Expected Council Action
In November, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly 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 2015.
Key Recent Developments
Lebanon is experiencing serious challenges from both internal and external threats. The domestic political situation remains stagnant. More than five months after the term of President Michael Sleiman expired on 25 May, Lebanon’s parliament remains unable to elect a new head of state, compromising Lebanon’s ability to address its myriad challenges. The parliament’s term expires on 20 November, and at press time it remained unclear whether this term would be extended in order to avoid electing a new parliament before a president is elected. Meanwhile, fighting along both Lebanon’s southern border with Israel and its north-eastern border with Syria continues to impact stability.
On 5 October, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) informed UNIFIL that an LAF soldier had been shot and wounded by an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldier in the Sheb’a Farms area. Two days later, the IDF informed UNIFIL that two of its soldiers had been injured by an improvised explosive device detonated in the Sheb’a Farms area. Thirty minutes after that, the IDF again contacted UNIFIL to report that there had been another explosion, to which the IDF had responded with artillery fire directed at two Hezbollah targets near the border, according to an IDF spokesperson. A Hezbollah cell calling itself the Ali Hassan Martyr Unit took responsibility for the blasts and reported wounding Israeli soldiers. The IDF placed responsibility for the explosions on both Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, calling the incidents “a flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty”.
UNIFIL urged maximum restraint after the incidents, which were in violation of resolution 1701. “Such actions are in contravention of efforts to reduce tensions and establish a stable and secure environment in southern Lebanon”, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters on 7 October in New York. He added that UNIFIL had contacted both parties, asking them to cooperate with the mission to reduce tension and prevent escalation. UNIFIL launched an investigation into the incident.
At least 11 soldiers, eight civilians and 22 militants were killed in three days of heavy fighting between the LAF and Islamist gunmen in the predominantly Sunni northern city of Tripoli that began on 24 October. On the morning of 27 October, Al-Nusra Front issued a threat that it would kill a captured Lebanese soldier unless the army stopped its operation in Tripoli. Around 30 Lebanese security personnel were captured in August by Al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham near Arsal, close to the Syrian border. Three have since been executed.
Hezbollah clashed with Sunni extremist fighters from Al-Nusra along Lebanon’s north-eastern border with Syria for two days beginning on the evening of 5 October, after Al-Nusra fighters attacked three Hezbollah military posts in the village of Brital, in the Baalbek region. As the border is undefined in the area, it was unclear whether the clashes occurred in Lebanon or Syria. Nearly two dozen militants were reportedly killed in the fighting. Hezbollah acknowledged that eight of its fighters were killed, and 14 members of Al-Nusra were reportedly killed. Furthermore, Hezbollah captured five Al-Nusra fighters.
Al-Nusra also released what it claimed was video footage from the fighting, and said the operation was in retaliation for the burning of Syrian refugee camps in Arsal during an LAF raid in late September, referring to a 25 September raid on a refugee camp during which, the army contends, unknown assailants torched several tents. Attacks on LAF soldiers by Sunni extremists in Arsal have increased, and Lebanese forces have in turn arrested hundreds of Syrians in the area. Some of the militants responsible for the attacks were believed to have hidden in refugee camps, and refugees have complained that innocent Syrians have been among those arrested.
On 20 October, Lebanon’s social affairs minister, Rashid Derbas, announced that Lebanon would not accept any more Syrian refugees, but the borders would remain open to people travelling for other purposes, adding that “any Syrian national is welcome, but not as a refugee”. At least 1.13 million Syrian refugees have registered with the UN in Lebanon. However, officials say the actual number is much higher. On 21 October, Special Coordinator Plumbly, accompanied by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Lebanon, met with the Baalbek-Hermel district governor to discuss Syrian refugee issues. Plumbly said they discussed the difficult conditions in which Syrian refugees were living and he expressed solidarity with Lebanon in light of the border attacks by Al-Nusra.
On 20 October, Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan announced that Iran was ready to send military supplies to Lebanon to assist in its fight against terrorism, “with the aim of consolidating national authority and reinforcing security”. Lebanese Defence Minister Samir Moqbel said during a visit to Tehran that Iran’s military support would play an important role in helping push back radical Islamist groups in the border regions. Iran’s pledge of military aid has been a source of controversy, and it is unclear whether Lebanon will actually accept the aid, as several ministers affiliated with the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance have expressed concern that such a deal would contravene UN sanctions against Iran.
Council members last met on Lebanon on 15 October, when Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen briefed in consultations on the latest report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1559, which urged the disarmament of all militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory. The report expressed concern that Lebanon continues to face serious challenges to its stability and security, both internally and along its borders with Syria, including from extremist groups, arms smuggling and further influxes of refugees. It urged the government and LAF to take all measures necessary to prevent Hezbollah and other armed groups from building paramilitary capacity outside the authority of the state.
Human Rights-Related Developments
A summary account of the results of a confidential inquiry on Lebanon by the Committee Against Torture, assisted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was released on 2 October as part of the committee’s annual report (A/69/44). The inquiry began in May 2012 and ended in November 2013, and the committee concluded torture in Lebanon is a pervasive practice routinely used by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies for the purpose of investigation, securing confessions, and punishment. Furthermore, conditions observed in most of the detention facilities could be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading according to the report. The committee issued 34 recommendations and asked Lebanon to submit a follow-up report by 22 November.
The key issue for the Council is the need to prevent the recurrence or escalation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon.
A related issue is the weaponry 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 contravenes its obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701.
Ongoing issues include other violations of resolution 1701, such as regular Israeli overflights in Lebanese airspace.
Several pressing issues arise from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, including the engagement of Lebanese elements in the war there and the immense burden of hosting growing numbers of Syrian refugees, which continues to have adverse social, political and economic effects on Lebanon.
One option is for the Council to merely receive the briefing and take no action.
Given the lack of progress towards electing a president and the looming end of term of the parliament, another option is to issue a presidential statement encouraging the election to take place in an expeditious manner in order to maintain stability. Such a statement could also reiterate support to the Government of Lebanon, including in its fight against terrorism, and stress the need for all Lebanese parties to abide by its policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict, outlined in the Baabda Declaration of June 2012.
There is consensus in the Council that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon and has become 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|
|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.|
|7 October 2014 S/2014/720||This was the latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559.|
|26 June 2014 S/2014/438||This was a report on implementation of resolution 1701 on Lebanon.|
|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.|