Expected Council Action
In October, Council members expect 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. This briefing has always been held in consultations.
Key Recent Developments
After somewhat contentious negotiations on the draft, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2373 on 30 August, which extended the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year. In the weeks leading up to the resolution’s adoption, the US and Israel publicly criticised the work of UNIFIL and its leadership for overlooking the alleged upsurge in Hezbollah activity and an increase in the flow of weapons into southern Lebanon. Although UNIFIL’s mandate was not altered, the resolution instructed the UN mission to take a more proactive approach in ensuring that the mission’s area of operation is not used for hostile activities. In addition, the resolution requested the Secretary-General to explore ways to enhance UNIFIL’s efforts by increasing the mission’s visible presence, including patrols and inspections.
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča briefly addressed the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations during the Middle East briefing on 22 August. He noted that military operations on the border with Syria continued and that a number of militants and refugees from Arsal in Lebanon had been evacuated to some areas in Syria.
On 19 August, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) launched an offensive on positions held by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in north-eastern Lebanon, while Hezbollah and the Syrian armed forces launched a simultaneous offensive on ISIL positions on the Syrian side of the border in that region. After several days, the remaining ISIL fighters were surrounded by Hezbollah and the Syrian army on one side of the border and the LAF on the other side.
In an agreement brokered on 27 August, the LAF, Hezbollah and Syrian government forces allowed safe passage for about 300 ISIL fighters and their families from the north-eastern border between Lebanon and Syria to ISIL-controlled areas in eastern Syria in close proximity to the border with Iraq. In exchange for this safe passage, ISIL was supposed to hand over the bodies of nine Lebanese soldiers who were kidnapped in 2014 and later killed by the group and to also release some Hezbollah and Syrian army prisoners. The US-led anti-ISIL coalition, which was not a party to the agreement, sought to disrupt the passage of the convoy carrying ISIL fighters towards eastern Syria. The US coalition did not strike the convoy directly because of the presence of civilians but destroyed the road the convoy was supposed to take while attacking some ISIL fighters and their vehicles as they attempted to assist the passage of the convoy. For several days, the convoy was stranded on Syrian territory between government- and ISIL-controlled areas. The government of Iraq and the US-led coalition have publicly criticised the agreement to provide safe passage for ISIL fighters, saying it would undermine collective efforts to fight the terrorist organisation. On 8 September, the US-led coalition stopped monitoring the convoy following a Russian government request to allow Syrian forces supported by Russia to make advances into ISIL-held territory in the area. Media reports have indicated that the convoy reached its final destination in Deir al-Zour province in eastern Syria on 13 September.
After a military campaign in the north-eastern part of the country ended on 30 August, Lebanese President Michel Aoun declared victory over ISIL. Several days later, the commander of the LAF, Joseph Aoun (no family relationship between the two men), announced that the LAF would be deployed along the eastern border with Syria in areas that have recently been recaptured from ISIL. Furthermore, Hezbollah apparently confirmed that it would hand over the territory it controls along the border with Syria to the LAF.
On 5 September, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a massive ten-day military exercise in the northern parts of Israel close to the border with Lebanon and Syria. The military exercises involved some 30,000 IDF personnel from various branches of the military. The aim of the exercise was to simulate the response of the IDF to a potential attack by Hezbollah.
Issues and Options
There are several interrelated issues for the Council, with the main one being the weaponry that Hezbollah and other non-state actors possess and the flow of arms through Syria to Hezbollah, which directly hinders the ability of the government to exercise full authority over its territory.
The ongoing crisis in Syria, with Hezbollah’s involvement on the side of the government, has contributed to this flow of arms. These circumstances pose a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability and contravene its obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701, the latter of which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The situation also generates concerns about tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border, with the continuing threat of a resumption of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.
Should the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel flair up, the Council could work towards defusing tensions by issuing some form of outcome that calls for restraint by the parties. Members could also request a briefing by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that focuses on the impact that a more proactive approach by the mission to implementing its mandate as outlined in resolution 2373 would have on the security situation.
Lebanon’s burden in hosting more than one million refugees from Syria is also of deep concern, and in that regard, the Council could request a briefing by OCHA on how member states can enhance services to refugees.
The Council continues to demonstrate unity in its support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, and of 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 policy of dissociation from the Syrian crisis and to desist from any involvement there. As was evident from the latest negotiations on UNIFIL’s renewal, the US has expressed some criticism of the mission due to differing views on the threat posed by Hezbollah. The US has been advocating for a more proactive role of the mission in confronting the threat of Hezbollah. Furthermore, the US has been increasingly vocal about what it believes is the rising threat of Hezbollah and its proliferation of weapons. Most other Council members, including France which is the penholder and Italy which is a major troop contributor to UNIFIL, seem to be wary of the prospect of a more proactive approach by the mission, tending to believe that this could threaten the fragile calm in southern Lebanon that has been maintained for the past ten years.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 August 2017 S/RES/2373||This resolution renewed UNIFIL’s mandate for another 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.|
|11 August 2006 S/RES/1701||This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|22 August 2017 S/PV.8028||This was a meeting on the situation in Israel/Palestine.|