May 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 May 2014
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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 latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Adopted in 2004, the resolution urged the disarmament of all militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory. Discussion is expected to focus on the enormous impact the Syrian crisis is having on the political, security and humanitarian situations in Lebanon.

Key Recent Developments

Rød-Larsen last briefed Council members on 24 October 2013. Key areas of discussion included the influx of Syrian refugees, Hezbollah’s military activities in Syria and subsequent sectarian tensions and pronounced cross-border incidents. He said Lebanon was facing the most dangerous situation since its own civil war ended in 1990.

Regarding the political situation, on 15 February Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced his cabinet, ending a deadlock that began in April 2013 when the rivalry between the Shi’a Hezbollah-dominated March 8 coalition and the Sunni-led March 14 alliance prevented Salam from forming a government. However, the cabinet did not receive a vote of confidence until 20 March due to lengthy negotiations over how to reference Hezbollah’s military role in the ministerial statement. (Hezbollah de facto operates as a military force outside of state authority.)

After the vote of confidence, President Michel Sleiman reconvened the Lebanese National Dialogue on 31 March—a forum for political leaders to address the issue of Hezbollah’s arms. Hezbollah did not attend. The next session is scheduled for 5 May.

Political tension has been further exacerbated by the two blocs’ support for opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Hezbollah fighting openly on behalf of the Syrian regime. The rivalry is also affecting the presidential elections to replace Sleiman, whose term ends on 25 May. When a new president is elected, the cabinet that was just formed in February will need to be replaced and the arduous task of forming a government will begin anew.

On 23 April, parliament held its first round of voting to elect a new president with no candidate receiving the required two-thirds majority in the 128-member parliament. A quorum could not be reached to hold a second round of voting on 30 April since Hezbollah refused to attend. The session was postponed to 7 May. (Lebanon’s power sharing arrangement requires that the president be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliamentary speaker a Shi’a.)

The March 14 bloc backed Samir Geagea who only received 48 votes in the first round of balloting. Geagea’s votes were overshadowed by the 52 blank ballots cast by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition. While the March 8 coalition has not backed any candidate yet, analysts point to Michel Aoun, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement—the largest bloc in the March 8 political coalition—as a possibility.

Regarding the security situation, almost daily cross-border shelling, shooting and rocket attacks occur between Lebanon and Syria—particularly affecting the border town of Arsal in the Beka’a Valley. There have also been sustained sectarian clashes in Tripoli linked to the Syrian crisis. To increase security, Lebanese security forces have deployed in greater numbers in Tripoli and in the Beka’a Valley. 

Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon and Syria have sparked fears that Lebanon could be drawn further into a broader regional conflict. On 24 February, Israel struck a convoy in Lebanon reportedly carrying weapons en route to Hezbollah. Hezbollah vowed to retaliate and subsequently claimed responsibility for a 14 March incident when an Israeli military vehicle, patrolling south of the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon, was hit by a roadside improvised explosive device.

On 5 March, the International Support Group for Lebanon—formed in September 2013 to provide political support and bilateral financial support for Lebanon’s humanitarian and security needs—met in Paris. The Group stressed the critical role of Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in mitigating growing security threats, especially along Lebanon’s border with Syria. Regarding the humanitarian situation, the meeting also served as a donor conference to raise funds to help Lebanon cope with the influx of refugees from Syria. There are 1.040 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon but unofficial estimates put the figure closer to 1.5 million. Nearly 2,500 new refugees are registered daily and the numbers are placing an unprecedented strain on Lebanon’s communities, infrastructure and services.

Regarding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, on 24 April two journalists and two media outlets in Lebanon, reportedly with links to Hezbollah, were charged with contempt of court for publishing confidential information about prosecution witnesses. They have been summoned to appear before the court on 13 May.

Key Issues

The key issues are the fact that Hezbollah maintains a significant arsenal not controlled by the government and the delineation of the border between Lebanon and Syria has not taken place and will not in the foreseeable future. Another key issue is that the conflict in Syria, and Hezbollah’s unambiguous involvement there on behalf of the regime, has negatively impacted Lebanon.

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. The ongoing conflict in Syria will most likely indefinitely stall any effort to implement resolution 1559 fully—especially disarmament and border demarcation.

Furthermore, the flow of arms across the border between Syria and Lebanon has contributed to the expansion of arsenals outside the control of the Lebanese government.

Options

The Council is unlikely to take any action on Lebanon before the conclusion of presidential elections. However, if the process stalls then it is possible the Council may want to issue a statement encouraging the election in an expeditious manner in order to maintain political stability.

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 such incidents. In a similar vein, a statement addressing the Syrian refugee situation and subsequent humanitarian crisis in the country might also be an appropriate demonstration of support given the challenges Lebanon is facing.

Council Dynamics

There is agreement among all Council members that the Security Council should support Lebanon in its efforts to contain the spillover from the conflict in Syria. 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.

However, there are divisions, particularly among the P5 members, on how to characterise the impact of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon, Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian conflict, Syria’s role in cross-border attacks and Israeli airstrikes on alleged weapon transfers Hezbollah.

Such divisions may also be reflected in a desire by Council members, particularly the P3, to manage the spillover effects from the Syrian crisis by using a mechanism outside the Council as demonstrated by the International Support Group for Lebanon.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions
29 August 2013 S/RES/2115 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNIFIL for an additional year.
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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
26 February 2014 S/2014/130 This was the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of resolution 1701 on Lebanon.

24 April 2014
S/2014/296

This was the Secretary-General’s 1559 report covering October 2013-April 2014.