Expected Council Action
In June, recommendations from the Secretary-General on improved monitoring of the Syria-Lebanon border and a report on implementation of resolution 1701 are expected to be discussed. In addition, the issue of Sheb’a Farms is likely to be high on the agenda. Recommendations are expected in the 1701 report, together with a geographical definition of the area. The Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team (LIBAT) was delayed, and it is possible that as a result consultations on this issue will need to be deferred until July.
Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel briefed the Council on 2 May after his visit to Lebanon. His assessment was that a political solution was unlikely, and that the UN should consider other options since several suspects are in detention awaiting trial and further delays were detrimental to the rule of law and the efficacy of the current investigation. He also noted that all parliamentary leaders have supported the tribunal. (However, clearly some were opposed to it being imposed by the Security Council.)
On 14 May Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting that the Council take binding action to establish the tribunal. The next day, the Secretary-General said all diplomatic efforts had been exhausted and that the Council should “take necessary action.”
On 15 May Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president, Émile Lahoud, reiterated what he had already said in a similar letter to the Secretary-General on 5 February, that approval of the tribunal by the Council would override Lebanese constitutional mechanisms and would contribute to further destabilising Lebanon.
The Syrian government said that the tribunal should enter into force only with the consent of all Lebanese parties.
The Council adopted on 30 May a resolution sponsored by Belgium, Italy, France, Slovakia, the UK and the US under Chapter VII bringing into force on 10 June the special tribunal to try, under Lebanese criminal law, the alleged murderers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others. The resolution applied the terms of the agreement signed between the UN and Lebanon, but not ratified due to the parliamentary impasse in Beirut. There were five abstentions (China, Indonesia, Qatar, Russia and South Africa).
The fifth report on implementation of resolution 1559, issued on 7 May, noted that:
there was no progress in the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon;
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to reactivate the Border Committee to delineate the border with Lebanon, but demarcation in the Sheb’a Farms area would only follow an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights;
Israeli overflights continued in violation of Lebanese sovereignty, as well as Israel’s presence in the Ghajar village;
there were still detailed and substantial reports from Israel and other states of regular illegal transfers of arms across the Syrian-Lebanese border;
there was a growing threat from extremist Islamist groups to the UN presence in Lebanon;
there was no progress on disbanding and disarming militias; and
media speculation that Lebanese groups were acquiring weapons which could actually accelerate a domestic arms race.
The Council was to hold consultations on this report before the end of May and at time of writing was expected to adopt a presidential statement.
In Lebanon, the presidential election set for 25 September has become a focus of attention. The six-year term of President Lahoud ended in September 2004 but was renewed without election for three years under Syrian pressure.
Since 20 May, the Lebanese army has been clashing with militants from Fatah al-Islam, a pro-Syrian Islamist group around the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli, after the militants allegedly attacked army posts at the camp. Thousands of refugees fled the fighting, many civilians were killed and humanitarian assistance was hampered by shellings. The Council adopted a press statement on 23 May condemning the attacks by the militants on the Lebanese Armed Forces, saying they constitute “an unacceptable attack on Lebanon’s stability, security and sovereignty”. The Council also underlined the need to assist the Palestinian refugees.
The Council could decide to combine elements relating to the 1559, 1701 and LIBAT reports into one single decision, or could address them separately, depending on when the individual reports are available.
On Sheb’a Farms, action will depend in part on whether the Secretary-General actually provides a geographical definition of the area as well as recommendations on the political and legal options.
The Council can adopt a soft approach and request the Secretary-General to provide details on the next steps, while urging Syria to finalise an agreement with Lebanon bilaterally. Or the Council could adopt a more proactive approach which could consist of endorsing the Lebanese government’s seven-point plan and perhaps placing Sheb’a Farms under interim UN jurisdiction.
If more time is needed to complete the cartographical work, the Council could note the progress achieved, invite all parties to cooperate with the cartographer, and set a target date for completion of work.
On the Syria/Lebanon border, the Council could adopt LIBAT’s recommendations on measures and assistance strategies aimed at enhancing border monitoring. A call for more bilateral assistance to the Lebanese is a likely option. A further option, in light of the increasing arms race in Lebanon, could be to empower the 1636 Sanctions Committee to play a role, perhaps assisted by an expert panel, to help verify issues regarding movements of arms across the Syrian-Lebanese border.
A related-and balancing option-would be to take action regarding Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace or even call on Israel to stop them.
Finally, in order to help keep the momentum on the 1559 and 1701 processes, the Council could reinvigorate the Secretary-General’s role, especially on the long-term peace process and the issue of the abducted Israeli prisoners.
A critical issue is how to promote a return to a consensual political framework, reflected in the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war.
A related issue is whether the Council can salvage the political process initiated by resolution 1701, essentially by providing strategic guidance to the parties and to the UN Secretariat to remain engaged on all Lebanese issues.
Sheb’a Farms: It is not clear yet whether the Secretary-General will provide in June a detailed geographical definition of the area. Further cartographical work may be necessary. If a definition is provided, a logical issue is whether to engage with Lebanon, Syria and Israel with a view of achieving at least provisionally agreed demarcation and implementing Siniora’s seven-point plan. An issue for Lebanon is that it may have to agree to defer actual control over the Farms in the immediate future. An issue for Syria would be to accept solving the Sheb’a Farms issue independently from the rest of the Golan. For Israel, the issue would be to withdraw from the Farms, most probably in exchange for security guarantees (and probably involving UNIFIL’s presence). At this stage, the issue for the Council is whether it is ready to encourage the Secretary-General to explore such options.
Cross border weapons transfers are still a major issue. Disarmament of militias as envisaged in resolution 1701 would most probably end the alleged arms race, but it seems to be related to progress in the inter-Lebanese political process.
Abducted Israeli Soldiers: This remains an important issue because their release might help remove one of Israel’s justifications for remaining in Sheb’a Farms and for continuing violations of Lebanese airspace.
Border Control: The issue is now to provide technical assistance to the Lebanese army stationed along the border with Syria to enhance border security. Without evidence of weapons transfers, it remains difficult for the Council to adopt additional measures reinforcing the embargo.
Disagreements arose during May on the issue of the tribunal. Although there was consensus on the desirability of the entry into force of the tribunal, some members-China, Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Russia, Qatar and South Africa-were concerned that imposing it via the Council may be counter-productive and seemed to prefer to give the diplomatic option another chance. The inclusion of a provision in the Chapter VII resolution allowing some extra time before the tribunal enters into force (a so-called “sunrise clause”) seems to have helped to reduce these concerns somewhat.
The P3 (France, UK and the US) remained committed to supporting the Lebanese government. They accepted Prime Minister Siniora’s judgement-and that of the Secretary-General-that all diplomatic options had been exhausted. They also asserted that a continuation of the deadlock would have challenged the credibility of the Council and actually exacerbated tensions in Lebanon.
France remains closely engaged on the issue of Sheb’a Farms as a cornerstone of resolution 1701. The US seems to take the view that any progress on Sheb’a Farms needs to be accompanied with progress on disarmament. In addition, the US may be unwilling to press Israel to withdraw.
|Selected Security Council Resolutions|
|Selected Presidential Statements|
|Selected Secretary-General’s Reports|
|Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Implementation of Resolution 1559|
|Terje Røed-Larsen (Norway)|
|Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon|
|Geir O. Pedersen (Norway)|
|UNIFIL Force Commander|
|Major-General Claudio Graziano (Italy)|
|Size and Composition of UNIFIL|
|Cost (approved budget)|
|1 July 2006 – 31 March 2007: $350.87 million|
Useful Additional Sources
Fatah al-Islam Backgrounder, Rebecca Bloom, Council on Foreign Relations, 22 May 2007