March 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2011
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In March Council members are expected to hold consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which in August 2006 called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams is expected to brief.

The situation in southern Lebanon has been relatively quiet. However, Council members will have in mind the tense political backdrop in the country, issues relating to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the potential effects for the implementation of resolution 1701.

No formal action is expected. The UNIFIL mandate expires on 31 August.

Key Recent Developments
At press time, the next Secretary-General’s report was expected on 28 February. The area of operation of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been calm relative to previous reporting periods, and the report is expected to track ongoing issues such as Ghajar, demarcation of the Blue Line, Israeli overflights and the current political deadlock over the formation of a new cabinet after the government led by Saad Hariri collapsed on 12 January over the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

On 22 February, Williams met with Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, to reiterate the UN expectation that Lebanon continue to abide by resolution 1701 and all other international obligations.

On 16 February, Mikati assured EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton that the future Lebanese government would respect international obligations, including resolution 1701. Ashton was in Beirut to reiterate the EU’s position on the implementation of all Security Council resolutions and respect for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Regarding the Tribunal, Mikati’s statements have consistently signalled that the the issue would require a national consensus. (Some analysts have observed that referring the Tribunal issue to the Lebanese national dialogue process could have the practical effect of putting the issue on the back burner rather than at the centre of political confrontation.)

On 12 January, 11 Hezbollah-aligned ministers withdrew from the thirty-member cabinet, toppling the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The ministers withdrew in the midst of a Saudi-Syrian effort to reach a compromise on the issue of the Tribunal. Hariri was named as the caretaker prime minister and began positioning himself to resume as premier and form a new government.

The regional mediation efforts, which had reportedly hinged on Lebanon’s distancing itself from the Tribunal in return for guarantees regarding Hezbollah’s arms, were abandoned on 20 January.

The political landscape shifted further when on 21 January Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary block aligned with Hezbollah.

On 25 January, Hezbollah-backed Mikati was appointed prime minister-designate. At press time, he had yet to form a cabinet but it seemed highly unlikely that Hariri’s block would participate in a unity government.

On 16 February the Special Tribunal for Lebanon concluded the procedure to clarify definitions of terrorism and conspiracy and to determine applicable law. This ruling will form the basis for the Tribunal’s pre-trial judge to continue his review of the sealed indictments submitted by the prosecutor on 17 January. (Confirmation of the indictments could come as early as April, but any trial activity is unlikely until much later in the year. Hezbollah has said it expects the indictments to implicate its members in the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri.)

Also on 16 February, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah urged fighters to be prepared “if a new war is imposed on Lebanon.” His comments came a day after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s military tour of the northern border, where he told troops “you may be called to enter [Lebanon] again.” (Israeli troops had been put on alert in the north after the collapse of the Lebanese government.)

On 11 February, Barak met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and confirmed that preparations continued for an Israeli military withdrawal from northern Ghajar to redeploy south of the Blue Line. (Israel had agreed to this plan in November 2010. However, confusion arose after media reports indicated that Israel had frozen its plans after the Lebanese government collapsed.)

On 8 February the Russian ambassador to the UN proposed a Security Council visiting mission to the Middle East, which might include Lebanon in a possible itinerary.

On 26 January, Lebanon sent a position paper to the Secretary-General and the Council reiterating its commitment to implement resolution 1701 and noted strengthened cooperation between the Lebanese army and UNIFIL. The letter detailed Lebanon’s tally of Israeli air, sea and land violations and Israeli espionage activity in Lebanon, including the discovery of electronic surveillance systems in December 2010. It also reiterated Lebanon’s position that Israeli withdrawal from northern Ghajar, Sheb’a Farms and Kafr Shuba hills is an obligation and not a concession.

On 12 January a Lebanese citizen was detained by the Israeli army and released to UNIFIL the next day.

In a 4 January letter, Lebanon’s foreign minister asked the Secretary-General for the UN to assist in maritime delimitation with Israel. This request has implications for the recent discovery of underwater natural gas reserves. (There is no internationally recognised maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon. Israel unilaterally installed a buoy line, which Lebanon does not recognise.)

On 5 November 2010, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien briefed Council members in consultations on the 27 October attack against three staff members of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in Beirut.

Human Rights-Related Developments
On 18 January the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights drew attention to Lebanon’s draft national strategy on human rights. The national strategy is expected to be presented to the Lebanese parliament in 2011 and would help strengthen its implementation of human rights obligations following the 10 November 2010 Universal Periodic Review conducted by the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner’s office also commended the efforts of Lebanese human rights activists, in particular groups pressuring the government to allow women to pass on their nationality to their children and families.


Key Issues
A key issue for the Council remains how to get Israel and Lebanon to move from the status quo—a fragile cessation of hostilities—toward a ceasefire and permanent solution.

Related issues include regular Israeli overflights and its occupation of Ghajar in violation of resolution 1701 and the fact that Hezbollah maintains significant military capacity in violation of resolutions 1559 and 1701.

The issue of Sheb’a Farms also remains frozen.

Regarding the Tribunal, there are no immediate issues for the Council. However, the publication of the names of the Tribunal’s Lebanese judges in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir in late January signals a heightened level of political pressure on those judges to resign. This could lead the Council to take up the issue of the Tribunal.

Underlying Issues
At press time, the major underlying issue was the absence of a Lebanese government. Mikati has been attempting to reach agreement on a cabinet and the distribution of ministerial portfolios since his appointment on 25 January. It seemed he may still be trying to secure the participation of Hariri’s block.

Options
One option is to take no action, as has been the practice since April 2008, which was the last time the Council issued a presidential statement on resolution 1701.

However, keeping in mind the complex situation in the country, another option may be a statement calling for full implementation of resolution 1701 and in particular, demonstrated progress in the next reporting period on certain 1701 obligations such as:

  • demarcation of the Blue Line; and
  • progress on the Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar.

The Council could encourage the Secretary-General to include in his reporting issues associated with the maritime border. 

Council Dynamics
Council members agree that UNIFIL is an important stabilising factor between Israel and Lebanon—specifically in light of recent heightened political rhetoric between Hezbollah and Israel and more broadly in light of the current upheavals in the region.

Most Council members agree that arms smuggling and disarmament remain key concerns but seem to accept that progress is only likely in the context of an inter-Lebanese dialogue and improvement on the Israel-Syria track, neither of which seems likely to gain traction soon.

Council members seem to believe that progress on the issue of Ghajar would be an important step toward the implementation of resolution 1701.

On the issue of the formation of a new Lebanese government, Council members clearly attach value to the Lebanese constitutional process being followed. Once a government is formed, Council members will likely be anticipating an explicit statement from Lebanon that it remains committed to its international commitments, including Council resolutions. On resolution 1701, Lebanon—an elected member of the Council—reiterated its commitment in its 26 January letter.

Council members seem to anticipate continued tension in Lebanon as indictments from the Tribunal wind their way through the judicial process. A majority of Council members expressed support for the Tribunal during the January open debate on the Middle East. Some members also noted its importance as a step toward ending impunity in Lebanon and expressed concern with attempts to undermine the Tribunal.

Council members generally underscore the importance of the Tribunal’s independence and foresee no Council role in its activities.

France is the lead country on Lebanon in the Council. 

UN Documents

Selected Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1937 (30 August 2010) renewed UNIFIL until 31 August 2011.
  • S/RES/1757 (30 May 2007) established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
  • S/RES/1701 (11 August 2006) called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.
  • S/RES/1559 (2 September 2004) urged withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, disarmament of all militias, and extension of the Lebanese government’s control over all Lebanese territory.

Selected Security Council Meeting Record

Latest Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2010/565 (1 November 2010) was on resolution 1701.
  • S/2010/538 (18 October 2010) was on resolution 1559.

Selected Letter

  • S/2011/47 (26 January 2011) was Lebanon’s position paper on the Secretary-General’s forthcoming 1701 report.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Coordinator for Lebanon

Michael Williams (UK)

Special Envoy for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559

Terje Roed-Larsen (Norway)

UNIFIL Force Commander

Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas (Spain)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL as of 31 December 2010

  • Authorised: 15,000 troops
  • Current: 11,961 military personnel
  • Troop Contributors: Bangladesh, Belgium, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, France, FYR of Macedonia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nepal, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Turkey

Duration

March 1978 to present; mandate expires 31 August 2011

Cost

1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011: $518.71 million (A/C.5/64/19)

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