July 2013 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In July, Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly will brief Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The report is due by the end of June. The Council’s consideration of Lebanon in July will feed into the renewal of the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which expires on 31 August.

Key Recent Developments

Council members last heard from Plumbly on 14 March when he briefed on the 27 February 1701 report (S/2013/120). He reported that a general calm prevailed in UNIFIL’s area of operations but also drew attention to the lack of progress towards a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah and the destabilising effects of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon. Similar issues are expected to be addressed in the forthcoming report.

Also on 14 March, Council members issued a press statement expressing concern over cross-border incidents between Syria and Lebanon and stressing Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and for all parties to refrain from involvement in the Syrian crisis (SC/10941).

The impact of the conflict in Syria on Lebanon was raised again during an open humanitarian briefing on Syria on 18 April, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Syrian refugees–at that time approximately 400,000–made up at least 10 percent of the Lebanese population. As of 25 June there were 564,039 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, more than in any other of Syria’s neighbours. The upcoming 1701 report will likely pay increased attention to the Syrian refugee situation, especially in the south of Lebanon, and its impact on UNIFIL.

On 30 April, Jordan addressed the Council regarding the influx of Syrian refugees and invited the Council to visit Jordan. During deliberations on the proposal it was suggested that any such visiting mission should also include Lebanon and Turkey. Council members could not reach agreement and the visit never took place.

On 8 May, Council members were briefed in consultations by Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559 (S/2013/234). Sectarian tensions in Tripoli, the influx of Syrian refugees and Israeli aerial attacks on Syria to disrupt arms shipments to Hezbollah were all key areas of discussion.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous visited Lebanon on 14 May to meet with senior officials and discuss UNIFIL’s cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Ladsous stressed the importance of safeguarding Lebanon’s stability from the negative impact of regional developments—a reference to the Syrian crisis.

Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernández-Taranco also addressed the spill-over effects during a horizon-scanning briefing by the Department of Political Affairs to Council members on 4 June and at the monthly Middle East briefing on 25 June. He reported that Hezbollah’s announcement on 25 May of its military involvement in Syria on behalf of the Syrian government marked a turning point in the heightening sectarian tension in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s decisive role in aiding the Syrian forces has aggravated sectarian violence across Lebanon—in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, Tripoli and most recently Sidon in southern Lebanon. At press time, clashes in Sidon were particularly fierce between the LAF and armed supporters of Ahmad al-Assir, a Sunni cleric opposed to Hezbollah. Clashes erupted on 23 June precipitated by the arrest of an Assir supporter at an LAF checkpoint followed by Assir supporters opening fire on the checkpoint. On 24 June, Special Coordinator Plumbly met with P5 ambassadors to Lebanon in Beirut. They were unanimous in deploring the attacks against the LAF and urged support for the Lebanese state institutions, particularly the army. The Secretary-General made a similar statement on the same day.

On 31 May the Lebanese parliament postponed June 2013 elections until November 2014. This is the first time since Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990 that parliament has extended its term. The decision was taken in the context of increased sectarian tension and the political stalemate following the 22 March resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (Mikati is currently in a caretaker role until the prime minister-designate Tamam Salam can form his cabinet.)

On 18 June, the 14 March political coalition asked President Michel Sleiman to call on Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria and for the LAF to deploy along the Syrian border with the support of international forces (a reference to UNIFIL, which does not have a mandate to deploy outside its area of operations in southern Lebanon). The forthcoming 1701 report is expected to highlight that LAF has redeployed just north of UNIFIL’s area of operations in response to the security situation though it is ready to redeploy south if necessary.

Regarding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, October 2013 is the earliest possible start for the trial in absentia of four individuals charged in the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. On 29 April, the Tribunal decided to investigate whether three incidents in which Hezbollah-associated media outlets published alleged witness identities could be considered interference with the administration of justice.

Key Issues

The key issue is that the conflict in Syria, and more recently Hezbollah’s unambiguous involvement there on behalf of the regime, has continued to negatively impact the political and security situation in Lebanon.

Ongoing issues are the Israeli occupation of areas north of the Blue Line (the border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon), including the village of Ghajar, in violation of resolution 1701.

The fact that Hezbollah maintains a significant military capacity beyond the control of the LAF remains a key issue.

Regular Israeli overflights in Lebanese airspace continue to be a source of concern—these were particularly intensified during Israel’s 3 and 5 May airstrikes on Syria.

Underlying Problems

Lebanon’s official policy is one of disassociation from the Syrian crisis. However, sectarian violence and the burgeoning refugee situation throughout the country provide evidence of the pressures such a policy must withstand. Achieving a formal ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon is impossible so long as the Syrian conflict continues to both destabilise Lebanon and derail the Israel-Syria peace track. 

Options

The most likely option for the Council in July is to take no action. However, Council members could issue a statement stressing their support for the LAF. Political support in Lebanon for LAF activities is particularly challenging given the current political stalemate.

An unlikely option is for the Council to reconsider the possibility of a visiting mission to the region in light of the increasing influx of Syrian refugees, primarily into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Council Dynamics

There is consensus on the Council that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon and that the Council must remain vigilant regarding the effects of spillover from the Syrian conflict into UNIFIL’s area of operations.

Regarding the political situation, many Council members view the postponement of elections and the discernible uptick in sectarian violence following Hezbollah’s decision to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime as worrisome developments.

France is the lead on Lebanon in the Council.

UN Documents
Security Council Resolutions
30 August 2012 S/RES/2064 Extended the mandate of UNIFIL for 12 months.
Security Council Press Statement
14 March 2013 SC/10941 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 The latest 1559 report.
27 February 2013 S/2013/120 The latest 1701 report.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly (UK)

Special Envoy for the Implementation of Resolution 1559 Terje Rød-Larsen (Norway)

UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Paolo Serra (Italy)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL

Authorised: 15,000 troops, Current: 11,002 military personnel

Troop Contributors (as of 30 April 2013): Armenia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tanzania and Turkey

Duration: March 1978 to present; mandate expires 31 August 2013.

Cost: 1 July 2012-30 June 2013: $524 million (A/C.5/66/18)