May 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 April 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon (1559)

Expected Council Action

In May, the Council expects to receive the semi-annual briefing on the latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Adopted in 2004, resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of all militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory.

Key Recent Developments

The Council held its regular quarterly debate on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on 20 April. Ahead of the debate, the US, Council president in April, circulated a concept note that highlighted for discussion issues including the cross-border influx of foreign terrorist fighters and networks of “terror groups with ever-shifting alliances that threaten peace and security in the region”. It referred to the situations in several countries on the Council’s agenda, including Lebanon, where Hezbollah “undermines Lebanon’s security” and plays a key role in the Syrian conflict.

Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed at the debate. Concerning Lebanon, he acknowledged that crucial progress is being made in restoring national institutions to their full functions, and said that it was now essential to address the question of weapons held outside state authority and control. Noting that social exclusion and marginalisation provided fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism, he said terrorist organisations and other non-state actors, including armed groups such as Hezbollah, thrived in a climate of weak governance and minimal human rights. US Ambassador Nikki Haley, seeking to steer the discussion away from its usual focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said that in attempting to speak honestly about conflict in the Middle East, the Council needs to start “with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia [Hezbollah]”, citing their activities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

Among political developments in Lebanon, President Michel Aoun on 13 April suspended a parliamentary session for a month, temporarily blocking a proposal to extend the parliament’s term for the third time since 2013. Parliament had been expected to vote to extend its mandate until 2018 without an election. Aoun said that the delay was aimed at giving politicians more time to reach an agreement on a new electoral law. The current parliamentarians were elected in 2009 for what was meant to be a four-year term.

On the Lebanese-Israeli border, senior Hezbollah officials gave a military briefing on 20 April to a group of journalists, reportedly from local, regional and Western media outlets, in which they said that Israel had deployed troops and attacked Lebanon and spoke of its alleged espionage. The Hezbollah officials said Israel has gone “from an offensive to a defensive doctrine”. The group reportedly was taken around, making several stops along the Lebanese-Israeli border, provided with detailed descriptions of Israeli positions, shown alleged locations of espionage systems and told that Israel had beefed up its defensive capacity on the border. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) issued a statement that Hezbollah did not inform it of the tour and that the event was in direct violation of resolution 1701, which bars any armed forces besides the Lebanese army from the border zone.

On 1 April, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri warned that his country was close to “breaking point” because of the pressures of hosting more than one million Syrian refugees. He said he feared that unrest could escalate because of tensions between refugees and local communities. Refugees from Syria make up about a quarter of Lebanon’s population. They mostly live in informal camps across the country, some in severe poverty. The Lebanese government has long rejected creating formal refugee camps, fearing the permanent presence of refugees.

Meanwhile, days of clashes in Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon in early April led to the killing of a member of the Palestinian Fatah faction and at least three other persons. Members of Fatah and other Palestinian groups clashed with hardline Sunni Islamists known as the Badr group, as has happened intermittently in recent months in the camp. Lebanon’s Palestinian camps, which house approximately 450,000 Palestinian refugees, mainly fall outside the effective jurisdiction of the Lebanese security services.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 21 April, the Committee against Torture completed consideration of Lebanon’s initial report on its implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. While commending Lebanon’s strong will with regard to the promotion of human rights in light  of the tense national and regional situation, the committee experts expressed grave concern at the “systematic nature of acts of torture” (with more than 60 percent of detainees reportedly having suffered torture during arrest), particularly for people arrested for crimes against national security.

Key Issues

The main 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, the latter of which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

The ongoing crisis in Syria, with Hezbollah’s involvement on the side of the government, remains a major concern for several reasons, including the flow of arms through Syria to Hezbollah. These circumstances have had a negative effect on Lebanon and continue to stall efforts to fully implement resolution 1559. Lebanon’s burden in hosting more than one million refugees from Syria is also of deep concern.

Another issue is the continuing threat of a resumption of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.

Options

An option for the Council would be to issue a statement in response to political developments in Lebanon, such as the dispute over a new parliamentary electoral law.  
A routine option is for the Council to receive the briefing and take no further action.

Council Dynamics

The Council continues to demonstrate unity in its support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security and to support Lebanon in its efforts to insulate itself from the damaging effect of the Syrian conflict. The Council has been united in repeatedly calling on all Lebanese parties to recommit to Lebanon’s dissociation policy from the Syrian crisis and to desist from any involvement there, while voicing concern about the vacancy in the presidency.

 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 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.
22 July 2016 S/PRST/2016/10 This was a presidential statement that stressed the importance of Lebanon’s electing a president by May 2017 in order to maintain stability.
Security Council Meeting Records
20 April 2017 S/PV.7929 This was a quarterly Middle East open debate with Mladenov briefing.
Security Council Letters
8 March 2017 S/2017/202 This was the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the UNIFIL.