Expected Council Action
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, which is due in early October. Adopted in 2004, resolution 1559 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
The Syrian crisis continues to have deleterious effects on Lebanon. Though Lebanon maintains an official position of disassociation from the Syrian conflict, Lebanese militants continue to engage in the conflict, in violation of resolution 1559, and extremist groups have launched several attacks on Lebanese security forces in border areas.
Fighting on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria continues to threaten stability, with on-going conflict in Arsal, in the Bekaa Valley bordering Syria. At least 19 Lebanese security personnel were killed during five days of intense fighting in early August between Lebanese forces and extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front, and while the militants were forced to retreat from Arsal, they did so with 29 kidnapped security personnel, from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF). Both ISIS and Al-Nusra demanded the release of Islamist prisoners being held in Roumieh Prison in return for the soldiers. The Lebanese government has been engaged in indirect negotiations with the militants—mediated by Qatar—to secure the release of its soldiers.
ISIS beheaded two other Lebanese soldiers in captivity in August. When ISIS militants beheaded the second of these soldiers, a Shi’a, on 9 August, dozens of people took to the streets in an angry protest. On 19 September, militants from Al-Nusra executed an abducted soldier, the first instance of Al-Nusra killing a captive. On 24 September, families and supporters of the abducted soldiers stepped up protests by blocking the main roads between Beirut and the Bekaa Valley to pressure the government to secure the soldiers’ release. The kidnappings and beheadings by Sunni extremists have contributed to the rise of sectarianism and unrest in the Bekaa Valley, and criminal gangs have taken advantage of the chaos, resulting in a spate of kidnapping-for-ransom cases.
Also on 19 September, a roadside bomb killed two LAF soldiers on the outskirts of Arsal. Over the next three days, more than 200 Syrian men were arrested in the area, most of whom had been sheltering in informal tented settlements. Some of the militants responsible for the roadside bombing were believed to have hidden in refugee camps; refugees complained that innocent Syrians had been among those arrested.
In a televised speech on 23 September, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the group opposes Lebanon’s participation in the US-led international coalition fighting terrorism. He said that the US is not qualified to lead an anti-terrorism coalition and argued that some countries in the anti-terrorism coalition were supporting, funding and arming terrorist groups, including ISIS. He added that the Lebanese people were able to protect their country from terrorist threats. He urged the coalition’s member states to accelerate the delivery of weapons to the LAF to help in the battle against terrorism.
The political situation remains stagnant. More than four months after the term of President Michael Sleiman expired on 25 May, Lebanon’s parliament remains unable to elect a new head of state. On 23 September parliament speaker Nabih Berri postponed the presidential election session until 9 October. 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 parliament member 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.
A ministerial high-level meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon—established to help Lebanon cope with the crisis in neighbouring Syria by supporting state institutions and the LAF—was held on 26 September, on the sidelines of the 69th General Assembly.
The overarching issue at this time is that the conflict in Syria, and Hezbollah’s unambiguous involvement there on behalf of the regime, has negatively impacted Lebanon and will most likely indefinitely stall efforts to implement resolution 1559 fully.
The fact that Hezbollah maintains a significant arsenal not controlled by the government and that the flow of arms across the border between Lebanon and Syria has contributed to the expansion of arsenals outside the control of the Lebanese government are related issues.
Another issue is the danger that Lebanon will be embroiled by sectarian conflict and that Shi’a-Sunni tensions will be exacerbated by fighting between the LAF and Sunni extremists entering from Syria.
One option is for the Council to merely receive the briefing and take no action.
Alternatively, given the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon, the Council could opt to issue a statement again urging all Lebanese parties to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis and condemning the beheadings and continuing detention of Lebanese security forces by ISIS and Al-Nusra.
Given the lack of progress towards electing a president, another option is to issue a statement reiterating the Council’s concern and encouraging the election to take place in an expeditious manner in order to maintain stability.
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.
Selected UN Documents on Lebanon
|Security Council Resolutions|
|26 August 2014 S/RES/2172||This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for one 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.|
|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.|
|24 April 2014 S/2014/296||This was the 1559 report covering October 2013-April 2014.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|4 August 2014 SC/11507||This press statement condemned the attacks by violent extremists groups against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces.|