Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to hold at least two sets of informal consultations on Lebanon in November. One, early in the month, will address the report on resolution 1559, and another later in the month will cover issues arising under resolution 1701, such as disarmament and arms smuggling, and the Sheb’a Farms.
The presidential elections in Lebanon (postponed to 12 November) are likely to dominate current Lebanese politics. In the short term, the Council is likely to be cautious about any immediate action on resolution 1701 issues, although a statement on the elections prior to 12 November seems likely.
Key Recent Developments
For recent developments relating to the presidential election issues and resolution 1559 please see our Update Report of 26 October 2007.
On 15 October, Israel returned to Lebanon both a prisoner captured in the 2006 war and the bodies of two Hezbollah fighters. In return, Hezbollah returned the body of an Israeli civilian who had drowned and washed ashore in Lebanon in 2005. Mediated by a facilitator appointed by the Secretary-General, the exchange was described by Israeli officials as “an additional step in the framework of negotiations” for the return of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in July 2006.
Also on 15 October, the Lebanese army arrested members of radical Islamist networks planning an attack against the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in south Lebanon.
In August, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos visited Syria and met with President Bashir al-Assad. Press reports indicated that Syria stated its willingness to transfer the Sheb’a Farms to Lebanon and implement Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora’s seven-point plan until formal steps could be taken to establish Lebanese sovereignty over the Farms. Israel reiterated that it would not withdraw from the Farms.
In the south, UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) appear to be expanding cooperation in accordance with resolution 1773, which in August extended UNIFIL’s mandate. In the past two months, there have been more mixed patrols and more reinforcement of checkpoints. Work continues to demarcate the Blue Line more visibly, and no breach of the ceasefire was reported. Israeli overflights violating Lebanese airspace, however, have continued.
At the time of writing the political uncertainty makes it difficult to assess options relating to resolution 1701 issues, especially as the Council is intending to address these issues later in the month.
Our Update Report of 26 October looks at more immediate options including with respect to issues under resolution 1559.
However, three possible points include:
welcoming the 15 October transfer of the prisoners and human remains, and encouraging further progress in this regard;
welcoming progress by the UN cartographer on the geographical definition of the Sheb’a Farms; and
requesting the Secretary-General to make recommendations on possible interim steps regarding the Sheb’a Farms. (Based on Syrian and Lebanese statements that the Farms are Lebanese, this could include possible expansion of UNIFIL’s area of operations to include the Farms, replacing the UN Disengagement Observer Force.)
A key practical issue is whether the UN cartographer has completed work on geographical definition of the Sheb’a Farms. It may be that the technical work is now complete. However, while the cartographer met Israeli counterparts to facilitate mapping, it seems that there has been little progress with Israel, Syria and Lebanon on political aspects.
A related issue is the timing for Council action on the delineation of the Farms. The Secretary-General was requested in resolution 1701 to develop, “in liaison with relevant international actors and the concerned parties” proposals to delineate borders in the Sheb’a Farms area. The technical mapping only satisfies part of this mandate and a big question is whether the Council is ready to take action now or would prefer instead to request clear political recommendations from the Secretary-General.
A related issue is the lack of progress by the Syrian-Lebanese boundary committee in delineating other parts of the border. Syria in the past stated that Israel should withdraw from the Farms before work could begin on delineating any of the border. Its recent position may be more nuanced with respect to the Farms and dealing with that issue separately may now be a possibility. It may be that wider border demarcation issues can be postponed. However, that may become an issue in the Council.
This may dovetail with the next steps in implementing the recommendations from the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team (LIBAT), which visited the Syrian-Lebanese border in May and June 2007. (Please see our July 2007 Forecast Report.) The main question is whether Syria is sufficiently controlling the border, and whether allegations that Syria is permitting export of weapons across the border can be verified.
Disarmament remains an important issue. Israel continues to allege that Hezbollah is rebuilding its capacity in the south (and UNIFIL recognises the difficulty in completely securing the Litani River line). Israel has asked UNIFIL to more actively search for weapons and has been critical of UNIFIL’s fulfilment of its mandate under resolution 1701, using this as an argument that overflights are needed for security reasons.
The interpretation of UNIFIL’s mandate has been an underlying issue. Resolution 1701 requested that UNIFIL “assists” the LAF to establish a zone free of weapons and armed personnel in the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line. The issue is whether this means that UNFIL should proactively look for weapons, or whether it requires leadership by the LAF. A related factor is that the LAF, against the background of the domestic political uncertainty, is reluctant to initiate search operations.
A further issue may be how much attention should be given to the recent Hezbollah-Israel swap of bodies and prisoner, and prospects for the return of the two Israeli soldiers.
The US seems reluctant to address the issue of placing the Sheb’a Farms under any formal interim UN control. It seems to consider that Syria has a responsibility for demarcating the entire border, under resolutions 1680 and 1701, and that this should be addressed comprehensively. It rejects Syria’s argument that Israel’s occupation of the Farms prevents such demarcation and argues that this should be addressed within the framework of a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. In contrast, France is more supportive of the compromise approach in the Lebanese seven-point plan.
Russia and France have been cautious about addressing disarmament and arms smuggling. However, this is a priority for the US because of Israel’s security concerns. Reinforcement of the arms embargo is unlikely to find much support in the Council at present, although some may want to reiterate a call on Syria to do more to control its border.
For other members-especially Indonesia, Panama and South Africa-the question of Israeli overflights in violation of resolution 1701 is important. They also tend to resist naming regional countries (Syria and Iran) as violators of the arms embargo, maintaining that allegations of their involvement in smuggling are not proven.
|Selected Security Council Resolutions|
|Presidential Statements on 1701|
|Latest Secretary-General’s Reports|
|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 2007 – 30 June 2008: $748.20 million (A/C.5/61/23)|
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven-point plan