March 2009 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action
A report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1701 will be before the Council in March. A briefing by the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, is expected. At press time, there were no signs that the Council would take any significant action. On 1 March the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is scheduled to begin functioning.

Key Recent Developments
Overall, the security situation in south Lebanon has been relatively calm in recent months. It appears that no new threats against UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have been made.

On 8 and 14 January several rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. (Apparently UNIFIL and the Lebanese army prevented some other attacks.)

Concerns persisted that the conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza might trigger a wider conflict, especially given the presence of armed militants in Lebanon, in particular inside Palestinian refugee camps, who have expressed support for Hamas.

On 21 February Israel fired at least six artillery shells toward Lebanon in response to the firing of two rockets towards Israel which had lightly wounded three Israelis.

On 18 February the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, gave his monthly briefing to the Council on the situation in the Middle East. He said that the crisis in Gaza led to increased tensions in Lebanon although divisions between Fatah and Hamas had not translated into open confrontation. He said Lebanon continued to enjoy relative political stability overall with good implementation of the May 2008 Doha agreement among Lebanese factions which ended the political standoff in Lebanon, despite the likelihood of more political hostilities in the run-up to the 7 June parliamentary elections.

On 16 February Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that Hezbollah had the right to acquire air-defence weapons and use them against Israeli warplanes that violate Lebanese air space.

On 14 February demonstrations were held in Beirut on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Support for the Special Tribunal was reaffirmed by the US at this occasion.

On 10 February parliamentary elections were held in Israel. The centrist Kadima party headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, won 28 seats in the 120-member parliament, and the right-wing opposition Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu, won 27 seats. In light of promises of support from minor parties for Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres asked Netanyahu to form a new government. By law, he has 42 days to win parliament’s approval.

In an interview for Lebanese television on 26 January, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the election of US President Barack Obama raised cautious hopes that a peace settlement could be reached in the Middle East. He added, however, that there was no prospect for indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel after its attack on Gaza and that a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights would be a precondition to any peace settlement. He also expressed readiness to engage in a direct dialogue with the US as long as the US imposed no preconditions.

The progressive reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria has continued. Syria accepted Lebanon’s first ambassador ever to Damascus on 27 January. Syria has yet to submit the name of its candidate as ambassador to Beirut. On 20 February, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner voiced concern over the delay.

Positive developments in Lebanon also included further meetings among Lebanon’s main political leaders on 22 December and on 26 January in the context of the Lebanese national dialogue. They continued discussions on Lebanon’s national defence strategy. The next meeting is scheduled for 2 March.

The political situation in Lebanon has been more stable since the formation in July of a unity government in which the Shi’a-led opposition holds veto power, a development that followed 18 months of political standoff. However, there are fears that upcoming legislative elections may reignite tensions between the Sunni-led anti-Syrian coalition led by Saad Hariri and the Hezbollah-led alliance supported by Syria and Iran. The electoral contest is expected to be tight. On 16 January the EU pledged $5.1 million towards ensuring Lebanon’s elections proceed democratically.

Options
If the Council decides to respond to the 1701 report, it could:

Alternatively, the Council might choose to take no action at this stage and wait for political developments in Israel and in Lebanon, as well as for new US engagement in the region. 

Key Issues
Issues include progress with implementation of all elements of resolution 1701. These include status of the Sheb’a Farms and Ghajar village, disarmament of militias, arms smuggling, Syria-Lebanon reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Israel’s air violations of Lebanon’s territorial integrity and Israel’s provision of maps for the location of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon.

Israel continues to raise the issue of arms smuggling across the Syrian-Lebanese border. The firing of rockets from southern Lebanon in January and February seems to confirm the arrival of new weapons in the south, in violation of resolution 1701. A key question is whether to take action. A problem is that in the absence of specific evidence of arms embargo violations, action in the Council will prove difficult.

Israeli overflights are linked to arms smuggling and have also continued unabated. Israel also still has to provide maps of location of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon.

Recent UN attempts to bring Lebanon and Israel together, in particular on the issue of the Israeli occupation of the Sheb’a Farms and Ghajar have not been successful. George Mitchell, the recently appointed US Middle East Envoy, is expected to visit Lebanon soon. A key issue, therefore, is whether the Council will want to wait for diplomatic developments or continue to press for implementation of resolution 1701. The uncertain political situation in Israel signals that any progress on the issues of Ghajar and Sheb’a Farms is unlikely at least until a new government is established. 

Council Dynamics
Support for implementation of resolution 1701 remains strong, particularly from the US, which reaffirmed its willingness to see more progress on all aspects of the process. There seems to be, however, less momentum for pushing it via the Council at the moment. Some believe that it may be time for the Council to reaffirm resolution 1701 as the only viable option for a long-term solution. But others tend to prefer a wait-and-see strategy as Syria’s relations with both Israel and the US will be the key to implementing resolution 1701.

The US seems concerned by the rocket incidents in January and may emphasise the necessity for UNIFIL and the Lebanese armed forces to further strengthen their patrolling and to address arms smuggling.

Council members are very supportive of a free and fair electoral process as a guarantee of stability. There is general concern about a possible increase of tensions in the lead-up to parliamentary elections in June.

However, because there is also a sense that the overall situation in Lebanon is improving, there seems to be less appetite for Council action.

Dynamics in the Council on Lebanon have not changed significantly as a result of new Council members. Some members are more concerned with arms smuggling and the lack of progress on disarmament, while other members are inclined to emphasise Israel’s obligations to provide maps of cluster munitions’ location and to end overflights.

UN Documents

Selected Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1832 (27 August 2008) extended the UNIFIL mandate until 31 August 2009.
  • 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 Council Presidential Statement on 1701

Latest Secretary-General’s report on 1701

Latest Monthly Briefing to the Council on the situation in the Middle East

Latest Letters

  • S/2009/76 (5 February 2009) was a letter from Lebanon enclosing a statistical table of the violations committed by Israel by air, sea and land in January.
  • S/2009/74 (5 February 2009) was a letter from Lebanon complaining that two Israeli gunboats intercepted a Lebanese Brotherhood Vessel carrying humanitarian aid and medicine while it was in international waters trying to reach Gaza.

Other Relevant Facts

Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon

Michael C. Williams (UK)

UNIFIL Force Commander

Major-General Claudio Graziano (Italy)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL

  • Authorised: 15,000 troops
  • Current (31 December 2008): 12,435 military personnel, supported by some 317 international civilian and 640 local civilian staff.
  • Troop Contributors: Belgium, Brunei, China, Croatia, Cyprus, El Salvador, France, FYR of Macedonia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nepal, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Tanzania and Turkey

Cost

1 July 2008 – 30 June 2009: $680.93 million (A/C.5/62/30)

Useful Additional Sources

Full forecast