March 2015 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In March, newly appointed Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag 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. Kaag’s briefing is likely to include an update on investigations into the 28 January death of a peacekeeper serving in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

UNIFIL’s mandate expires on 31 August.

Key Recent Developments

On 28 January, two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper—Lance Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo—were killed and seven Israeli soldiers were wounded as Hezbollah militants traded fire with Israeli forces. Hezbollah struck Israeli forces with anti-tank missile fire, to which Israel responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon. During the incident, UNIFIL had observed six rockets launched towards Israel from the vicinity of Wazzani north of Maysat in the UNIFIL area of operations.

Kaag strongly urged all parties to abide by their obligations under resolution 1701. UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Luciano Portolano was in immediate contact with the parties to help control the situation and prevent further escalation. Portolano strongly condemned this serious violation of resolution 1701. UNIFIL bolstered its presence by increasing ground patrols and launched an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the event. Israel and Spain announced on 30 January that they had agreed to carry out their own joint investigation into the death of the peacekeeper. On 4 February, UN peacekeeping head Hervé Ladsous announced that an independent panel of inquiry was being appointed to establish the sequence of events, determine culpability and potentially demand financial compensation.

The exchange of fire followed an attack the day before, in which Israel struck Syrian army posts following rocket attacks from the Syrian Golan Heights. Iranian officials said those attacks were in retaliation for the 18 January air strike in the Golan Heights, widely believed to have been conducted by Israel, that killed six Hezbollah fighters and Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi. (For futher details please see the Golan Heights brief in this Monthly Forecast.)

Lebanon’s prime minister said Lebanon is committed to abiding by resolution 1701 and criticised Israel for causing an escalation in tensions. On 1 February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused UN peacekeepers of failing to report on the smuggling of weapons into southern Lebanon. (UNIFIL is mandated to assist Lebanon in securing its borders to prevent the entry of arms without the government’s consent, but does not have a specific monitoring task.)

On the day of the incident, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet briefed Council members in consultations. Following the meeting, Council president in January, Cristián Barros (Chile), read elements to the press in which Council members condemned the death of the Spanish UNIFIL peacekeeper that occurred in the context of an exchange of fire along the Blue Line. When reporters asked if there had been any discussion on whether the fire that killed the peacekeeper came from the Israeli side or from Hezbollah, Barros said there had been a long discussion about the issue and that the Council would soon produce a press statement. In his comments to the media, Spanish Ambassador Román Oyarzun told reporters that the lethal fire was “because of the escalation of the violence and it came from the Israeli side”.

Two days later, France, the penholder, circulated a press statement on the death of the peacekeeper, but  there was insurmountable disagreement among Council members as to how to characterise the context in which the peacekeeper was killed and apportion blame for the incident. After a week of negotiations and the threat of continuing deadlock on the issue, Council members on 4 February agreed to a press statement that merely “condemned in the strongest terms” the killing of a UNIFIL peacekeeper that “occurred in the context of fire exchanges along the Blue Line on 28 January 2015”.

In mid-February, Kaag made her first official visit to south Lebanon since assuming the role on 1 December 2014. On 17 February, she met with members of parliament in the southern city of Tyre and, the following day, with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss the presidential election stalemate, the Syrian refugee crisis and other developments in the country and region.

The war in Syria continues to embroil Lebanese elements and have damaging social and political effects on Lebanon. On 17 February, Hezbollah aided Syrian government forces in capturing several villages near Aleppo in heavy fighting that left more than 100 dead on both sides. On 3 February, Hezbollah and, in a separate operation, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), both attacked militant hideouts along the Syrian-Lebanese border, on the outskirts of the eastern town of Nahleh in Baalbek. Lebanese security sources say that militants had reinforced their positions on the outskirts of the Lebanese border town after having engaged in clashes with Hezbollah a week earlier.

In a speech on 16 February, Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, revealed for the first time that, in addition to fighting in Syria, Hezbollah is also engaged in combat in Iraq, saying that the Shi’a group has a “limited presence because of the sensitive phase that Iraq is going through”.

On 11 January, Council members issued a press statement expressing outrage at a terrorist attack carried out a day earlier in Tripoli for which Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility.

On 8 February, France announced that it would begin delivering within two months weapons purchased with a $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia to the LAF. When making the announcement during a meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius conveyed France’s desire to preserve the stability, national unity and state institutions of Lebanon. The same day, a $25 million shipment of US weapons pledged to the LAF arrived in Beirut. The US ambassador to Lebanon, David Hale, said in a statement that “recent attacks against Lebanon’s army only strengthen America’s resolve to stand in solidarity with the people of Lebanon, adding that the two countries were “fighting the same enemy”.

On 23 December 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to the Council announcing his intention to extend the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon—mandated to try those accused of carrying out the February 2005 attack that killed 22 people, including former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri—for a further three years on 1 March.

Key Issues

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 that is 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.

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.

Options

One option is for the Council to receive the briefing and take no action.

Another option would be to issue an outcome, such as a resolution, addressing the plethora of political and security issues facing Lebanon. Such a resolution could reiterate the need for calm along the Blue Line. Given the lack of progress towards electing a president, the resolution could also encourage the election to take place in an expeditious manner in order to maintain stability. It could also reiterate support for 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.

Council Dynamics

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 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.

However undivided the Council is on supporting Lebanon’s stability, the recent difficulty encountered in issuing what should have been a fairly routine press statement concerning the death of a peacekeeper demonstrates that, like in other contexts, the Council is often constrained in its ability to react to crises involving Israel. 

UN Documents 

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 Statement
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 Report
5 November 2014 S/2014/784 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1701.
Security Council Press Statements
4 February 2015 SC/11766 This press statement condemned the killing of a UNIFIL peacekeeper.
11 January 2015 SC/11731 This was a press statement expressing outrage at a terrorist attack carried out a day earlier in Tripoli that caused numerous deaths and injuries and for which the Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility.
Security Council Letters
23 December 2014 S/2014/949 This was a letter from the Secretary-General informing of his intention to extend the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for a further three years on 1 March 2015.
26 December 2014 S/2014/950 This letter from the president of the Council in an exchange of letters to extend the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for a further three years on 1 March.