August 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 August 2014
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In August, the Security Council will extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a further year. This will be the eighth renewal since the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 and will likely be done through a resolution, without any major changes to the mandate. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet is expected to brief Council members on the work of the UNIFIL ahead of the renewal.

UNIFIL’s mandate expires on 31 August.

Key Recent Developments

Already weakened institutionally by its inability to elect a president and battling the effects of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon faces the prospect that the recent outbreak of violence in Gaza could embroil Lebanese militants in renewed hostilities with Israel.

On 11 July, UNIFIL reported that three rockets originating from south Lebanon were fired towards Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) then returned artillery fire towards the general area where the rockets were launched. Lebanese security forces arrested a man suspected of firing the rockets, describing him as a member of “fundamentalist groups”. Three more such incidents occurred in as many days, with rockets originating from Al-Qulayah, albeit resulting in no casualties. On 16 July Lebanese forces arrested two Palestinian men for transporting rockets to a launching site. On 17 July, Lebanon sent a letter to the Council asserting that Israel’s retaliatory fire was in violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

UNIFIL launched investigations into all the incidents and increased border patrols in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The outgoing UNIFIL force commander, Major General Paolo Serra, stressed that the incidents were in violation of resolution 1701 and were directed at undermining stability in the area. He said that UNIFIL was working together with the LAF to try to avoid escalation and any further launching of rockets. In a media interview on 16 July, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly described the situation along the southern border as “dangerous” and stressed that all sides must exercise self-restraint. He also praised coordination between UNIFIL and the LAF on the matter.

These incidents are not believed to have involved Hezbollah, but its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed that they would stand with the resistance in Gaza. According to a 21 July statement by Nasrallah, he conveyed that message of support during a telephone conversation with leaders of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Meanwhile, the Syrian crisis continues to have deleterious effects on the political, security and humanitarian situation in Lebanon. Though Lebanon maintains an official position of disassociation from the Syrian conflict, as outlined in the Baabda declaration of June 2012, Lebanese militants continue to engage in the conflict. On 22 July a security source was quoted in the media as revealing that a Lebanese soldier had joined the rebel groups fighting in Syria, the first such case since the war in Syria began in 2011. The following day, the defector posted a video announcing that he had joined Al-Qaida’s al-Nusra Front due to Lebanese authorities’ alleged discrimination against Sunnis and calling the LAF a tool of Hezbollah. The total number of Lebanese rebel fighters in Syria is estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 300, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Interior. An estimated 7,000 Hezbollah members are currently fighting alongside the Syrian regime.

Fighting on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria continues to threaten stability. Combat erupted between Hezbollah and Al-Nusra in the mountainous region of Qalamoun on 13 July. At least nine Hezbollah fighters and some 26 Nusra militants were killed in several days of fighting. On 20 July, Hassan Fadlallah, a parliamentarian representing Hezbollah, asserted that his movement is at the forefront of defending its country against the threat of takfiri groups—referring to the Sunni militants operating in Syria and Iraq—who seek to move into and occupy Lebanon.

On 6 July, Syrian warplanes bombed gunmen in Wadi al-Khayl in Arsal. Arsal and the surrounding area are largely Sunni, and residents sympathise with the Sunni-led Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. On 31 July, the LAF arrested six Syrian nationals in Arsal on suspicion that they belong to rebel groups.Arsal also hosts more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and is the main crossing point for those fleeing from Syria into Lebanon.

The influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon remains a threat to Lebanon’s stability. On 14 July, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Ross Mountain said that about 12,000 new Syrian refugees are entering Lebanon every week and the total number of refugees in Lebanon is expected to reach 1.5 million by the end of the year—one-third of the country’s population. Describing the situation as a “national calamity”, Mountain warned that the majority of refugees are hosted by poor communities and that competition for scant resources is likely to cause friction between the two groups. He said he feared the problem would only get worse and result in Syrian-Lebanese hostilities and an increase in Lebanese inter-sectarian problems. He called on countries to fulfill their pledges to the $1.6 billion humanitarian response plan for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, of which only 29 percent has been funded. Last September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the International Support Group for Lebanon to help tackle Lebanon’s myriad challenges, including hosting so many Syrian refugees.

On the political front, Lebanon’s parliament remains unable to find a presidential candidate acceptable to all factions. A parliamentary session is set for 12 August to elect a president, the ninth such attempt since President Michel Sleiman’s term ended on 25 May. While the March 14 coalition, which is backing the nomination of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, has attended the legislative sessions, March 8 lawmakers, who reportedly back MP Michel Aoun, have boycotted them, saying the parliamentary sessions were useless unless rival parties agree on a consensus candidate beforehand. UN officials and the Council have repeatedly urged parliament to elect a president without further delay.

On 24 July, the newly appointed UNIFIL force commander and head of mission, Major General Luciano Portolano, took over command from Serra. 

Key Issues

A key issue is the need to prevent the recurrence or escalation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon in relation to the conflict in Gaza.

Several pressing issues arise from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, including the engagement of Lebanese elements in the war and the immense burden of hosting growing numbers of Syrian refugees, which continues to have adverse social, political and economic effects on Lebanon.

An ongoing and related issue is arms in the hands of Hezbollah and other non-state actors, which continues to restrict the ability of the state to exercise full authority over its territory, poses a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability and contradicts its obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701.

Other ongoing issues include continuing 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 is to renew the UNIFIL mandate as it currently stands for another year.

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 fighting in Gaza and the ongoing Syrian crisis. The Council remains united in its support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. The Council is also united in its concern about the continued vacancy in the presidency, particularly given the extreme challenges facing Lebanon at this time.   

France is the penholder on Lebanon in the Council.

UN Documents on Lebanon

Security Council Resolutions
11 August 2006 S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
Security Council Presidential Statements
29 May 2014 S/PRST/2014/10 This presidential statement 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
26 June 2014 S/2014/438 This was the latest report on implementation of resolution 1701 on Lebanon.
24 April 2014 S/2014/296 This was the 1559 report covering October 2013-April 2014.
Security Council Letters
17 July 2014 S/2014/507 This was a complaint from Lebanon about Israel following retaliatory artillery fire in violation of resolution 1701.
13 June 2012 S/2012/477 This is Lebanon’s declaration from the 11 June National Dialogue meeting (the first since November 2010).