March 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2014
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In March, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet 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.

Key Recent Developments

The report is likely to highlight continuing cross-border incidents in which violations of the Blue Line—the UN demarcated line between Israel and Lebanon—were made by both sides, including violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli drones and other aircraft. Continuing hostilities and the harassment of UNIFIL personnel is also likely to be reported.

One grave violation occurred in the vicinity of the Blue Line at Naqoura on 15 December 2013 when a Lebanese soldier fired on and killed an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who was on the Israeli side. The IDF retaliated by shooting, non-fatally, two Lebanese soldiers whom they believed were involved in the attack. The following day, UNIFIL convened an extraordinary tripartite meeting with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the IDF. Plumbly participated on behalf of the Secretary-General. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident to fully restore the cessation of hostilities. Later in the day, the Council issued a press statement that deplored the shooting and called for restraint by all parties (SC/11217).

On 29 December, two rockets were fired from southern Lebanon in the area of El Khraibe into northern Israel. The IDF responded by firing 32 artillery rounds at the area from which the rockets originated. That day, UNIFIL held another tripartite meeting with the parties to de-escalate tensions.

Regarding the political situation in Lebanon, on 15 February Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced that a government had been formed, ending a 10-month political deadlock that crippled the country’s ability to confront growing security and humanitarian challenges. The political deadlock began last April, when the rivalry between the Shi’a Hezbollah-dominated March 8 coalition and the Sunni-led March 14 alliance—which has been exacerbated by their support for opposing sides in the Syrian conflict—prevented Salam from forming a government. Agreement was finally reached once the March 14 alliance withdrew its choice for interior minister, whom Hezbollah had opposed.

In his inaugural message, Salam noted that he had attempted to form a balanced government in which all parties participated, but without any religious or sectarian quotas. The cabinet is not expected to remain in office long, however, as President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term will end in May, at which time a new head of state will be elected and a new government will be formed.

Spillover from Syria continues to have a destabilising effect on Lebanon. Approximately 900,000 refugees are registered in Lebanon, increasing the country’s population by roughly 25 percent. Unofficial estimates put the figure closer to 1.5 million. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that 50,000 refugees arrived in Lebanon in January alone.

The Syrian crisis also continues to exacerbate deadly sectarianism in Lebanon. Since late December 2013, the Council has issued six press statements relating to terrorist attacks in Lebanon. The most deadly of these attacks came on 19 February, when twin attacks killed at least eight people in the vicinity of the Iranian cultural centre in Beirut. The Lebanese Al-Qaida-linked group Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility. Other statements were issued in response to two deadly attacks in the Shi’a majority town of Hermel and three others in Beirut, including a 27 December car bombing that targeted former Minister Mohammad Chatah—a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—killing him and at least four others (SC/11232). Each statement stressed the importance for all parties to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and appealed to the Lebanese people to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis, consistent with their commitment in the Baabda Declaration.

On 24 February, Israeli warplanes launched two raids targeting a convoy carrying surface-to-surface missiles into Lebanon in the eastern Bekaa valley, on the Lebanon-Syria border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the target was a Hezbollah “missile base”, but it was not immediately apparent whether the strike hit inside Lebanese or Syrian territory. In early January, media reports indicated that Hezbollah has been moving long-range missiles from storage bases in Syria to positions in Lebanon, from which they could strike deep into Israel. The reports claimed that as many as 12 Russian-made anti-ship cruise missile systems may be in Hezbollah’s possession inside Syria. According to US officials, Israel has struck Syria at least three times in the past year to prevent weapons from reaching Hezbollah inside Lebanon.

On 16 January, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened the trial for the 2005 assassination of former Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in a terrorist attack that also killed 21 others. In a press statement issued that day, the Council welcomed the opening of the trial and stressed the vital importance of combating impunity for the long-term stability and security of Lebanon (SC/11250). All five of the defendants, said to be members of Hezbollah, are being tried in absentia.

President Suleiman on 29 December announced that Saudi Arabia had made a landmark $3 billion military grant to Lebanon to purchase arms from France. Special Coordinator Plumbly visited Riyadh on 6 January and welcomed the pledge of assistance. However, the military aid from the Sunni kingdom, seen as an attempt to counter the influence that Iran wields in Lebanon through Hezbollah, could further ignite tensions.

Key Issues

The key issue is that the conflict in Syria continues to negatively impact 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.

Options

The most likely option for the Council in March is to take no action. However, Council members could issue a statement stressing their support for the LAF as a pillar of stability and reiterating the importance for all parties to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict.

Council Dynamics

There is consensus in 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 remains supportive of the country’s policy of disassociation from the Syrian crisis.

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

France is the penholder on Lebanon in the Council.

UN Documents on Lebanon

Security Council Resolution
29 August 2013 S/RES/2115 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNIFIL for an additional year.
Secretary-General’s Report
13 November 2013 S/2013/650 This was the Secretary General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701 and on the activities of UNIFIL.
Security Council Press Statements
19 February 2014 SC/11287 This press statement condemned a terrorist attack in Beirut.
15 February 2014 SC/11283 This press statement welcomed the formation of a new government in Lebanon.
1 February 2014 SC/11269 This press statement condemned a terrorist attack in Hermel.
21 January 2014 SC/11256 In this press statement, the Security Council strongly condemned the terrorist attack on 21 January in southern Beirut.
16 January 2014 SC/11250 In this press statement, the Council welcomed the opening of the trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in a terrorist attack that also killed 21 others.
16 January 2014 SC/11249 In this press statement, the Security Council strongly condemned the terrorist attack on 16 January, in Hermel, Lebanon.
2 January 2014 SC/11239 In this press statement, the Security Council strongly condemned the terrorist attack on 2 January in South Beirut.
27 December 2013 SC/11232 This press statement condemned the assassination Lebanese Minister Mohammed Chatah, stressed the importance of Lebanon’s policy of disassociation, and called on all parties to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis.
16 December 2013 SC/11217 In this press statement Council members condemned the 15 December shooting of an Israeli soldier by a Lebanese soldier near the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon.
Other Relevant Facts

Special Coordinator for LebanonDerek Plumbly (UK)

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

UNIFIL Force CommanderMajor General Paolo Serra (Italy)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL as of 31 December 2013
Authorised: 15,000 troops  Current: 10,431 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)