July 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 June 2014
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In July, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping 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

Council members last discussed UNIFIL on 25 March, when deliberations  focused on the relative calm in the mission’s area of operations and the added value of the tripartite mechanism in de-escalating tensions between Israel and Lebanon. Discussion also focused on the marked increase in Syrian cross-border fire. The July report is likely to highlight breaches of the Blue Line—the UN-demarcated line between Israel and Lebanon—including violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli drones and other aircraft. Continuing hostilities and the harassment of UNIFIL personnel are also likely to be reported.

The report will likely describe ongoing tensions between Hezbollah and Israel, including the 24 February Israeli attack of a Hezbollah position inside Lebanon and the 14 March roadside bombing, claimed by Hezbollah, of an Israeli military vehicle patrolling south of the Blue Line.

The 1701 report is also expected to depict serious sectarian tension as a result of the Syrian crisis and intensified cross-border incidents from Syria into Lebanon. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have continued to redeploy from the Israeli border in the south to the Syrian border in north and east of the country due to mounting instability. As a consequence, UNIFIL has increased its operational activities in the south to compensate for the loss of LAF capacity.  Cooperation between UNIFIL and the LAF was the focus peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous’ visit to Lebanon in late June.

On 17 June, the International Support Group for Lebanon, which includes France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US, committed to provide training to the LAF to cope with the spillover of the Syrian crisis. On 17 May, then President Michel Sleiman announced that a contract would be signed to formalise the 29 December 2013 pledge by Saudi Arabia of a $3 billion grant to Lebanon to purchase arms from France. The military aid from the Sunni kingdom is widely perceived as an attempt to counter the influence that Shi’a Iran wields in Lebanon through Hezbollah.

Lebanon began to implement a new security plan in April to rein in sectarian violence. On 25 May, radical Sunni cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad was arrested due to his public support for the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). On 20 June, 17 men were arrested in Beirut on the suspicion they were plotting to assassinate a prominent Shi’a leader, the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and of possibly being members of or sympathetic to ISIS. The same day there was a suicide car bomb detonated at a checkpoint in the Beka’a Valley, killing one member of the internal security forces and wounding 32. Another car bomb detonated in a Shi’a area of Beirut on 23 June and a suicide attack on a Beirut hotel followed two days later. On 24 June, Lebanese authorities arrested another 11 men suspected of being part of a terrorist cell.

Regarding the political situation, Council members were briefed in consultations on the latest 1559 report by Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen on 6 May. Key areas of focus included the enormous impact the Syrian crisis is having on the political, security and humanitarian situation in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s military activities in Syria, subsequent sectarian tensions and pronounced cross-border incidents were also discussed. Of particular interest was the political stalemate that would ensue in the probable scenario that a new president would not be elected.

On 29 May the Security Council adopted a presidential statement following the failure of the parliament to elect a new president when Sleiman’s term expired on 25 May. The statement expressed the Council’s disappointment that the presidential election was not completed within the constitutional timeframe and urged Lebanon to hold elections quickly. It also called on all parties to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and, albeit without naming Hezbollah, to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis.

The existing political rivalry in Lebanon between the Shi’a Hezbollah-dominated March 8 coalition and the Sunni-led March 14 alliance has been exacerbated by the two blocs’ support for opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Hezbollah fighting openly on behalf of the Syrian regime. This rivalry has stalled the elections and, in seven rounds of voting since 23 April, no presidential candidate has received the required two-thirds majority of the 128-member parliament due to the boycott of these sessions by the March 8 bloc. The last round was 18 June, and the next vote is slated for 2 July. It seems unlikely that the necessary quorum in parliament will be reached as long as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which back the March 8 and March 14 blocs respectively, fail to agree on potential consensus candidates.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beirut on 4 June and met with both the prime minister and president regarding the political stalemate and Syrian crisis. The discussions also touched on natural gas reserves. These reserves were a source of heightened tension between Israel and Lebanon in the summer of 2011 due to the disputed maritime zone of 850 square kilometres and competing claims over their respective national rights to such natural resources. (There is no established maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon; Israel unilaterally installed a buoy line, which Lebanon does not recognise.) Given the dramatic shift in the geopolitical landscape in the region since then, the tension and public rhetoric has died down, and the US has been actively working with both Israel and Lebanon to reach a mutual understanding and avoid activity in the disputed area.

The ongoing influx of Syrian refugees is placing an unprecedented strain on Lebanon’s communities, infrastructure and services. More than 1.1 million refugees are registered in Lebanon, increasing its population by roughly 25 percent and giving it the highest per-capita refugee population in the world. Unofficial estimates put the figure closer to 1.5 million.

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 July is to take no action. However, most Council members will be looking to the July consultations to feed into the August renewal of the UNIFIL mandate.

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 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 by 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. These members highlight the importance they attach to Lebanon’s stability by providing humanitarian assistance and bilateral financial support, including for the LAF, through this Group. This support has become particularly important given the recent crisis in Iraq, Syria’s neighbour to the east. 

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.
Security Council Presidential Statement
29 May 2014 S/PRST/2014/10 Expressed disappointment that presidential elections were not completed within the constitutional timeframe and urged Lebanon to hold elections quickly. It also called on all parties to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis—a reference to Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria.
Secretary-General’s Reports
24 April 2014 S/2014/296 This was the 1559 report covering October 2013-April 2014.
26 February 2014 S/2014/130 This was the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of resolution 1701 on Lebanon.

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) until 24 July 2014 and then Major General Luciano Portolano (Italy)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL as of 31 March 2014: 15,000 authorised troops with 10,224 troops currently deployed. Troop Contributors: Armenia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 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.5/68/21)