August 2013 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 August 2013
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Expected Council Action

In August the Security Council will extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a further year as requested by Lebanon. This will be the seventh renewal since the cessation of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel in 2006. The mandate expires on 31 August.

Prior to the renewal, Council members will be briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet in consultations.

It is likely that the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon will also be reflected in the forthcoming annual letter from the Secretary-General regarding the mission’s renewal. It is possible that the resolution authorising the renewal might reflect some of these developments, though no significant operational changes to the UNIFIL mandate are anticipated.

Key Recent Developments

On 9 July, UN Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly and peacekeeping head Hervé Ladsous briefed Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s 26 June report, which portrayed the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations as stable. However, the report also described growing sectarian tension in Lebanon as a result of the Syrian crisis, in particular the 25 May announcement by Hezbollah of its military involvement in Syria on behalf of the Syrian government, and a pronounced increase in cross-border incidents between Syria and Lebanon. Ladsous said that Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops in southern Lebanon had redeployed north due to mounting instability. As a consequence, UNIFIL had increased its operational activities to compensate for the temporary loss of LAF capacity.

The following day the Council adopted a presidential statement expressing growing concern about the spillover effects of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon’s political, security and humanitarian situations. The statement also expressed concern about cross-border fire from Syria into Lebanon, as well as incursions, abductions and arms-trafficking across the border. It called on all parties to recommit to Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from the Syrian crisis and urged the swift formation of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s government and the resumption of efforts to hold parliamentary elections, which were postponed from June 2013 to November 2014.

Lebanon continued to experience violent incidents. On 9 July, a bomb exploded in a predominantly Shi’a neighborhood of Beirut, injuring 53 people. The Council issued a press statement the same day condemning the attack and calling for all Lebanese parties to refrain from involvement in the Syrian crisis. There were a number of cross-border incidents throughout July impacting the Beka’a Valley. Meanwhile, Israeli air strikes in Syria have sparked concerns that Hezbollah might retaliate, potentially drawing Lebanon further into a broader regional conflict. The most recent Israeli airstrike in Syria was on 5 July, targeting anti-ship cruise missiles. Similar airstrikes on weapons depots in Syria occurred on 30 January, 3 and 5 May. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Israel has reiterated a neutral policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis, with a parallel policy to take action to stop any transfer of strategic weaponry through Syria to Hezbollah. 

Regarding the political situation, there is a leadership vacuum due to an unresolved political stalemate, which began when Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned on 22 March. He now heads a Hezbollah-led government in a caretaker capacity. This stalemate has also largely paralysed parliament, which failed to meet in July to vote on the extension of the LAF commander’s term because it lacked a quorum. (The commander’s term expires in September.)

The extension of the LAF commander’s term is particularly contentious. Michel Aoun, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement—the largest bloc in the Hezbollah-led 8 March political coalition—has played a significant role in blocking the extension. Aoun’s calculation may be that if the current LAF commander is extended, versus being appointed by parliament, then the presidency may be similarly extended. A further factor is that Aoun has put forward the name of his son-in-law Shamel Roukoz as one of several candidates which should be considered for the post of LAF commander. In practice, if parliament were to appoint Roukoz, this would give Hezbollah an unprecedented influence over the LAF.

Media reports indicate that Roukoz heads the LAF regiment that led the late June operation against Ahmad al-Assir, a Salafi cleric opposed to Hezbollah. This confrontation resulted in the deaths of 18 LAF soldiers and 28 gunmen loyal to Assir.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated sharply. In July 2012 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there were approximately 34,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon. By late July 2013, that number had climbed to 653,329, representing a 19-fold increase over the course of one year. The Lebanese government estimates that the actual figure is 1.2 million Syrians in Lebanon. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, who visited Lebanon on 1-2 July, said that such overwhelming numbers are taking their toll on the economy and the provision of basic services in Lebanon.

On 16 July, the Council held a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. As a participant, Lebanon emphasised that it cannot cope by itself with the massive refugee influx and appealed to the international community for $1.7 billion in direct aid to fund the humanitarian response and provision of essential services.

On 23 July, Lebanon announced new admission restrictions on Syrians entering the country. Prior to this announcement, Lebanon, which hosts the largest Syrian refugee population, was the only host country keeping its borders open without any restrictions. Syrian refugees had already begun to encounter significant restrictions when trying to enter Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.

On 22 July, the EU listed the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation following its overt acknowledgement of its involvement in the Syrian crisis. However, the political wing of Hezbollah, which dominates the caretaker Mikati government, was not listed. This decision means in practice that the EU can maintain economic and political ties with Lebanon while individuals and organisations affiliated with the military wing of Hezbollah could be subject to EU sanctions. Analysts said this compromise was reached after many EU member states expressed hesitancy to sanction Hezbollah, arguing it could fuel further instability in Lebanon and possibly endanger troops from EU countries serving in UNIFIL. (The Gulf Cooperation Council took similar measures against Hezbollah on 10 June.)

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 negatively impacted Lebanon.

Ongoing issues include continued violations of resolution 1701, such as the Israeli occupation of areas north of the Blue Line and overflights in Lebanese airspace.

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

Underlying Problems

Lebanon’s official policy is one of disassociation from the Syrian crisis. However, Hezbollah’s overt involvement in Syria on behalf of the regime, 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 is to simply renew the UNIFIL mandate as it currently stands for another year.

Council Dynamics

There is consensus on the Council that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon, which is even more crucial given the current regional political and security climate. The 10 July presidential statement also demonstrated the Council’s agreement on the importance of preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty, national unity, territorial integrity and political independence. 

However, there remain strong divisions, particularly between the P5 members, on how to characterise the Syrian conflict’s impact on Lebanon. These divisions were apparent during the negotiations of the 10 July presidential statement when there were several controversial elements that were not specifically referenced in the final text, including Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian conflict, the Syrian government’s role in cross-border attacks and Israeli airstrikes on Syrian weapons depots.

France is the penholder on Lebanon in the Council.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions
30 August 2012 S/RES/2064 This resolution renewed UNIFIL until 31 August 2013.
11 August 2006 S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
Security Council Presidential Statements
10 July 2013 S/PRST/2013/9 Expressed growing concern regarding the spillover effects of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon’s political, security and humanitarian situations.
Security Council Press Statements
9 July 2013 SC/11055 Condemned the 9 July terrorist attack in Beirut.
Secretary-General’s Reports
26 June 2013 S/2013/381 Was the report on resolution 1701 covering the period March-June 2013.
18 April 2013 S/2013/234 This was a report on resolution 1559.
Security Council Letters
18 June 2013 S/2013/370 A letter from Lebanese President Michel Sleiman regarding the infringement on Lebanese sovereignty by “conflicting Syrian parties”.
Security Council Meeting Records
16 July 2013 S/PV.7000 This was a public briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria by OCHA, UNHCR and UNHCHR. Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey also participated.

 

Other Relevant Facts

Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly (UK)

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

UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Paolo Serra (Italy) 

Size and Composition of UNIFIL as of 31 May 2013: Authorised: 15,000 troops Current: 10,820 troops. Troop Contributors: Armenia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Finland, France, FYR of Macedonia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Turkey Duration: March 1978 to present; mandate expires 31 August 2013 Cost: 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013: $524.01 million (A/C.5/66/18).