May 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2009
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Expected Council Action
On 7 May the Council is expected to discuss the latest Secretary-General’s report on implementation of resolution 1559, which in 2004 urged the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory. The main issues for consideration could be arms smuggling and the upcoming Lebanese legislative elections scheduled for 7 June.

At press time it seemed unlikely that the Council would take any formal action.

Key Recent Developments
The latest report of the Secretary-General on resolution 1559 was submitted on 24 April. The Secretary-General welcomed renewed commitment of Syria and Lebanon toward the delineation of their common border, expressed concern at the porous nature of this border and the potential for breaches of the arms embargo (there are reports of a large number of arms inside Lebanon) and said that the continued activities of militias on all sides of the political spectrum constitute a challenge for Lebanon’s exclusive military authority. He also urged Syria to assist the Lebanese in disarming Palestinian militias who have a presence in Lebanon but are headquartered in Damascus. And he expressed concern at Hezbollah’s statements that it was providing support to militants in Gaza from Egyptian territory.

In a briefing to the Council on 20 April, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that the overall situation in Lebanon over the past month remained stable despite a number of security incidents.

On 13 April four Lebanese army soldiers were killed in the Bekaa Valley by rocket propelled grenades, apparently during an attempt by the army to confront drug dealing and criminality. On 23 March a bomb attack in southern Lebanon killed Kamal Medhat, the deputy head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Lebanon. This was condemned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

On 10 April the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, acknowledged that his group had attempted to supply military equipment to Hamas in the Gaza Strip through Egypt. Egyptian authorities reacted strongly and on 13 April announced that Hezbollah was planning attacks on Egyptian soil (which was denied by Hezbollah). Tension between Hezbollah and Egypt increased in recent months after Hezbollah accused the latter of not doing enough to protect Palestinians during Israel’s military operations in Gaza earlier this year.

Lebanon opened its first embassy in Damascus on 16 March. Syria appointed an ambassador to Beirut on 24 March.

On 10 March, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams briefed the Council on implementation of resolution 1701, which in 2006 established a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. He said little new progress had been made and that serious violations by Hezbollah and Israel had occurred in recent months. However, the ceasefire held, and southern Lebanon and northern Israel were experiencing the longest period of stability in decades. The briefing was followed by closed consultations.

The 1701 report submitted to the Council on 3 March said that:

  • Establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon had a positive effect on the ground.
  • There has been better coordination between Lebanon and Syria for border management as a result of improvement in relations.
  • The Lebanese national dialogue continued and was contributing to national stability, but there had been slow progress with disarmament.
  • The presence of bases of Palestinian armed groups (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah al-Intifada) in Lebanon continues to pose a threat to the country’s stability. The Lebanese government should dismantle them and Syria should help with this issue.
  • The firing of rockets from Lebanon toward Israel during the Gaza crisis and again on 21 February was a serious cause of concern. The south should be free of any such unauthorised weapons; nonetheless, there is no evidence of new weapons smuggling.
  • Despite a lack of willingness from Israel and Syria to resolve the Sheb’a Farms issue, diplomatic efforts would continue.
  • There had been no progress toward Israel’s withdrawal from northern Ghajar and Israel has still not provided maps of cluster bombs location in southern Lebanon.
  • Israeli overflights of Lebanon have continued.
  • The political situation in Lebanon has remained generally calm in the run-up to the June elections.

In another development, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon began its activities in The Hague on 3 March, taking over from the Beirut-based UN International Independent Investigation Commission (whose mandate was left to expire at the end of February). The Tribunal’s prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, has continued to conduct investigations. The Council issued a press statement welcoming the Tribunal, reiterating its support and recalling the importance of full cooperation of member states with the Office of the Prosecutor.

On 25 March the Tribunal, presided by Antonio Cassese, appointed its key officials and adopted rules of procedure and evidence. In addition, Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen directed the Lebanese judicial authorities to defer to the Tribunal’s competence, hand over to the prosecutor the results of investigations and submit a list of all persons detained in connection with the investigation, which Lebanon did shortly after. On 29 April, Judge Fransen decided to release four generals that had been arrested and detained in 2005 following recommendations of former chief investigator Detlev Mehlis, who concluded that there was evidence implicating Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Former military intelligence chief Raymond Azar; Mustafa Hamdan, head of the presidential guard; Director of Internal Security Forces Ali Hajj; and Jamil al-Sayyed, head of the Lebanese General Security Directorate had never been charged with a crime.

One option is to do nothing, as has been the practice with 1559 reports since 2007.

Other options for the Council, recognising the importance of the upcoming elections, include:

  • welcoming the Secretary-General’s report and reemphasising the necessity to implement resolution 1559 in full;
  • reinforcing the need for free and fair legislative elections without any form of outside interference;
  • encouraging further cooperation between Syria and Lebanon, particularly on border control, while reminding the parties of previous commitments to take steps to delineate the border; and
  • addressing the security risks of non-Lebanese militias while expressing support for the Lebanese dialogue on a national defence strategy.

Key Issues
The main issue is the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will pit the anti-Syrian “14 March” alliance led by Sunni leader Saad Hariri (who is backed by the US and Saudi Arabia) against the “8 March” alliance including the Shiite group Hezbollah (which is supported by Iran and Syria). The Christian voters, who belong to neither camp, seem divided. The results are likely to be close. In addition, there are questions about the potential impact that the Tribunal’s decision to release the four generals may have on the electoral process and political dynamics as they were originally suspected to have ties with Syria and to have been involved in Hariri’s assassination. (The pro-Syrian “8 March” coalition has always denied Syrian involvement in the killing.) Despite fears that the elections may be accompanied by renewed tensions, the improvement in Syrian-Lebanese relations, a recent cautious détente between Saudi Arabia and Syria and initial steps toward a US-Syrian rapprochement may have a smoothing effect.

A related important issue is the prospect for the formation of a new government after the elections. It is unclear whether the opposition minority blockage mechanism conferred on the opposition in the May 2008 Doha Agreement will remain since it is being contested by the “14 March” alliance, and there are fears that this may also lead to political tensions.

Another issue to be addressed is the reported presence of weapons on Lebanese soil and on proliferation of extremist groups and militias activities, even though the 1701 and 1559 reports both said that there had not been any new reports of arms smuggling. But rocket attacks against Israel from southern Lebanon in January and February seem to signal that illegal weapons remain available in the south. And Hezbollah’s stated activities in Egypt have led to questioning about the militia’s end goals. It remains to be seen whether there will be enough appetite for addressing such an issue that is not directly connected to the 1559 mandate.

Another issue is the delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border. Syria has continued to say that it is ready to proceed but that it wants to exclude the Sheb’a Farms. So far there has been no apparent progress.

Finally, the assassination in March of Kamal Medhat, in addition to allegations that Palestinian militants were involved in the firing of rockets into Israel in January and February, has exposed continuing tensions among Palestinian factions in Lebanon and the related threat to security. It suggests perhaps that the Hamas/Fatah division in Palestine is having destabilising effects on Palestinians in Lebanon. It may remind the Council that progress on disarming non-Lebanese militias also remains crucial.

A more general issue at this stage is when it would be useful for the Council to revisit resolution 1559 which is becoming in some respects progressively outdated (and some of its elements are covered in resolution 1701).

Council Dynamics
There is a lack of appetite in the Council for 1559 reports. Many members, including the P5, believe that with the elections scheduled in June, Council action in May would be bad timing. It may also be linked to persisting divisions within the Council on several issues in relation to the 1559 mandate. For instance, while France, the US and the UK tend to believe that Syria should be reminded to delineate its border, Russia and China have usually been more reluctant as they say it is a sovereignty issue (both China and Russia abstained on resolutions 1559 and 1680). Council members are also reluctant to discuss arms smuggling issues.

There has been a general lack of momentum on Lebanon, including on the 1701 process since 2007. The Council did not react to the March Secretary-General’s report. This may stem from the fact that many hold the view that full implementation of Council resolutions on Lebanon will be feasible only within a broader Middle East peace process. Many believe that the only way to deal with militias in Lebanon is through a US-Syria and US-Iran rapprochement, as well as through renewed Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

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UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1757 (30 May 2007) established the Tribunal 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 permanent ceasefire, establishment of an area free of weapons in southern Lebanon and an arms embargo; called for the disarmament of all militias and for the provision of all maps of landmines in Lebanon in Israel’s possession; and requested the Secretary-General to develop proposals to deal with the Sheb’a Farms.
  • S/RES/1680 (17 May 2006) encouraged Syria to respond positively to the Lebanese request to delineate their common border and called for further efforts to disband and disarm Hezbollah and to restore fully the Lebanese government’s control over all Lebanese territory.
  • S/RES/1559 (2 September 2004) urged withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, disarmament of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, extension of the Lebanese government’s control over Lebanese territory and free and fair presidential elections.

Latest Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2008/8 (15 April 2008) was the latest presidential statement on implementation of resolution 1701.
  • S/PRST/2007/17 (11 June 2007) was the latest presidential statement on implementation of resolution 1559 and expressing concern at illegal movements of arms and supported the Lebanese army’s efforts to restore stability in Lebanon.

Latest Press Statement

  • SC/9606 (3 March 2009) welcomed the beginning of activities of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Latest Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2009/218 (24 April 2009) was the latest report on implementation of resolution 1559.
  • S/2009/119 (3 March 2009) was the latest report on implementation of resolution 1701.
  • S/2009/106 (24 February 2009) was the final report of the Secretary-General on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon before it commenced functioning as an independent judicial body on 1 March 2009.

Selected Letters

  • S/2009/191 (7 April 2009) was a letter from Lebanon condemning Israel’s defiance of UN calls to hand over the exact strike data and the maps of cluster munitions in south Lebanon.
  • S/2009/183 (6 April 2009) was a letter from Lebanon on violations of Lebanese territorial integrity in March.
  • S/2009/157 (25 March 2009) was a letter from Palestine on the 23 March assassination of Kamal Medhat.
  • S/2009/141 (12 March 2009) was a letter from Lebanon on violations of Lebanese territorial integrity in February.
  • S/2008/392 (22 May 2008) was a letter from Lebanon transmitting the May 2008 Doha agreement.

Other Relevant Facts

Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Implementation of Resolution 1559

Terje Rød-Larsen (Norway)

UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon

Michael Williams (UK)

Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Daniel Bellemare (Canada)

President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Antonio Cassese (Italy)

Useful Additional Sources

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