November 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 October 2017
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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 the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The Council will also receive the semi-annual briefing on the latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559.

The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August 2018.

Key Recent Developments

In August, the Council adopted resolution 2373, which extended UNIFIL’s mandate for another year and instructed the mission to take a more proactive approach towards ensuring that UNIFIL’s area of operations is not used for hostile activities. The resolution called on the Secretary-General to include in his reporting prompt and detailed information on all violations of resolution 1701, violations of the sovereignty of Lebanon, and restrictions to UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, as well as to report on specific areas where UNIFIL does not have access and on the reasons behind these restrictions. Furthermore, 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. The negotiations leading up to the adoption were somewhat contentious, with the US and Israel publicly criticising UNIFIL and its leadership for overlooking an alleged upsurge in Hezbollah activity in southern Lebanon.   

The situation along the Blue Line, the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel, has continued to be generally calm, while the progress on each party’s outstanding obligations under resolution 1701 has remained limited. The violations of resolution 1701 persist on a regular basis, and there has been no progress towards achieving a permanent ceasefire.     

On 16 October, Israeli fighter jets conducted an airstrike, targeting anti-aircraft missile systems positioned near Damascus in Syria. The Israeli air force acted in response to an incident earlier that day when Israeli planes on a reconnaissance mission over Lebanon came under fire from Syrian territory. In media remarks following the incident, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Ronen Manlis said that the regime in Syria is responsible for any fire from its territory and that the IDF will retaliate if Syria carries out any anti-aircraft military actions against the IDF. Israel had informed Russia, which is providing military support for the Syrian government, of its intention to conduct an airstrike. 

While addressing IDF soldiers earlier in October, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have become an integral part of Hezbollah. Furthermore, he said that the next conflict in the north of the country will probably include Hezbollah and the LAF, as well as the Syrian regime.

Lebanon continues to carry the burden of hosting over one million refugees from Syria. In a 16 October meeting in Beirut with representatives of the permanent members of the Council, the EU and the Arab League, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that his country cannot cope with the vast numbers of refugees from Syria, and he wanted to explore ways to facilitate the return of refugees to safe areas in Syria.  

Issues and Options

Although the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation has remained relatively calm, there has been little progress towards achieving the main objectives of resolution 1701 after more than 11 years since its adoption, including a permanent ceasefire.   

An underlying issue for the Council is that Hezbollah and other non-state actors continue to maintain weaponry that directly impedes the government’s ability 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. 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.

In August, the Council renewed UNIFIL’s mandate and requested the Secretary-General to look at ways to enhance the mission’s efforts, including increasing its visible presence, patrols and inspections. Given that UNIFIL’s mandate has been renewed recently, the Council is likely to take no action. However, Council members are likely to raise the issue of the enhanced reporting requirement requested by resolution 2373.  Moreover, Council 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. The Council could request a briefing by UNHCR on how member states can enhance services to refugees.

Council Dynamics

As was evident from the latest negotiations on UNIFIL’s renewal, the US has expressed some criticism of the mission because of differing views about the threat posed by Hezbollah. The US has been advocating a more proactive role for the mission in confronting the threat of Hezbollah and has been increasingly vocal about what it believes is the rising threat of Hezbollah and its proliferation of weapons. The Council, however, has remained united in its position that UNFIL contributes to stability in the region and between Israel and Lebanon.  There is also broad support for the LAF. Most 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.
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
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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
11 July 2017 S/2017/591 This report was on the implementation of resolution 1701.