May 2013 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 May 2013
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In May, Council members expect to receive the semi-annual briefing in consultations from Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559 (S/2013/234). Adopted in 2004, resolution 1559 urged the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory.

A press statement or similar outcome is possible.

Key Recent Developments

The Council last met on Lebanon on 14 March, when members heard a briefing in consultations on the implementation of resolution 1701 from the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly. Following the briefing, Council members issued a press statement that expressed concern about cross-border incidents between Syria and Lebanon and about the impact of the conflict in Syria on the stability of its southern neighbour (SC/10941). The press statement also encouraged relevant parties “to make swift progress to ensure that parliamentary elections take place on a consensual basis”.

The impact of the conflict in Syria on Lebanon was raised again during an open humanitarian briefing on Syria on 18 April and during the quarterly open debate on the Middle East on 24 April. During his remarks on 18 April, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres described the crisis in Syria as an “existential threat” to Lebanon, noting that Syrian refugees currently make up at least 10 percent of the population of Lebanon.

Significant incidents along the border between Lebanon and Syria continued in March and April. In a letter to Lebanon dated 14 March, Syria threatened to attack Syrian opposition forces inside Lebanon to prevent the smuggling of arms and gunmen. On 15 March, Syria appeared to be following through on its threat when several villages in northern Lebanon reportedly came under fire from Syria. On 18 March the situation continued to escalate when Syrian helicopters reportedly fired rockets at two sites near the city of Arsal that had allegedly been used for smuggling.

In response to Syrian denials that the airstrikes had taken place, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman told reporters that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had confirmed the strikes, which he described as “an unacceptable violation of [Lebanon’s] sovereignty”. This was the first incident since the start of the conflict in which Syria entered Lebanon’s airspace. On 20 March the Secretary-General expressed grave concern at the reports and called on Syria to cease all such violations of Lebanese sovereignty. Additional cross-border incidents involving Syrian helicopters were reported on 21 March and 3 April.

Sectarian tensions in Lebanon escalated in March. On 17 March, four Sunni sheikhs were attacked and beaten in two separate incidents in predominantly Shi’a neighbourhoods of Beirut. Although Hezbollah and Amal, the major Shi’a parties in Lebanon, quickly condemned the attacks, significant protests took place around the country soon after. Following the attacks, six people were killed and at least 48 people were wounded in sectarian clashes between residents of Sunni and Alawite neighbourhoods in Tripoli.

On 4 March, President Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati signed a decree calling for parliamentary elections to be held on 9 June, despite the political deadlock over a new electoral law. Shortly after, the Ministry of Interior began accepting applications from those wishing to register as candidates in the upcoming elections, even though an election supervisory commission (which was to have been established before registration was opened) had not yet been established.

On 22 March, Mikati announced his resignation following an impasse in the cabinet regarding the extension of the mandate of Internal Security Forces Chief Major General Ashraf Rifi and the establishment of the election supervisory commission. On 23 March, President Sleiman accepted the resignation, asked Mikati to head a caretaker government, and appointed a Sunni, Tamam Salam, as Prime Minister-designate on 6 April tasking him with the responsibility for forming a new government. Both the pro-Syria political factions (including Hezbollah) and the anti-Syria 14 March Coalition formed in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 endorsed Salam in the days leading up to his appointment. At press time discussions were continuing regarding the formation of a new cabinet and the adoption of a new electoral law.

At the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), after a postponement in February, no new date has been set for the start of the trial in absentia of four individuals charged with assassinating Hariri. In January, a newspaper associated with Hezbollah published a confidential list of 17 potential witnesses who might be called to testify in the trial. A spokesman for the STL has described the publication as an effort to intimidate potential witnesses. On 11 April the STL condemned the publication online of a second list of alleged witnesses by a group calling itself “Journalists for the Truth”, and added that the list was inaccurate.

Key Issues

The key issues in Lebanon addressed by resolution 1559 are the fact that Hezbollah maintains a significant arsenal not controlled by the Lebanese government and that the delineation of the border between Lebanon and Syria has not taken place.

The National Dialogue—a series of talks that started in 2006 during which political leaders have addressed the issue of Hezbollah’s arms—has not resumed in the wake of the assassination of the intelligence chief of the Internal Security Forces on 19 October 2012.

At press time it was unclear whether Prime Minister Salam’s as-yet unformed cabinet would be conducive to the resumption of talks. The 14 March Coalition had previously called for the resignation of the Mikati government and the installation of a neutral cabinet to oversee preparations for parliamentary elections as prerequisites for returning to the National Dialogue. Current discussions regarding the formation of a new cabinet appear to be centred on the question of whether the cabinet should be a national unity government that would be political in nature or whether it should be neutral and technocratic, charged primarily with overseeing elections, as the 14 March Coalition has called for.

Underlying Problems

The ongoing conflict in Syria will most likely indefinitely stall any effort to implement resolution 1559 properly, especially in light of the increased instability along the border between Lebanon and Syria and Hezbollah’s continuing support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Furthermore, the flow of armaments across the border between Syria and Lebanon has contributed to the expansion of arsenals outside the control of the Lebanese government. Israeli officials have said they would intervene to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons to Hezbollah and violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel have continued in recent months. Both of these constitute violations of resolution 1559 and Lebanon’s sovereignty.

Options

The Council is unlikely to take any action on Lebanon so soon after the press statement adopted on 14 March, as many Council members are worried that a glut of press statements might dilute their efficacy. However, since the security situation in Lebanon and along the border with Syria has continued to deteriorate, the Council could adopt a statement reiterating its condemnation of cross-border incidents and expressing concern for violations of Lebanese sovereignty. In a similar vein, a press or presidential statement addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in the country might also be an appropriate demonstration of international support for Lebanon given the challenges it is facing. Finally, the Council could also issue a statement encouraging Lebanon to hold its parliamentary elections on time and on a consensual basis, in order to maintain political stability.

Council Dynamics

The lack of significant controversy in negotiations around the 14 March press statement is evidence of the consensus in the Council that the international community should support Lebanon in its efforts to contain and manage spillover from the conflict in Syria. Though Council efforts to pronounce on any aspect of the situation in Syria remain controversial, consultations in May will likely demonstrate a dynamic similar to the short, consensual consultations seen in March.

France is the penholder on Lebanon in the Council.

UN Documents on Lebanon

Security Council Resolutions
30 August 2012 S/RES/2064 This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for 12 months.
30 May 2007 S/RES/1757 This resolution decided on the entry into force of the agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic on the establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
11 August 2006 S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
2 September 2004 S/RES/1559 This resolution urged withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, extension of the Lebanese government’s control over all Lebanese territory, and free and fair presidential elections.
Security Council Press Statement
14 March 2013 SC/10941 This press statement expressed grave concern over the impact of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon and called for swift progress towards parliamentary elections.
Secretary-General’s Reports
18 April 2013 S/2013/234 This was a report on resolution 1559.
27 February 2013 S/2013/120 This report covered the implementation of resolution 1701.
Security Council Meeting Record
18 April 2013 S/PV.6949 The Council received briefings on the humanitarian situation in Syria from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura, and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui .