July 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 July 2015
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In July, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations 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

Lebanon has been facing substantial challenges in its domestic political situation as well as external threats. Thirteen months after Michel Sleiman’s presidential term expired, the Lebanese parliament has still not been able to elect a new head of state. This power vacuum has impaired Lebanon’s capacity to deal with a range of political and social challenges. Furthermore, the influx of 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees and fighting along Lebanon’s northeastern border with Syria continue to threaten the country’s stability.

Kaag issued a press release on 25 May calling on Lebanese leaders to resolve the issue of the election of a head of state for the sake of Lebanon’s stability. Kaag also pointed out that the executive-level vacuum adds to the country’s political polarisation during a time when Lebanon “must make a unified effort to safeguard the country from the impact of the Syrian crisis”.

On 8 June, as part of her regular regional outreach, Kaag visited Tehran, where she met with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif. The discussion was primarily focused on the current political situation in Lebanon, outstanding issues related to resolution 1701 and the impact of the Syrian crisis. Kaag reiterated the importance of electing a president without further delay.    

The war in Syria continues to have destabilising political and social effects on Lebanon, with Hezbollah fighting openly alongside government forces in the Syrian conflict. In an address on 25 May to mark the 15th anniversary of Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah again acknowledged that Hezbollah has been fighting throughout Syria and said that it will expand its presence there as needed.

During the last two months, Hezbollah has been engaged in heavy battles in the Qalamoun mountain range in Syria along the border with Lebanon, where it captured territory from Al-Nusra Front. On 9 June, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attacked Hezbollah’s positions around the Lebanese town of Ras Baalbek along the northeastern Lebanon-Syria border. Hezbollah managed to fend off the attack, killing several ISIS militants, including a Saudi national who was the leader of the group in the Qalamoun region. According to some reports, the Lebanese army carried out airstrikes in the same area though it was unclear if those were coordinated with Hezbollah.

The security situation on the Israel-Lebanon border has remained relatively calm since the conclusion of hostilities in January which resulted in the death of one peacekeeper and two Israeli soldiers. According to media reports, however, Israeli military officials have identified numerous Hezbollah military sites located within civilian populated areas in southern Lebanon. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Israeli military official said that Israel would try to limit civilian causalities in a possible confrontation with Hezbollah. According to the same reports, Israel has implied it would give civilians in southern Lebanon notice prior to launching an offensive against Hezbollah. On 5 June, Nasrallah responded that Hezbollah would displace millions of Israelis should Israel launch a war on Lebanon. Despite this increase in rhetoric, the only recent Israeli airstrike that has been carried out was on 21 June in western Lebanon, allegedly to destroy one of its own drones that crashed in the area.      

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is the impact of the Syrian conflict on the situation in Lebanon.

An increasingly worrying issue is Lebanon’s inability to elect a president, which has deadlocked the country’s parliament and could threaten the country’s stability.

An ongoing issue for the Council is the increasing involvement of Hezbollah and other non-state actors in the Syrian conflict, as well as the growing burden of hosting over 1.2 million registered refugees from Syria.

Options

The likely option for the Council is to receive the briefing and take no action. Council members are only expected to discuss the substantive issues related to UNIFIL’s mandate ahead of the renewal in August. 

Council Dynamics

There is consensus in the Council that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon and has become even more critical in light of the ongoing Syrian crisis. A presidential statement issued on 19 March outlined the main issues on which the Council stands united in its support of Lebanon. Among those are the Council’s concerns about the continued power vacuum caused by the vacancy in the presidency; support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security; and unity in condemning the acts of terrorism on Lebanese territory and in recognising the crucial role of the Lebanese Armed Forces in responding to security challenges

France is the penholder on Lebanon in the Council.

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
19 March 2015 S/PRST/2015/7 This presidential statement addressed several issues, including the situation along the Blue Line; the vacancy in the presidential office; and the effects of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon, including the challenges posed by hosting nearly 1.2 million refugees, and it expressed support for the LAF, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the International Support Group for Lebanon.
Secretary-General’s Reports
16 April 2015 S/2015/258 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1559.
27 February 2015 S/2015/147 This was a report on the implementation of resolution 1701.
Security Council Press Statement
4 February 2015 SC/11766 This press statement condemned the killing of a UNIFIL peacekeeper.