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
Parliamentary elections in Lebanon, scheduled for 6 May, will represent a significant milestone for the country, given that elections were last held in 2009. Since then, the parliament has extended its mandate and postponed elections on several occasions, citing security concerns. Lebanese citizens living abroad were allowed to cast absentee ballots for the first time at the end of April. The current government, which is led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun, was formed in December 2016.
Lebanon continues to face immense socio-economic challenges in great part due to the ongoing crisis in Syria. Since the start of hostilities in Syria in 2011, Lebanon’s economic growth rates have dropped from around 9 percent to below 2 percent annually. Lebanon currently hosts around one million registered refugees from Syria.
On 6 April, an international donor conference focused on infrastructure investments and economic development in Lebanon was held in Paris. At the conference, various donors pledged around $11 billion, primarily in the form of loans and a small part through direct donations. On 25 April, the Second Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” was held. Various donors pledged $4.4 billion for 2018, as well as made multi-year pledges of $3.4 billion for 2019-2020. Another $21.2 billion in loans was pledged, of which elements are on concessional terms.
On 15 March, Secretary-General António Guterres attended the Rome ministerial meeting in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the country’s Internal Security Forces under the aegis of the International Support Group for Lebanon and chaired by the UN and Italy. Guterres emphasised the importance of strengthening Lebanon’s institutions and extending the state’s authority over its whole territory, and in that context, he welcomed the deployment of additional LAF troops in the south. Given the ongoing turmoil in the region, Guterres stressed that Lebanon and its neighbours should avoid any actions that could lead to misunderstanding, confrontation or escalation. In his remarks at the meeting, Hariri said that Israel constitutes a main threat to his country, and he furthermore signalled that the LAF will be deploying more troops to the south.
Some of the more significant contributions at the meeting came from the EU and the UK, which pledged around $61 million and $13 million, respectively. France announced that it would open a credit line amounting to 400 million euros for the needs of the LAF. The Council commended the convening of the Rome conference in a press statement on 27 March.
On 22 March, UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) head of mission and force commander Major General Michael Beary presided over a tripartite meeting with senior officials from the LAF and the Israel Defense Forces. The meeting focused on UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination activities in light of the ongoing construction in the areas south of the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. Beary noted that both sides have been taking full advantage of the mission’s liaison and coordination mechanisms. He also stressed the importance of the predictability of any activity along the Blue Line to avoid misunderstandings that could escalate into incidents.
When the Council renewed UNIFIL’s mandate in August of last year, it called for, among other things, an accelerated deployment of the LAF into UNIFIL’s area of operations. In September 2017, the LAF deployed additional troops to the southern border to preserve order and security in close coordination with UNIFIL. Since then, coordinated activities by the LAF and UNIFIL have significantly increased. According to UNIFIL’s records, the joint activities between the mission and the LAF increased by 34 percent from August 2017 to March. In the same time period, there was also a 60 percent increase in UNIFIL’s foot patrols.
Issues and Options
Among a number of issues facing Lebanon, the most immediate concern for the Council is the weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors and the illicit 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 in support of the government, has contributed to this flow of arms, which poses a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability and contravenes disarmament provisions of resolutions 1559 and 1701, the latter of which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The situation generates concerns about tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border, with the continuing threat of a resumption of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.
Should hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel flare up, the Council could work to defuse 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 would have on the security situation.
On the political front, the Council will follow closely the upcoming general elections in Lebanon, given their implications for the security situation in the country and the wider region. It could consider delivering key political messages regarding the electoral process through a presidential statement that encourages progress or expresses concern with challenges, depending on the circumstances.
Lebanon’s burden in hosting close to 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 has been united in supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, as well as the country’s efforts to insulate itself from the damaging effects of the Syrian conflict. The Council is also unified in its recognition of the crucial role the LAF play in responding to security challenges.
However, there are differences of view over security dynamics in the region and the force posture of UNIFIL. Over the past year, the US has been interested in directing the Council’s attention to the threats posed by Hezbollah and Iran in the region. This dynamic was evident during the latest negotiations on UNIFIL’s renewal, during which the US expressed some criticism of the mission due to differing views of the threat posed by Hezbollah. The US has been advocating for a more proactive role for the mission in confronting the threat of Hezbollah. On the other hand, most other Council members—including France, which is the penholder—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.|
|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.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|27 March 2018 SC/13267||This was a press release commending the convening of the 15 March ministerial meeting in Rome in support of the LAF and Internal Security Forces and welcomed the joint statement issued at the end of the meeting.|
|19 December 2017 SC/13130||This was a statement welcoming Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon and his decision to continue his term.|