Expected Council Action
In November, the Council expects to receive 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. Briefings are expected from Pernille Dahler Kardel, Acting Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and possibly from a representative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August 2019.
Key Recent Developments
Gridlock among the major political factions has continued to hinder the formation of Lebanon’s new government nearly six months after general elections. There are growing concerns, within Lebanon and internationally, that the ongoing political stalemate will have a damaging effect on the socio-economic situation in the country. Both Saad Hariri, the prime minister in charge of forming a government, and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, have emphasised the severity of the country’s current economic situation. Lebanon is also facing pressure from the International Monetary Fund to make fiscal adjustments to address its public debt, a task that would require a functioning government.
Hariri has indicated on several occasions that the formation of the new government is within reach. In early October, Hariri told the media that he expected the new government to be formed by mid-October. Days later, Berri expressed pessimism that the new government would be formed within that timeframe. At press time, the major political blocs had not reached agreement on the formation of the government.
In his address during the General Debate of the UN General Assembly on 27 September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hezbollah of running a site for conversion of regular missiles into precision-guided missiles near Beirut International Airport. To corroborate his claims Netanyahu showed satellite images of the alleged missile sites. The Lebanese government has denied these allegations. On 1 October, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil invited foreign ambassadors and other diplomats to join him on a tour of the alleged sites in an effort to counter Netanyahu’s allegations. Although the tour included only two of the three alleged sites, the Lebanese government has said that it is certain there are no missiles at the third site. Briefing the diplomats in the presence of the media, Bassil accused Israel of trying to provoke another conflict with Lebanon, using the UN as a platform.
Addressing his supporters in September, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that the group has acquired precision-guided missiles despite Israel’s efforts to prevent it. According to some estimates, Hezbollah currently has more than 100,000 missiles that could target Israel. Nasrallah reiterated that Hezbollah fighters would remain in Syria as long as they are needed by the Syrian government.
The US State Department announced on 31 August that it would cut all funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The current US administration has been highly critical of the agency and has said that the US would not carry “the disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs”. The US had been UNRWA’s single largest contributor, providing some 30 percent of its budget. The agency helps Palestinian refugees originally displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. According to UNRWA, Palestinian refugees constitute some 10 percent of Lebanon’s population.
In other developments, on 11 October, UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force assisted the Lebanese Navy in the successful rescue of 32 persons, mainly from Syria, whose boat ran out of fuel en route to Cyprus. Those rescued were subsequently transported to Beirut.
Key Issues and Options
The situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained generally calm; the Council remains concerned, however, that more than a decade after the adoption of resolution 1701, there has been little progress towards implementing its main objectives, including a permanent ceasefire.
A principal problem for the Council is that Hezbollah and other non-state actors still maintain significant amounts of weaponry. This inhibits 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. A related issue is Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and the movement of arms from Syria to Hezbollah.
On the political front, the Council will continue to follow closely developments related to the formation of the new government in Lebanon. Council members are aware that a protracted period of political instability in Lebanon could have implications for the security situation in the country and the wider region.
The Council continues to demonstrate unity in its support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, and its efforts to insulate itself from the damaging effect of the Syrian conflict. The Council has also recognised the decisive role of the Lebanese Armed Forces in responding to security challenges.
Members are divided, however, in their view of the security dynamics in the region and the role of the mission. This was particularly evident during the mandate renewal negotiations both in 2017 and again this year. The US has continued to emphasise the threat posed by Iran, Hezbollah, and the proliferation of weapons in southern Lebanon and has promoted a more active role for UNIFIL in confronting these threats. On the mission’s configuration, the US has strongly advocated for the reduction of UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force, leading towards eventual termination. Most other members, however, share the view that the mission’s mandate and tasks should remain unchanged. These members are cautious about drastic changes in the mission’s mandate and their potential impact on the fragile calm that has been maintained in southern Lebanon for over a decade.
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 August 2018 S/RES/2433||The Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending UNIFIL’s mandate for another year.|
|11 August 2006 S/RES/1701||This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.|
|15 October 2018 S/2018/920||This was the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of resolution 1559.|