Expected Council Action
In August, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which expires on 31 August.
Key Recent Developments
The most recent report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1701 described the security environment in the UNIFIL area of operations as relatively calm during the reporting period, including in the lead-up to and during the 6 May general elections. In the report, the Secretary-General noted that UNIFIL had taken active measures towards enhancing its visibility and the effectiveness of its operations in line with resolution 2373. The resolution instructed UNIFIL to take a more proactive approach in ensuring that the mission’s area of operations is not used for hostile activities. He also welcomed the mission’s increased focus on inspections, including through permanent and temporary checkpoints and counter-rocket-launching operations, in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
On 11 July, the members of the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon, chaired by the UN and France and composed of several UN member states, intergovernmental organisations, and UN agencies, met with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to discuss issues related to the formation of the new government. ISG members shared with Hariri a copy of an aide-mémoire that contains some informal principles for consideration in line with outcomes from major international conferences on Lebanon held in Rome, Paris and Brussels earlier this year.
Over two months ago, Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated Hariri as prime minister and put him in charge of forming a new government. At press time, Hariri had yet to name his 30-member cabinet. The delay is a result of disagreement among major political blocks within parliament over their share of cabinet posts. Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri has continued to emphasise the urgency of forming an effective government to deal with the mounting social and economic issues facing Lebanon.
The burden of hosting over a million refugees from neighbouring Syria has continued to have a profound impact on the social, economic and environmental situations in Lebanon. Inside Lebanon, the pressure on the refugees to return continues to grow as Syrian government forces expand their control over areas held by the armed groups that oppose the government. On several occasions, the Lebanese authorities have indicated that they wanted to explore ways to facilitate the repatriation of refugees. In early June, the issue of refugee returns emerged as a major point of contention between the government and UNHCR. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil accused UNHCR of hindering the voluntary return of Syrian refugees by disseminating information indicating that the situation in Syria was still not secure. The Lebanese government has suspended issuing residency permits for UNHCR staff in the country.
On 14 June, Bassil met with High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in Geneva to discuss the issue. Although he described the meeting as positive, Bassil emphasised that UNHCR would still need to present a clear plan for the return of refugees. Later in June, Bassil’s chief of cabinet, Hadi Hachem, told the media that Lebanon intends to meet with the relevant UN agencies and international partners to work out a clear and gradual plan for the returns; until then, the government would maintain the freeze on UNHCR residency permits. In his latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701, the Secretary-General raised concerns about the rhetoric surrounding refugee returns while calling on all actors to work in a spirit of partnership in line with international standards and respect for the principle of non-refoulement.
In other developments, on 12 July, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Major General Stefano Del Col (Italy) as head of UNIFIL and force commander. He will succeed Major General Michael Beary (Ireland), who has headed the mission since July 2016.
On 23 July, Aoun hosted Beary for a farewell meeting, and on 24 July the Lebanese government presented him with a medal of the National Order of the Cedar, commending UNIFIL for the important role it played in maintaining the peace in southern Lebanon and calling for the renewal of the mission’s mandate in its current configuration.
Key Issues and Options
The most immediate concern for the Council is the upcoming renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate. Although the situation has remained relatively calm, among the issues the Council faces regarding Lebanon is the lack of progress toward the key objectives of resolution 1701, including a permanent ceasefire, nearly 12 years after its adoption.
An ongoing problem is that the Shi’a militia group Hezbollah and other non-state actors continue to maintain weaponry that directly hinders the government’s exercise of full authority over its territory, posing a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability and contravening Lebanon’s obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701. In that context, the crisis in Syria, with Hezbollah’s involvement on the side of the regime and the flow of arms from Syria to Hezbollah, remains of great concern.
One option for the Council is to renew UNIFIL’s mandate for an additional year without significant changes. A slightly different option for the Council would be to consider adjustments to allow for a more proactive approach by the mission, as advocated by the US during the last renewal in August 2017.
The Council will continue to follow closely the developments related to the formation of a government in Lebanon. Should the stalemate continue, the Council could consider issuing a statement encouraging the parties to reach an agreement, or including specific references to this matter in the mandate renewal resolution.
The Council is generally supportive of the mission and has long been united in its position that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon. Some members, however, differ in their perception of the mission’s role. In this respect, the US has been the most vocal critic of UNIFIL. The US has continued to be concerned about the threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah, and the proliferation of weapons in southern Lebanon, and has advocated for a more active role for the mission in confronting the aforementioned threats. Most other members—including the penholder, France—seem wary about the prospects for a more proactive mission, fearing that this could jeopardise the fragile calm in southern Lebanon.
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.|
|13 July 2018 S/2018/703||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|
|21 May 2018 S/2018/480||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559.|