November 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 October 2015
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In November, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag and a representative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations 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 2016.

Key Recent Developments 

Lebanon continues to face vast challenges in its domestic political situation as well as external threats.  For 16 months now, Lebanon’s parliament has not been able to elect a new head of state. A power vacuum and increasing sectarian divisions have impaired Lebanon’s capacity to deal with the political and social challenges it is facing. Furthermore, fighting along the border with Syria and an inflow of more than 1.2 million registered refugees place additional burdens on the country’s stability. 

A ministerial-level meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) chaired by the Secretary-General was held on the margins of the General Assembly debate on 30 September. In addition to Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, the representatives of China, France, Russia, the UK, the US, Germany, Italy, the EU and the League of Arab States participated in the meeting. In the summary issued following the meeting, the ISG reiterated the importance of Lebanon’s stability and security. At the same time, the group expressed concern over the prolonged vacancy in the presidency, which has affected the government’s ability to deal with mounting security, economic and humanitarian challenges. Another aspect of the situation in Lebanon addressed by the group was the impact of the Syrian crisis on the security situation, including the threat of extremist groups and other non-state actors. In that regard, the group highlighted the important role of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the need for it to establish full control over the territory of Lebanon. In conclusion, the ISG restated that the effectiveness of international support for Lebanon depends on determined action by Lebanese leaders to resolve the current political stalemate.

Since June, when the last report on the implementation of resolution 1701 was published, the security situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained relatively calm with only minor violations. This could be attributed to Hezbollah’s increased involvement in and focus on fighting alongside government forces in Syria. Aside from its involvement in Syria, Hezbollah launched a rocket attack within Lebanese territory on 16 October. The attack occurred in the Bekaa Valley in northern Lebanon, and killed five militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Bekaa Valley has often been penetrated by various Sunni Islamic groups from Syria that have clashed with the LAF as well as with Hezbollah.   

On 18 October, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the group’s presence in Syria “is larger than ever before—qualitatively, quantitatively and in equipment, because we are in a critical and definitive battle”. Earlier in October, senior Hezbollah commander Hassan al-Haj was killed in Idlib province in northwest Syria while fighting alongside government forces.

UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Luciano Portolano held a regular tripartite meeting with representatives of the LAF and Israel Defense Forces on 8 October. Following the meeting, Portolano commended both sides on their positive engagement, noting that the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation has remained calm, which is in sharp contrast with the increasingly precarious security situation in the region.        

On 14 October, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) announced that the trial of the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar and its chief editor, Ibrahim al-Amin, will commence on 16 January 2016. Both al-Akhbar and al-Amin are charged with contempt of court after revealing confidential information about STL witnesses. In September, the Tribunal convicted and fined Karma Khayat, deputy director of the Al-Jadeed television network, for the same actions. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal extends to attacks that occurred between 1 October 2004 and 12 December 2005 in connection with the 14 February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.         

During the meeting of the ISG held on the margins of the General Assembly, the US announced that it would double its military assistance to the LAF, to approximately $150 million. In addition, the US provided the LAF with another $59 million for border-security assistance. On 9 October, the US delivered 50 Hellfire missiles and 560 artillery rounds worth about $8.6 million. This materiel provides the LAF with precision long-range attack capabilities.          

The political crisis in Lebanon caused by the inability of the parliament to elect a president was further heightened by ongoing anti-government demonstrations. The so-called “You Stink” campaign, aimed at highlighting the government’s inability to resolve a garbage-disposal crisis, has taken a violent turn on several occasions in recent months. On 8 October, demonstrators clashed with security forces, resulting in injuries to dozens of protesters and several policemen.       

Key issues

The main issue for the Council remains the impact of the Syrian conflict on the situation in Lebanon, especially in the context of Russian military involvement in Syria, which could have further destabilising effects on Lebanon.   

An increasingly worrying issue is the paralysis of the Lebanese parliament and its inability to elect a president, which in turn further threatens Lebanon’s stability and could aggravate sectarian tensions within the country.

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

Options

Considering the deterioration of the political situation in Lebanon due to anti-government protests and the paralysis of the parliament on the issue of electing a president, the Council could consider issuing a statement encouraging the political actors in Lebanon to elect a president and address the concerns of its citizens. 

Receiving the briefing and taking no action is another option.

Council Dynamics

The Council has been united in its position that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon, especially considering the current Syrian crisis. A comprehensive presidential statement of 19 March outlined the main issues on which the Council stands united in support of Lebanon. Though the statement was issued more than eight months ago, the range of concerns remains the same, with some becoming more pronounced, such as the ongoing vacancy in the presidency. Other issues on which the Council remains united are its support for Lebanon’s territorial integrity and security, its condemnation of acts of terrorism on Lebanese territory and its recognition of the crucial role of the LAF in responding to security challenges.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

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
7 October 2015 S/2015/764 This was the Secretary-General’s report in implementation of resolution 1559.
25 June 2015 S/2015/475 This was the report on the implementation of the resolution 1701.
Security Council Press Statement
4 February 2015 SC/11766 This press statement condemned the killing of a UNIFIL peacekeeper.