Expected Council Action
Council members are expecting a briefing from Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen on developments in the implementation of resolution 1559. This resolution, adopted in 2004, urged the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory.
Discussion is likely to focus on the ongoing disarmament challenge and related border security issues. At press time, it seemed unlikely that the Council would take any formal action.
Council members will also have in mind developments relating to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the possible implications of the regional political climate for Lebanon, in particular possible spill over effects from the crisis Syria.
Key Recent Developments
At press time, Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati had yet to form a cabinet. The government collapsed on 12 January when Hezbollah-aligned ministers withdrew. These ministers are part of “8 March,” a coalition of political parties, including Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran. (Saad Hariri remains as the caretaker prime minister and heads the “14 March” coalition, backed by Western and Gulf states. On 25 January, Hezbollah-backed Mikati was appointed prime minister-designate.)
Analysts note that the political upheavals playing out across the region are likely to mean a continued stalemate in the formation of a Lebanese government, in particular because key regional interlocutors are preoccupied by the situations in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Another factor might be the hesitancy to form a government until it is known who has been indicted in the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
On 26 April, the Lebanese caretaker prime minister called on the Lebanese UN permanent representative in New York to reject a draft press statement on the situation in Syria circulated to Security Council members on 25 April. (Lebanon is an elected member of the Security Council. Press statements are issued by consensus.)
In a 21 April, communiqué, Hezbollah criticised the UN Secretary-General’s latest 1559 report , which urged Hezbollah’s transformation from a militia into a political party. The communiqué said that Hezbollah’s weapons are a deterrent to Israel. (In December 2009, Lebanon issued a ministerial declaration, article 6 of which effectively allows Hezbollah to remain armed, citing its resistance role.)
In a 17 April letter to the UN Secretary-General, Bahrain accused Hezbollah of carrying out destabilising activities in its Kingdom.
On 20 April, authorities in northern Lebanon prohibited demonstrations either for or against the Syrian regime. On 18 April, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stress Lebanon’s support for Syria’s security. (Earlier in the month, Syria had accused a member of the 14 March coalition of providing arms and funds to Syrian anti-government protesters. The 14 March coalition denied the accusation.)
On 19 April, Lebanese Christian political leaders met to discuss Hezbollah arms but didn’t reach agreement. Michel Aoun and Suleiman Frangieh of the 8 March coalition said Lebanon would be a target without Hezbollah’s weapons. Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel of the 14 March coalition reiterated the achievements of the 2005 Cedar Revolution. (The Cedar Revolution led to the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, parliamentary wins in 2005 and 2009, establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the deployment of the Lebanese army to the south.)
On 10 April, there were demonstrations in Beirut against Lebanon’s confessional system of governance (in Lebanon political representation is determined by sectarian or religious affiliation). Such demonstrations have been occurring since 27 February.
On 7 April, Hariri accused Iran of meddling in Lebanon’s affairs and stirring unrest elsewhere in the region. In the context of a rally to mark the 14 March coalition’s sixth anniversary, Hariri denounced Hezbollah’s arms and stressed the need to achieve justice (a reference to the assassination of his father in 2005). On 27 February the 14 March coalition said it would not join a unity government. (In his position as caretaker prime minister, Hariri appears to have strengthened his position vis-à-vis the Tribunal, Hezbollah arms and external influence in Lebanese affairs.)
On 29 March, Council members were briefed in consultations by Michael Williams, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon. In remarks to the press, Williams said the situation in Syria could have a negative effect on the formation of a Lebanese government.
On 11 March, the Tribunal’s prosecutor filed an amendment to the original sealed indictment, which is currently with the pre-trial judge for review. Confirmation of the indictments—previously expected in March—may now be ready by June 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 Hariri assassination. (The indictments were a key factor in the government’s collapse in January.)
Recently, the US has confirmed that it stopped providing arms to Lebanon shortly after the collapse of the government. Future arms shipments would depend on the formation of a new cabinet and its composition, policy and actions.
A key issue is that Hezbollah has rearmed since the end of the 2006 war with Israel. The numerous reports of the presence of weapons outside governmental control will be on Council members’ minds. These incidents highlight a lack of progress on meeting resolutions 1559’s requirements on disarmament and raise questions regarding arms smuggling.
Another issue is whether the Council might revisit resolution 1559. Some of its outstanding elements are also covered in resolution 1701. Syria maintains that it met its 1559 obligations when it withdrew from Lebanon in 2005. However, some Council members take a wider view of resolution 1559; a key dimension is sufficient progress on Lebanese/Syrian border security.
Hezbollah maintains significant military capacity in violation of resolutions 1559 and 1701. Some justify this in light of the ongoing Israeli occupation of portions of Lebanese territory, particularly the Sheb’a Farms.
Another problematic matter is in the delineation of the Lebanon/Syria border, on which progress has been at a standstill.
Given the apprehension about the possible spillover effects into Lebanon from the situation in Syria, the most likely option is for the Council to maintain its wait- and-see posture, as has been the practice since June 2007, the last time the Council took action on a 1559 report.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is independent. Council members will want to respect that and monitor the impact on Lebanon’s political environment as the indictment phase approaches.
Most Council members seem to agree that there is still a need for compliance with two major outstanding 1559 issues—disarmament and borders—but recognise that the Lebanese political dialogue is likely the key to progress. The national dialogue is seen as a useful mechanism. However, it has not produced tangible results nor met since November 2010. It does have the practical effect of putting contentious issues on the back burner rather than at the centre of political confrontation.
Regarding the formation of the Lebanese government, Council members share a somewhat hybrid view. On the one hand, it seems that in consultations on 29 March, Council members registered their expectation that a Lebanese government would be formed expeditiously and would honour its international obligations, in particular Security Council resolutions. On the other hand, most Council members feel that given the region’s fast-changing political climate in general, and the situation in Syria in particular, a stalemate in Lebanon is not as much a worry as it might have been six months ago, the last time they visited outstanding tasks from resolution 1559.
Nevertheless, Council members find the heightened rhetoric between Hezbollah and Hariri over the issue of arms a worrying, even if predictable, development.
The emerging standoff between Tehran and Riyadh for regional influence and its implications for Lebanon is also capturing Council members’ attention. In that context, most Council members feel there is very little room for any productive Council decision at this juncture.
France is the lead country on Lebanon in the Council.
Selected Council Resolutions
Selected Secretary-General’s Reports