Expected Council Action
In May, Council members are expecting the usual semi-annual briefing in consultations by Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen on the Secretary-General’s report on 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.
The crisis in Syria and its spillover effects into Lebanon will likely be a focus of discussion, along with their associated impact on the ongoing disarmament challenge and related border issues between Lebanon and Syria.
At press time, it seemed unlikely that the Council would take any formal action.
Key Recent Developments
The last briefing by Rød-Larsen in October 2011 focused on Syrian incursions into Lebanon, ongoing challenges in disarming militias and the lack of progress in delineating the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Recently there have been reports of Syrian troops mining the border in northern Lebanon to prevent arms smuggling into Syria and to deter refugees or military defectors from entering Lebanon. (There are approximately 22,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and of those approximately 12,309 are registered by the UN. Syria has placed restrictions on men of military age leaving the country.)
Syrian shells landed in northern Lebanon on 21 and 27 March, apparently stray ordnance from attacks by Syrian forces on a Syrian village near the Lebanese border. Also on 27 March there were media reports of Syrian incursions into Lebanese territory during a clash on the border between Syrian troops and rebels. Lebanese authorities confirmed the fighting but denied the incursion. On 9 April a Lebanese journalist was killed when his car came under targeted fire from the Syrian side of the border. Such incidents are likely to be flagged in the 1559 report.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 20 March in Moscow. Lavrov reiterated concerns that arms and fighters were being smuggled into Syria from neighboring countries, including Lebanon. Mansour said Lebanon had been largely able to control its border and had arrested 27 individuals suspected of smuggling arms into Syria. (Delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border was originally intended to control the flow of arms in the opposite direction, i.e. to Hezbollah and other militias in Lebanon via Syria.)
Council members were briefed in consultations on 21 March by Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly on the implementation of resolution 1701. During his briefing he expressed concern about the border situation between Lebanon and Syria.
Analysts note that in addition to such border incidents, the Syrian crisis is impacting the already fragile political landscape in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who heads a Hezbollah-led cabinet, has established a policy to “disassociate” Lebanon from major international decisions on Syria. Mikati has emphasised the policy’s importance to maintain stability within Lebanon.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said on 15 March that all forms of killing must stop in Syria. This seems to be a measured shift in Hezbollah’s posture from December 2011, when Nasrallah expressed support for the government-announced reforms in Syria and said Hezbollah stood with the regime and against the resistance. (Hezbollah receives much of its international support from Syria and Iran. Iran has also been modulating how it expresses support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.)
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri criticised both the current government’s policy of “disassociation” and Hezbollah’s support for the Syrian regime during a 7 March speech introducing his party’s new political platform in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2013. (Hariri heads the 14 March political coalition, which takes its name from the date of the “Cedar Revolution”, which followed the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, on 14 February 2005, and led to Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon after a thirty-year presence.)
On 4 April there was an assassination attempt on Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, who is aligned with the 14 March coalition and has been critical of the Syrian government.
On 13 March the pre-trial judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon rejected, on procedural grounds, the request by the prosecutor to amend the original indictment of four Hezbollah members to include a new charge of “criminal association”. The trial in absentia of those accused in the assassination of Hariri and 22 others is not anticipated until later in 2012. On 29 February, the Secretary-General appointed Norman Farrell as prosecutor, replacing Daniel Bellemare, who did not seek a second term due to health reasons.
Hezbollah’s rearmament since the end of the 2006 war with Israel remains an issue. Council members are likely to be concerned about the presence of weapons outside the reach of the Lebanese government as it raises questions about arms smuggling and the porous Lebanese-Syrian border.
A recurring issue has been whether the Council might revisit the level of attention it allocates to resolution 1559 as 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, most Council members feel a key dimension of the resolution is Lebanese/Syrian border security, and its delineation is outstanding.
Hezbollah maintains significant military capacity in violation of resolutions 1559 and 1701. However, this has been justified by some as a reaction to the ongoing Israeli occupation of portions of Lebanese territory, particularly the Sheb’a Farms and Kafr Shuba hills.
The ongoing Syrian crisis will indefinitely stall any meaningful implementation of resolution 1559.
Given the apprehension about the impact on Lebanon from the situation in Syria, the most likely option is for the Council to maintain its wait-and-see posture.
April’s open debate on securing borders against illicit flows could provide Council members with a further framework to articulate its approach to Syrian-Lebanese border issues and its negative impact on the security situation in the region.
In terms of improving the efficiency of the Council’s working methods, an option might be to decide to consider future reports on the implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1701 during the same meeting so as to think through the issues holistically and better respond to the linkages between the two situations.
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 trial phase approaches.
Most Council members seem to agree that there is still a need for compliance with two major outstanding 1559 issues—disarmament and delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border—but maintaining stability in Lebanon may be the only achievable goal in the medium term.
Most Council members agree that the situation requires sustained Council attention. However, progress on disarmament, border delineation and stemming arms smuggling is only likely in the context of an inter-Lebanese dialogue and improvement on the Israel-Syria track. Neither is likely to experience breakthroughs in the foreseeable future, especially in the context of the Syrian situation. (The Lebanese national dialogue is stalled over the issue of Hezbollah’s arms; it last met in November 2010.)
The Council has not taken any action on a 1559 report since June 2007. Shortly after that time, France—the lead country on Lebanon in the Council—had reengaged with Syria and may have felt that public pronouncements at that juncture would not help to resolve outstanding 1559 issues. By 2009 the political situation had been improving under Hariri. Lebanon, during its own term as an elected member on the Security Council in 2010 and 2011, was uneasy about any change to prevalent practices when it came to Lebanese issues in the Council. The collapse of the Hariri government in January 2011 over the Tribunal issue and the impact in Lebanon from the Syria crisis are additional factors that have led the Council away from any action that might exacerbate the situation inside Lebanon.
Regarding the Tribunal, Council members have generally underscored the importance of its independence and foresee no Council role in its activities.
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