Expected Council Action
In August the Security Council is expected to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a further year. This will be the sixth renewal since the cessation of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel in 2006. Given the increased tension and an uncertain political climate in the region, in particular spill-over effects from the Syrian crisis in northern Lebanon, it is possible that the resolution might reflect some of these developments. The mandate expires on 31 August.
Key Recent Developments
On 17 July, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly briefed Council members in consultations on developments and the Secretary-General’s 28 June report, which portrayed the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations as stable. However, it underscored that full respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon was undermined by instability in the region, in particular the Syrian crisis and the lack of a durable peace with Israel.
Plumbly informed Council members that some Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops in southern Lebanon would redeploy north due to instability on the Syrian-Lebanese border. As a consequence, UNIFIL had increased its operational activities to compensate for the temporary loss of LAF capacity. Concurrently, UNIFIL, in cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), is working towards implementing recommendations for troop reductions to approximately 11,200. (A decrease from approximately 11,800 troops a year ago.)
Council members issued a press statement on 18 July, expressing concern over cross-border exchanges of fire, incursions, abductions and arms trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border. (This was the first Council pronouncement on the implementation of resolution 1701 since April 2008.)
The press statement also welcomed the reconvening of Lebanon’s National Dialogue, which on 11 June committed the 8 March and 14 March coalitions to Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s policy to “disassociate” Lebanon from major international decisions on Syria. Mikati, who heads a Hezbollah-led cabinet, has emphasised the policy’s importance to maintain stability within Lebanon.
However, the 24 July session of the National Dialogue was postponed until 16 August because the 14 March opposition coalition decided not to attend. (14 March is headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of Rafiq Hariri—a former prime minister assassinated in 2005.) According to Lebanese media reports, 14 March boycotted the meeting because in its view the National Dialogue process had failed to adequately address the issue of Hezbollah’s arms in addition to concerns that the 8 March-held telecommunications ministry was reluctant to release information to Lebanese security bodies regarding alleged assassination attempts of 14 March coalition members. (On 5 July two detonators were found on top of an elevator in the building where parliamentarian Butros Harb has his office. On 4 April there was an assassination attempt on Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces. Both Harb and Geagea are aligned with 14 March and are critical of the Syrian government.)
On 24 July, Plumbly met with Mikati in Beirut and expressed his concern over the cross-border incidents in the north, particularly in the Wadi Khaled area. Lebanon decided to increase LAF deployment on the northern border with Syria with authorisation to return fire shortly after a 7 July incident in which Syrian shelling into Lebanon caused two deaths and several injuries.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said during the 25 July open debate on the Middle East that the crisis in Syria had the potential to exacerbate sectarian tension in Lebanon, citing the intensification of cross-border incidents and the 18 July clashes in Tripoli in northern Lebanon between Sunni and Alawi communities. The clashes followed a terrorist attack in Damascus earlier that day, which left four top Syrian political and military officials dead. Lebanese media reports indicate there was also an incident the same day in Sidon in southern Lebanon, during which three Syrian nationals were severely beaten after reportedly expressing support for the Damascus attack.
Also on 18 July, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech to mark the sixth anniversary of the Israel-Hezbollah war, reiterated support for the Syrian government and warned Israel against any attack on Lebanon.
On 22 July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “great threat” to Israel from the Syrian conflict is that the Damascus government might collapse and its stock of chemical weapons and missiles could fall into the hands of Hezbollah. The same day Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would not tolerate the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
On 11 July, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon received Lebanon’s 2012 contribution—49 percent of the Tribunal’s budget. On 19 July the pre-trial judge set 25 March 2013 as a tentative start date for the trial in absentia of those accused in the assassination of Hariri and 22 others in 2005.
The key issue for the Council is how to encourage Israel and Lebanon to move from the status quo of the last six years—cessation of hostilities—toward a ceasefire. But the current regional political climate makes the likelihood of near-term progress on this issue remote.
The temporary redeployment of the LAF to the north is an issue potentially impacting UNIFIL’s capacity.
Other issues include the regular Israeli overflights and the fact that Hezbollah maintains significant military capacity in violation of resolutions 1559 and 1701.
The most likely option for the Council is to simply renew the UNIFIL mandate as it currently stands for another year.
A further option available to the Council could be to re-energise its working processes with TCCs, perhaps by inviting them, along with the UNIFIL force commander, to meet with the Council Working Group on Peacekeeping prior to the formal meeting with TCCs in the Council. In particular, there could be a focus on DPKO’s plans for a leaner force while maintaining UNIFIL’s full capability to discharge its mandated tasks.
Council members agree that UNIFIL is an important stabilising factor between Israel and Lebanon—especially in light of the Syrian crisis and increasingly belligerent rhetoric between Israel and Hezbollah. However, achieving a permanent ceasefire seems remote and Council members realise that continued calm in Lebanon may at present be the only achievable goal. In this regard, Council members remain highly supportive of the National Dialogue process.
Most Council members agree that arms smuggling and disarmament remain key concerns but seem to accept that progress is only likely in the nexus of the recently revived inter-Lebanese dialogue and improvement on the Israel-Syria track, which seems indefinitely postponed given the current Syrian crisis.
France is the lead country on Lebanon in the Council.
Selected UN Documents
|Security Council Resolutions|
20 AUGUST 2011
|Renewed UNIFIL until 31 August 2012.|
30 MAY 2007
|Established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.|
|11 AUGUST 2006
|Called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.|
28 JUNE 2012
|Was the latest report on resolution 1701.|
|20 APRIL 2012
|Was the latest report on resolution 1559.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
18 JULY 2012
|Welcomed the reconvening of the National Dialogue and expressed concern over border violations in the north.|
|Security Council Letters|
|13 JUNE 2012
|Was Lebanon’s declaration from the 11 June National Dialogue meeting (the first since November 2010).|
Other Relevant Facts
Special Coordinator for Lebanon
Derek Plumbly (UK)
Special Envoy for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559
Terje Rod-Larsen (Norway)
UNHCR figures for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon as of 25 July 2012
31,596 Syrian refugees registered by the UN in Lebanon with an additional 2,500 being assisted pending registration.
UNIFIL Force Commander
Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra (Italy)
Size and Composition of UNIFIL as of 30 June 2012
Authorised: 15,000 troops Current: 11,571 military personnel
Troop Contributors: Armenia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, France, FYR of Macedonia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Timor-Leste and Turkey
Duration: March 1978 to present; mandate expires 31 August 2012
Cost: 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012: $545.47 million (A/C.5/66/14)