.
  • Most other Council members seem to be willing to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
    However, there is a consensus on the necessity to have, in the long run, a full implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1680.

There is also a wide consensus on the growing risks to civilians and civilian infrastructure and for wider escalation of the situation. But there are still divergences between Council members on the merits of the Council taking interim action-of an essentially declaratory nature-as opposed to waiting until it is in a position to adopt a resolution on a lasting solution.

The US has positioned itself in support of Israel, refusing to support a cessation of hostilities. It also seems that the US would want to have the Council recognise Israel’s right to self-defence and insist on an effective plan for the implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1680 as a condition for a ceasefire. Also, the US believes that an international force in south Lebanon must be empowered to combat Hezbollah if necessary. Finally, the US wants recognition of the direct link between Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah and the release of all three Israeli soldiers.

France is pressing to start discussions in the first week of August on a draft resolution looking towards a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire. France has circulated a non-paper that includes:

  • a call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint;
  • a condemnation of the extremist forces that are destabilising the region;
  • a call for a ceasefire with the following conditions (1) the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers (2) the implementation of resolutions 425, 426, 1559 and 1680 including the disarming and disbanding of all militias in Lebanon (3) support to the Lebanese government to deploy its authority over the whole Lebanese territory and (4) respect of the Blue Line;
  • expression of readiness to explore the possibility of a reinforced international security and monitoring presence in Lebanon.

At the Rome meeting, France also proposed a memorandum including further details on a political agreement and diplomatic steps, which will provide the basis for the draft resolution.

Frustrations are building among many Council members at the Council’s inability to act.

UN Documents

 Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/2006/508 (12 July 2006) was the Qatar-sponsored draft resolution on the situation in Gaza, vetoed by the US.
  • S/RES/1680 (17 May 2006) encouraged Syria to respond positively to the Lebanese request to delineate their common border and called for further efforts to disband and disarm Hezbollah and to restore fully the Lebanese Government’s control over all Lebanese territory.
  • S/RES/1655 (31 January 2006) extended the UNIFIL mandate to 31 July 2006.
  • S/RES/1559 (2 September 2004) urged Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarming and disbanding of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.
  • S/RES/426 (19 March 1978) approved the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 425.
  • S/RES/425 (19 March 1978) called for strict respect for the international integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon, urged Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory, and established UNIFIL.
 Selected Presidential Statements
  • S/PRST/2006/34 (27 July 2006) expressed shock and distress at the killing of four UN observers in South Lebanon
  • S/PRST/2006/3 (23 January 2006) welcomed the second report on implementation of resolution 1559.
  • S/PRST/2005/17 (4 May 2005) welcomed the first report on implementation of resolution 1559.
  • S/PRST/2004/36 (19 October 2004) requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council every six months on implementation of resolution 1559.
  • S/PRST/2000/21 (18 June 2000) recognised that Israel withdrew from all of Lebanese territory.
 Selected Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2006/560 (21 July 2006) was the latest report on UNIFIL.
  • S/2000/590 and Corr.1 (16 June 2000) concluded that Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon.
 Reports on Implementation of Resolution 1559
  • S/2006/248 (19 April 2006) Third semi-annual report
  • S/2005/673 (26 October 2005) Second semi-annual report
  • S/2005/272 (29 April 2005) First semi-annual report
  • S/2004/777 (1 October 2004) report of the Secretary-General pursuant to resolution 1559

Full forecast