November 2013 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 October 2013
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Expected Council Action

In November, 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 mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August 2014.

Key Recent Developments

The forthcoming 1701 report is expected to portray the situation in southern Lebanon as stable. However, Israeli air strikes in Syria and other cross-border incidents sparked concerns in this reporting period that Hezbollah might retaliate against Israel, potentially drawing Lebanon further into a broader regional conflict.

The report is expected to highlight some civilian hostility towards UNIFIL patrols in late August and early September when it seemed the US might be headed toward unilateral military strikes against Syria. It will also give an account of two significant security incidents between Israel and Lebanon.

The first incident was on 7 August when four Israeli soldiers were injured in a blast after allegedly crossing the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed responsibility. The second was a series of incidents which began on 21 August when UNIFIL observed five Israeli troops cross the Blue Line into Lebanon. The next day, the Al-Qaida-linked Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for launching four rockets into Israel. On 23 August, Israeli jets retaliated, striking a site near Tyre in south Lebanon. The presence of Hezbollah, Israeli troops and other unauthorised armed elements in UNIFIL’s area of operations, in addition to cross-border strikes, are violations of resolution 1701 and a breach of the cessation of hostilities. Lebanon has also recently complained that Israel ventured into its territorial waters, as well as a further incident on 1 October when Israeli troops crossed 296 meters into Lebanon.

The 1701 report is also expected to describe growing sectarian tension in Lebanon as a consequence of the Syrian crisis resulting in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) redeploying from the south to the north due to this mounting instability. As a consequence, UNIFIL has increased its operational activities to compensate for the temporary loss of LAF capacity.

On 24 October, 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. Key areas of discussion included the political stalemate, the influx of Syrian refugees, Hezbollah’s military activities in Syria and subsequent sectarian tensions demonstrated by the recent large-scale terrorist bombings in Beirut and Tripoli and pronounced cross-border incidents. He said Lebanon was facing the most dangerous situation in its history since 1990, when its own civil war ended.

Recent incidents include four rockets launched from Syria that struck Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold in northern Lebanon, on 21 October. The following day, five Syrian shells landed in the Al-Qaa region of the Beqa’a Valley. There were also renewed and severe sectarian clashes in Tripoli, breaking a truce which has been held since June. At press time, these clashes had resulted in 14 deaths and the LAF had been deployed in Tripoli to try and restore calm. These skirmishes are increasing amid reports that Hezbollah is planning an attack against Syrian rebels in the Qalamoun area bordering Lebanon.

The political stalemate that began when Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned on 22 March continues. He now heads a Hezbollah-led government in a caretaker capacity because Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has not yet been able to form his government. The Hezbollah-aligned 8 March political bloc has insisted on a share of ministerial portfolios proportionate to its parliamentary representation, and the 14 March political bloc has refused to participate in a cabinet that includes Hezbollah. On 14 October, there was a proposal to give nine ministerial seats each to the 8 March and 14 March political blocs, giving both a blocking majority, with the six remaining portfolios allocated to other centrist parties.  On 28 October, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the 8 March bloc would “currently” accept the 9-9-6 proposal and urged the 14 March bloc to do the same.

The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. On 25 October, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there were nearly 802,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon. (Lebanon estimates that the actual figure is 1.2 million.)

On 19 October two Turkish airline pilots seized in Beirut on 9 August were released in a prisoner swap for nine Lebanese nationals abducted in May 2012 in Syria. (These nine were part of a group of Shi’a pilgrims believed by Syrian rebels to be Hezbollah operatives.)

Regarding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, 13 January 2014 has been set as a tentative start for the trial in absentia of four individuals charged in the 14 February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. On 21 October, the Tribunal confirmed a fifth person, Hassan Merhi, had been indicted. He is also likely to be tried in absentia.

Key Issues

The key issue is that the conflict in Syria continues to negatively impact Lebanon with adverse security consequences in southern Lebanon as well.

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

Despite Lebanon’s official policy of disassociation from the Syrian crisis, Hezbollah’s overt involvement in Syria, sectarian violence, and the burgeoning refugee situation in Lebanon 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 freeze the Israel-Syria peace track.

Similarly, UNIFIL’s transfer of security responsibility in southern Lebanon to the LAF cannot progress so long as the LAF is deployed elsewhere to manage the insecurity caused by the spillover effects of the Syrian crisis.

Options

The most likely option for the Council in November is to take no action. However, Council members could issue a statement stressing their support for the LAF as a requisite pillar of stability.

Council Dynamics

There is consensus on the Council that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon, becoming even more crucial in the context of the Syrian crisis. The Council is united on the importance of preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty, national unity, territorial integrity and political independence and supportive of its policy of disassociation from the crisis in Syria.

Some Council members have also highlighted the importance they attach to Lebanon’s stability, providing humanitarian assistance and bilateral financial support, including funding for the LAF, through the International Support Group for Lebanon.

France is the penholder on Lebanon in the Council.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions
29 August 2013 S/RES/2115 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNIFIL for an additional year.
11 August 2006 S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
Secretary-General’s Reports
16 October 2013 S/2013/612 This was a report on the implementation of resolution 1559.
26 June 2013 S/2013/381 This was the Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701 covering the period March-June 2013.

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 as of 31 August 2013
Authorised: 15,000 troops  Current: 10,555 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, Kenya, 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 2014
Cost: 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014: $492.62 million (A/C.5/67/19)