March 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 March 2007
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Expected Council Action
On 12 March the Council is due to receive the quarterly report on resolution 1701, which brought about the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. Recommendations on the status of the Sheb’a Farms are also expected. A presidential statement is possible.

The International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is also expected to report in March. Following a Lebanese request, the Council will consider renewing the Commission’s mandate for one year.

Key Recent Developments
The Council adopted a presidential statement on 12 December following the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of resolution 1701. (For background see our 8 December 2006 Update.)

The last UNIIIC report was presented to the Council by Commissioner Serge Brammertz on 18 December. He noted that the investigation was approaching a sensitive and complicated phase, and that there were significant links between the Hariri murder and other bombings in Lebanon. He noted that Syria’s cooperation with the commission had been satisfactory, but that ten states had not responded to his request for cooperation.

On 5 January, Russia proposed a formal request to Brammertz for the names of countries that were not cooperating with his investigation. Most members preferred an alternate proposal, expressing readiness to assist the Commission further, leaving it to Brammertz to decide if and when to disclose names. However, Russia was reluctant to compromise, and on 22 January the Council decided to defer discussion of the draft letter.

The political impasse in Lebanon continues (please see our December 2006 Forecast for more details). In February, violence left four people dead and about 200 injured. Lebanon’s Hezbollah-led opposition recently threatened a campaign of civil disobedience.

The international tribunal for the trial of murderers of Rafik Hariri is one of the issues at the core of the crisis. On 6 February, the Lebanese government and the UN signed an agreement for the tribunal. However, ratification by the Lebanese parliament is being blocked by Nabih Berri, the Shi’a president of parliament. The next parliamentary session is scheduled for mid-March. On 16 February, Saad Hariri, the son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the current leader of the pro-government March 14 coalition, proposed that the Security Council override local objections and impose the tribunal through a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

On 25 January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended an international donors’ conference for Lebanon in Paris. Saudi Arabia, the US and France, along with forty other countries plus the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, pledged $7.6 billion in grants and soft loans to help rebuild Lebanon.

Lebanese and Israeli forces on 7 February exchanged fire across the Blue Line separating the two countries. A tripartite investigation commission, including the Lebanese and Israeli forces and UNIFIL, was set up to determine the sequence of events and whether Israeli forces crossed the Blue Line before the Lebanese army fired. The Council issued a press statement expressing concern and said it looked forward to receiving the results of the investigation.

Israel reported that the Lebanese army on 8 February intercepted a truck transporting arms east of Beirut. Israel also said that there had been other reports of arms destined for Hezbollah being smuggled from Syria to Lebanon.

The Council issued a press statement on 13 February condemning terrorist attacks on two public buses in Ain Aaleq, in northeast Beirut, which killed three people. After a request from the Lebanese prime minister, the Council agreed to allow UNIIIC to provide technical assistance to Lebanese authorities investigating these attacks (similar to the case of the November 2006 assassination of Pierre Gemayel).

On 22 February the Lebanese government asked the Security Council to extend the mandate of UNIIIC, due to expire on 15 June 2007, for up to one year.

In February, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General in Lebanon was upgraded to Special Coordinator of all UN agencies in Lebanon.
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On the Investigation Commission, the Council could respond to the UNIIIC report by:

  • renewing the UNIIIC mandate for either six months or one year;
  • expressing readiness to assist Brammertz, particularly if states are not cooperating in a satisfactory manner; and
  • deferring a decision since the mandate does not expire until June.

On the 1701 report, the Council may adopt a presidential statement. It could begin to address the broader issues of long-term stability in Lebanon as promised in resolution 1701. The statement could also respond to alleged violations of resolution 1701 in a balanced way so as to address both the 7 February “Blue Line” incident and better monitoring of the arms embargo and calling on Syria to cooperate with such monitoring efforts.

In addition, a presidential statement could respond in a preliminary way to the Secretary-General’s recommendations on the Sheb’a Farms, although it is likely that Council members may want time to consider these and a more detailed discussion in April may be possible

Measures to reinforce the arms embargo such as a sanctions committee seem unlikely at this stage in the absence of more concrete evidence.

Key Issues

  • Recommendations on the Sheb’a Farms: In its December presidential statement, the Council reminded the Secretary-General that it was looking forward to receiving recommendations on the cartographic, legal and political implications of placing the Sheb’a Farms under UN jurisdiction until border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them are fully settled. This involves determining the precise geographic scope of the Sheb’a Farms. The substantive issue the Council will have to decide is whether to request that Syria proceed to delineate its border with Lebanon on the basis of the recommendations. In addition to Syria’s position, Hezbollah’s position on the territorial definition of the Farms may become an issue. Hezbollah considers the farms Lebanese, and their occupation by Israel as the justification for their armed status. However, tactically, at this time it may not suit Hezbollah for this issue to be resolved because it would reduce the justification for operating as a militia. They may therefore raise objections. Also it is possible that Israel will have tactical objections to resolving the status of the Farms, thereby further complicating the issue.
  • Violations of the Blue Line: In addition to the 7 February incident, there is the issue of continuing reports of violations of the Blue Line by Israeli aircraft.
  • Arms Embargo: A major issue is the question of alleged movements of weapons across the Syrian-Lebanese border. For Israel, the absence of satisfactory assurances on this front is the rationale for the surveillance over-flights. The Council said in December that it was ready to adopt further measures on this aspect.
  • Monitoring the Syrian-Lebanese Border: This is a related issue and the Council may discuss progress toward reinforcing bilateral cooperation with the Lebanese army, as well as the Secretary-General’s technical evaluation of the situation along the border.
  • Israeli Prisoners: The Council is keen to hear the views of the Secretary-General on Hezbollah’s engagement on this issue.

On UNIIIC, the main issues are the Lebanese request for an extension of UNIIIC for twelve months and whether there has been progress between UNIIIC and the states previously mentioned by Brammertz as non-cooperative. Brammertz may address the cooperation issue in his report, perhaps by explaining that in all or some cases the lack of cooperation was of a technical or legal nature rather than a political one, and that he anticipates technical resolution in due course. Asking him to be more specific is likely to continue to be a sensitive issue. On the other hand, the discussion will become more complex if he advises that the non-cooperation was of a political nature or if cooperation was withheld even if it was legally possible.

Regarding the issue of the Council possibly moving to impose the tribunal under Chapter VII, some members may prefer the latter outcome, as a robust indication of support for the Lebanese government. But most members seem likely to prefer a decision giving a 12-month extension of UNIIIC as a satisfactory commitment of support to the Lebanese government at this stage.

Council Dynamics
Russia seems to be increasingly responsive to Syria’s concerns about the situation in Lebanon. It seems that Syria in January was behind the proposal to name the states that did not cooperate with the Brammertz investigation. A significant majority of members opposed this Russian initiative as they believed that the Council should not interfere in the commissioner’s work. Most members consider that naming the countries could be disruptive to the investigation.

South Africa and Indonesia seem to agree that while the Council should not override Brammertz’s judgement on this issue, it should still be possible to agree on language which asserts the importance of wide cooperation with the investigation, not only by Syria.

Panama and South Africa have expressed concern about systematically adding to UNIIIC’s tasks by asking it to assist Lebanese authorities investigating new bombings. France, on the other hand, strongly believes the Commission’s capacities should be used, since it contributes to support for stability in Lebanon.

Consensus on reinforcing the arms embargo through the creation of a sanctions committee may be hard to reach. It would be resisted by Russia.

There is much support within the Council that the issue of ratification of the tribunal should remain in the hands of the Lebanese. Hence there is reluctance about any Chapter VII initiative. Also, as the Council has always acted in response to Lebanese requests, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora would have to ask for the Council’s help. This seems unlikely at this stage as it would probably undermine any chance of negotiating a solution to the current political crisis. (The League of Arab States is hoping to mediate a political solution.)

Underlying Problems
By 14 February, thirty fatalities and 186 injuries due to mines or unexploded ordnance had been reported since the end of the conflict. (Israel’s use of cluster munitions in south Lebanon was criticised by the US on 29 January as it violated an export agreement between the two countries.)

Selected UN Documents on UNIIIC

Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1686 (15 June 2006) extended UNIIIC’s mandate by one year.
  • S/RES/1664 (29 March 2006) requested negotiation with Lebanon on a tribunal of international character.
  • S/RES/1644 (15 December 2005) authorised expanded technical assistance to Lebanon and extended UNIIIC’s mandate until 15 June 2006.
  • S/RES/1636 (31 October 2005) urged Syria to cooperate with the investigation and established sanctions against suspects in the Hariri assassination.
  • S/RES/1595 (7 April 2005) established UNIIIC.
Last UNIIIC Report
  • S/2007/90 (13 February 2007) and S/2007/91 (15 February 2007) was an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council authorising the extension of UNIIIC’s technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in the investigation of the Ain Aaleq bombings.

Selected UN Documents on Implementation of Resolution 1701

Security Council Resolution
  • S/RES/1701 (11 August 2006) called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, authorised a reinforcement of UNIFIL and extended the mandate until 31 August 2007.
Last Presidential Statement
  • S/PRST/2006/52 (12 December 2006) welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701 and reiterated its support for the current Lebanese government.
Last Report of the Secretary-General on Resolution 1701
  • S/2007/85 (8 February 2007) and S/2007/86 (13 February 2007) was an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council on the new appointment of Geir Pedersen as the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon.
  • S/2007/82 (12 February 2007) was a letter from Lebanon stating that Israel had violated the Blue Line on 7 February, which triggered the Lebanese army to open fire.
  • S/2007/69 (8 February 2007) was a letter from Israel stating that on 7 February the Israeli military had been operating on Israeli territory and it had returned fire in legitimate defence.
  • S/2007/63 (7 February 2007) was a letter from Lebanon transmitting a statistical table of Israeli violations of Lebanese territory in January 2007.

Other Relevant Facts

UNIIIC Chief Commissioner
Serge Brammertz (Belgium)
Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon
Geir O. Pedersen (Norway)
UNIFIL Force Commander
Major-General Claudio Graziano (Italy)
Size and Composition of UNIFIL
  • Authorized: 15,000 troops
  • Current (as of 16 February 2007): 12,429 military personnel, including 178 staff officers, 10,479 troops and 1,772 maritime task force
  • Troop-contributing countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Nepal, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, Sweden and Turkey
Cost (approved budget)
Commitment authority: 1 July 2006 – 31 March 2007: $350.87 million (budget not yet approved)

Useful Additional Sources

  • Lebanon in Limbo, Eben Kaplan, Council on Foreign Relations, 5 February 2007
  • Mine Action Co-ordination Centre South Lebanon website

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