August 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2015
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Expected Council Action

In August, the Security Council is expected to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year, ahead of its expiry on 31 August. This will be the ninth UNIFIL renewal since the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon in 2006. The resolution authorising the renewal is likely to contain no significant operational changes to the UNIFIL mandate.   

Key Recent Developments

Lebanon continues to face numerous domestic challenges as well as mounting external threats. The ongoing presidential vacuum continues to impair Lebanon’s ability to address security and socio-economic challenges facing the country. The unstable regional environment caused by the Syrian crisis, fighting along Lebanon’s north-eastern border with Syria and tensions on the Lebanon-Israel border continue to undermine the overall stability of the country.      

Council members last received an update on the situation in Lebanon during a briefing in consultations on 8 July. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and UN Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag briefed on the latest Secretary-General’s report. Although the report welcomed the period of relative calm in the UNIFIL area of operations, it expressed concern over increasingly inflammatory rhetoric by both Israel and Hezbollah, which contributes to increased tension in the area. The report also notes the growing threat posed by the extremist groups present in Lebanon near the Syrian border and the importance of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in maintaining stability and control over Lebanese territory.       

Despite relative calm along the Blue Line and in the UNIFIL area of operations, Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace continue on a regular basis. On 21 June, the media reported an Israeli airstrike carried out in the Bekaa region in eastern Lebanon aimed at destroying a downed Israeli drone. Just weeks later, on 11 July, an Israeli drone crashed in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli. Following the incident, the LAF published photographs of the downed drone and issued a statement claiming that the drone belonged to Israel Defence Force (IDF).

On 7 July, the head of mission and force commander of UNIFIL, Major General Luciano Portolano, chaired a regular tripartite meeting with senior officers from the LAF and the IDF. After the meeting, Portolano noted that despite negative public rhetoric in the past few months, both parties were focusing on the real issues on the ground and on cooperation with UNIFIL. Earlier in June, senior Israeli military officials said that they had identified various Hezbollah military sites among civilian populated areas in southern Lebanon and that they would try to limit civilian casualties in case of a confrontation with Hezbollah by giving notice to civilians prior to launching an attack. For its part, Hezbollah has threatened to displace millions of Israelis should Israel launch an offensive on Lebanon. 

Regarding the political situation, the ongoing presidential vacuum continues to have destabilising effects on Lebanon. The office of the executive has been vacant since former President Michel Sleiman’s term expired on 25 May 2014. On 7 July, Lebanon exceeded 409 days without a president which is so far the longest period the country has been without the executive. Previously, the longest presidential vacuum lasted 408 days after then president Amine Gemayel’s term ended in September 1988.    

On 9 July, numerous supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party led by Michael Aoun, gathered in Beirut to  demonstrate against Sunni Prime Minister Tammam Salam. Aoun’s supporters accused Salam of diminishing Christian influence and rousing tensions in the country. Furthermore, Aoun accused Salman of unilateral decision-making and assuming powers granted to the president.

In its 26th attempt, the parliament failed on 15 July to elect a president because it lacked the necessary number of representatives for a quorum, which requires the presence of at least 86 out of a total of 128 representatives. For more than a year now, the parliament has been unable to reach an agreement because Hezbollah together with parliamentarians allied with Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc continue to boycott the parliamentary sessions. The next session is scheduled to take place on 12 August.

The Syrian crisis continues to affect the political, security and humanitarian situations in Lebanon. There are an estimated 1.2 million registered refugees in Lebanon, which represents close to one-quarter of the total population of the country. This is putting an enormous burden on Lebanon’s ability to secure the country and maintain its stability.

In addition, Hezbollah and the Syrian army have been engaged in heavy battles against the Al-Nusra Front in the Qalamoun region in Syria along the border with Lebanon. At the beginning of July, Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to retake Zabadani, a key strategic town in Qalamoun. At press time, fierce fighting for control of Zabadani was continuing, with the Syrian army and Hezbollah taking control of Zabadani’s suburbs and making advances towards the centre of the town.  

Key Issues

A main issue for the Council remains the need to prevent an escalation or return to hostilities between Israel and Lebanon.

The conflict in Syria poses several concerns arising from the engagement of Lebanese elements in the conflict, continued fighting in Syria-Lebanon border areas and the growing number of Syrian refugees, all of which have adverse social, political and economic effects on Lebanon.

Another important issue continues to be the possession of weapons by Hezbollah and other non-state actors, which restricts 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.

Lebanon’s inability to elect a president and the deadlock in the country’s parliament have become other worrying issues for the Council.  

Options

The most likely option for the Council is to renew the UNIFIL mandate in its current configuration for another year.

Council Dynamics 

The Council stands united in its position that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon, even more so in light of the ongoing Syrian crisis. A comprehensive presidential statement issued on 19 March outlined the main issues on which the Council is united in support of Lebanon. Primarily, the Council continues to support Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security while it condemns acts of terrorism on Lebanese territory. Also, the Council recognises the crucial role played by the LAF in responding to the security challenges. 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 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 Report
25 June 2015 S/2015/475 This was the report on the implementation of the resolution 1701.