July 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 June 2008
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action
The Council in July will consider the Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701, which ended the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

The improved but still fragile political environment in Lebanon will likely influence discussions in the Council. The new political situation may be an opportunity to revive the long term peace process envisaged in resolution 1701.

A presidential statement encouraging further progress on all elements of resolution 1701 is possible.

Key Recent Developments
Following the Doha agreement of 21 May between the Lebanese ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition, which allowed the election of Michel Suleiman as Lebanese president and ended an 18-month political deadlock, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was reappointed. At press time, he was trying to form a unity ministerial cabinet, which met the opposition requirement that it have a veto power. This government would hold power until the 2009 parliamentary election. However, it seems that mutual distrust is hampering the process. Security incidents and clashes between supporters of the majority and the opposition parties, which left at least nine people dead and fifty wounded, also continued in Lebanon in past weeks, especially on 22 and 23 June in Tripoli where the Lebanese army deployed.

In early June, a series of high-level visitors arrived in Lebanon to support the Doha agreement and President Suleiman. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was first, on 7 June. He was followed on the next day by UK Foreign Minister David Miliband, who stressed the need to implement resolution 1701, including the issue of the Sheb’a Farms occupied by Israel. On 16 June, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited to Beirut and endorsed the Doha agreement. She also said that the issue of the Sheb’a Farms needed to be settled, noting this may help resolving regional issues. President Suleiman and Prime Minister Siniora reiterated that Israel had to withdraw from the Farms, and that the area should be placed under UN control until a formal delimitation agreement is reached between Syria and Lebanon.

On 14 June, France and the US issued a joint statement calling on Syria to quickly establish full diplomatic relations with Lebanon based on respect, equality, security and sovereignty. They reaffirmed their support for implementing the Doha agreement and for the Lebanese government and army.

On 10 June, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped that conditions would soon emerge to enable direct peace negotiations with Lebanon, including on the issue of the Sheb’a Farms. He reiterated this offer on 18 June. The Lebanese government stressed that the key requirement was for Israel to implement Council resolutions.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 5 June said his country would consider opening an embassy in Lebanon after the unity government was formed.

On 2 June, the Council adopted resolution 1815 extending the mandate of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and other bombing attacks in Lebanon. The renewal extends until 31 December unless the Commission completes its mandate beforehand, in which case the Special Tribunal for Lebanon would take over ongoing responsibilities. The Council requested a report within six months.

On 1 June, Israel released Nassim Nisr, a Lebanese prisoner. Hezbollah returned the remains of Israeli soldiers killed during the 2006 war. Hezbollah hinted that this might be a prelude to the return of the two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006.

Options
The Council may decide to defer consideration of the 1701 report until the new Lebanese government presents its strategic plan for implementation of the Doha agreement—including a framework for the resumption of the inter-Lebanese dialogue aimed at tackling the issue of disarmament and other contentious issues—and react to it.

It could adopt a presidential statement:

  • reaffirming the need for all parties to implement the Doha agreement in full, insisting in particular on the reinforcement of state authority over Lebanon’s territory, and welcoming the formation of a unity government;
  • reiterating previous language on implementation of resolution 1701, in particular urging the parties to implement all aspects of the resolution; and
  • reaffirming its strong support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the exclusive authority of its government. This could also include concern at Israeli overflights and the unexploded ordnance in south Lebanon as well as urging the return of the abducted Israeli prisoners and settling the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.

A more proactive option for the Council could be to:

  • urge intensified efforts to find a solution leading to Israeli withdrawal of the northern part of the village of Ghajar, on the border between Lebanon and the Golan Heights;
  • request the Secretary-General to find a quick solution to the Sheb’a Farms issue (a first step might be obtaining confirmation from the parties that they agree with the definition of the area provided by the UN cartographer);
  • encourage the resumption of Lebanese dialogue with the view to reaching an agreement on the disarmament of militias and, request the Secretary-General to provide assistance to this process; and
  • remind the parties of the arms embargo and hold open the possibility of enhanced border surveillance if the situation does not improve.

Key Issues
The immediate issue is whether the Doha agreement’s provisions on the formation of a unity government can be implemented quickly and agreement can be reached on a new electoral law in view of the 2009 legislative elections.

The Doha agreement does not resolve the issue of disarmament of militias. This is to be taken up in the dialogue among all Lebanese factions which is supposed to resume after the government is formed. The Council had addressed this in resolution 1701. However, in his latest report (S/2008/135) the Secretary-General said the continuing political crisis in Lebanon was complicating efforts to implement resolution 1701. A related issue therefore is whether the Council should take an early opportunity to reinforce the political gains obtained at Doha in support of the 1701 process.

Key issues relating to the 1701 process include:

  • Sheb’a Farms: The US statement regarding the need to deal with the Farms issue may indicate renewed impetus is possible on that front. In a previous report, the Secretary-General had stated that the UN cartographer had provisionally defined the area, but the border remained to be demarcated. Neither Israel nor Syria have reacted to this definition, and it seems that little progress has been achieved in talks among the Secretary-General, Israel, Syria and Lebanon on placing the Farms under provisional UN control. Israel’s willingness to withdraw forces from the area remains the key issue. It is unclear whether any movement on this may be linked to progress in the Syria-Israel peace negotiations on the Golan Heights. However, if Israel were to withdraw and the Farms were recognised as Lebanese rather than Syrian, this might reduce pressure for Hezbollah to see itself as a resistance movement and improve the prospects for the Lebanese dialogue.
  • Illegal arms transfers: Israel claims that weapons are continuing to filter through the Syria-Lebanon border, and are then transferred to Hezbollah in the area controlled by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), south of the Litani River. The UN has been unable to verify those allegations. In the absence of proof, there have been divisions in the Council on that issue. An issue is how to reinforce border surveillance by Lebanese forces within that context. It seems that the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team (LIBAT) remains the most likely Council tool. The Secretary-General in his previous report said he would send a new LIBAT mission. The team was delayed because of the May crisis but is expected to go to Lebanon soon. A separate report would be presented to the Council at a later stage.
  • Prisoner exchange: This remains an important issue for the Council and one that has potential for progress as the 1 June exchange seemed to presage the release of more prisoners.
  • Violations of Lebanese territorial integrity: While the situation along the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel appears quiet, Israeli overflights have continued. This remains an issue in the Council.
  • Ghajar: The northern part of this village in south Lebanon remains occupied by Israel contrary to resolution 1701. Talks continue between the Lebanese armed forces, Israeli Defense Forces and UNIFIL to determine the modalities of Israel’s withdrawal from the area. It seems that there has been some progress.
  • Landmines: Under resolution 1701 Israel has to provide the UN with all remaining maps of landmines in Lebanon. To date this has not been done.

Council Dynamics
Many in the Council believe that the Doha agreement creates a positive context for further progress on the 1701 process. However, underlying divisions are likely to reappear during discussions. Some (Libya, Indonesia and South Africa) particularly emphasise Israeli overflights. Others (the US especially) consider the issue of disarmament a priority.

Many (including France and the UK) believe that a successful political process is the only practical solution and fear that more intrusive measures would place the Lebanese government in a difficult position.

The US seems inclined to toughen language on Syria and Iran (as main sponsors of Hezbollah) and find new ways to secure the Syrian-Lebanese border, including a UNIFIL deployment along it. But neither the Lebanese government nor the main UNIFIL troop contributors (France and Italy) seem comfortable with this option. LIBAT has support among Council members as it represents a softer way to improve border surveillance.

UN Documents

Selected Resolutions

  • S/RES/1815 (2 June 2008) extended UNIIIC’s mandate until 31 December 2008.
  • S/RES/1757 (30 May 2007) established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
  • S/RES/1701 (11 August 2006) called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel and for a long-term solution, imposed an arms embargo on Lebanon and authorised a reinforcement of UNIFIL.

Latest Presidential Statement

Latest Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2008/210 (28 March 2008) was the latest UNIIIC report.
  • S/2008/173 (12 March 2008) was the latest report on the tribunal.
  • S/2008/135 (28 February 2008) was the latest report on resolution 1701.

Latest Letters

  • S/2008/375 (5 June 2008) was a letter from Lebanon on Israel’s violations of Lebanese territorial integrity during May.
  • S/2008/334 (16 May 2008) was a letter from the Secretary-General transmitting a letter from Lebanon expressing the hope that UNIIIC’s mandate would be extended until 31 December 2008.
  • S/2008/302 (6 May 2008) was a letter from Lebanon on Israel’s violations of Lebanese territorial integrity during April.

Other Relevant Facts

UNIIIC Commissioner and Future Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal

Daniel Bellemare (Canada)

Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon

Johan Verbeke (Belgium)

UNIFIL Force Commander

Major General Claudio Graziano (Italy)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL

  • Authorised: 15,000 troops
  • Current (30 April 2008): 12,341 military personnel
  • Troop-contributing Countries: Belgium, China, Croatia, Cyprus, France, FYR of Macedonia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Spain, Tanzania and Turkey

Cost (approved budget)

1 July 2007 – 30 June 2008: $713.59 million (A/C.5/62/23)

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