March 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In March, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag and the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane 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 Council also expects to receive the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), requested by resolution 2305 of August 2016.

UNIFIL’s mandate expires on 31 August.

Key Recent Developments

On 16 February, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov provided the Council’s regular monthly briefing on the region. Concerning Lebanon, he reported that the reactivation of state institutions is ongoing, adding that the president and prime minister had expressed confidence that an electoral law would be agreed with the aim of holding timely elections. Furthermore, he reported that relative calm continued in the UNIFIL areas of operation and along the “Blue Line”, with the exception of some ground and air violations.

President Michel Aoun, speaking on Egyptian television on 12 February, blamed Israel for Lebanon’s need to support the Iranian-backed Shi’a militia Hezbollah in “a complementary role to the Lebanese army”, adding that “as long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence”. Kaag responded on Twitter, saying that UN resolution 1701 is vital for Lebanon’s stability and security and that the resolution calls for disarmament of all armed groups. No arms outside control of state.

Hezbollah fighters on 17 January claimed that they had located an Israeli drone that had crashed in Lebanese territory. The Israeli Defense Forces said that the drone had come down in Lebanese territory a day earlier near the border with Israel.

Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security announced on 25 January that Lebanon had arrested five people who allegedly “spied for Israeli embassies abroad”.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is still grappling with threats posed by terrorist elements. On 8 February, Lebanese security forces arrested two people, a Lebanese and a Palestinian, who they said were members of a terrorist group suspected of planning a suicide attack in Beirut. The arrests followed a foiled suicide attack at a cafe in a popular Beirut shopping district.

The Council has issued two statements in recent months on political developments in Lebanon. A presidential statement on 1 November 2016 welcomed the election of Aoun as president of Lebanon, a long-awaited and critical step to overcoming the country’s political and institutional crisis. The statement urged Aoun and Lebanese leaders to build on their efforts by continuing to work constructively to promote the country’s stability and by swiftly forming a government. The statement encouraged all parties in Lebanon to demonstrate renewed unity and determination to that end. It also affirmed that the preservation of Lebanon’s stability is essential to regional stability and security, and underscored the Council’s previous calls on all Lebanese parties to recommit to Lebanon’s policy of dissociation and to cease any involvement in the Syrian crisis, consistent with their commitment in the 2012 Baabda Declaration. The statement also expressed appreciation for the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) and called on the international community to ensure continued support for Lebanon in addressing its economic, security and humanitarian challenges. The Council reiterated its support for Special Coordinator Kaag and encouraged her to pursue her good offices role in this crucial period for Lebanon, in close coordination with the ISG.

In a 19 December 2016 press statement, members welcomed the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon and congratulated Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cabinet. The statement encouraged all of Lebanon’s political leaders to build on this momentum of national unity and to ensure Lebanon’s ability to address the pressing security, economic, social and humanitarian challenges facing the country. It reiterated the importance of holding parliamentary elections by May 2017 in accordance with the Constitution, in order to sustain Lebanon’s democratic tradition.

On 6 February, Saudi Arabia announced that it would appoint a new ambassador to Lebanon, encourage Saudi tourists to travel to Lebanon and increase flights by Saudi airlines to the country, according to the Lebanese president’s office. The announcement was seen as a sign of improved bilateral ties following Aoun’s meeting with Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan. Saudi Arabia has not had an ambassador to Lebanon since last summer.

Key Issues

The main issue is that while the situation is relatively calm, there has been little progress toward the key objectives of resolution 1701 nearly 11 years after its adoption, including a permanent ceasefire.

A central issue is that Hezbollah and other non-state actors continue to maintain weaponry that directly hinders the government’s exercise of full authority over its territory, poses a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability and contravenes its obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701. In that context, the ongoing crisis in Syria, with Hezbollah’s involvement on the side of the regime, and the flow of arms from Syria to Hezbollah remain of great concern.

Options

Given that the Council has relatively recently adopted a comprehensive presidential statement outlining various concerns regarding Lebanon, a further Council outcome at this time seems unlikely.

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. Council consensus includes support for Lebanon’s territorial integrity and security, condemnation of acts of terrorism on Lebanese territory and recognition of the crucial role the Lebanese Armed Forces play in responding to security challenges. The Council has also repeatedly expressed its united concern that Lebanon complete parliamentary elections by May.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON

Security Council Resolutions
30 August 2016 S/RES/2305 This was a resolution which renewed UNIFIL’s mandate for an additional year and requested the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of UNIFIL by February 2017.
11 August 2006 S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
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 Meeting Records
16 February 2017 S/PV.7885 This was a briefing on Middle East.
Security Council Presidential Statements
1 November 2016 S/PRST/2016/15 This was a presidential statement welcoming the election of President Michel Aoun in accordance with the Lebanese constitution and stressing that the formation of a unity government and the election of a parliament by May 2017 are critical for Lebanon’s stability.
Secretary-General’s Reports
4 November 2016 S/2016/931 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701.
Security Council Press Statements
19 December 2016 SC/12645 This was a press statement that welcomed the announcement on 18 December of the formation of a national unity Government in Lebanon, and congratulated Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Cabinet.