March 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon (1701)

Expected Council Action

In March, 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 Ján Kubiš, newly appointed Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and possibly from a representative of the Department of Peace Operations.

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

Key Recent Developments 

The Secretary-General announced the appointment of Kubiš as the new Special Coordinator for Lebanon on 9 January. Pernille Dahler Kardel had served as the acting Special Coordinator following the departure of Sigrid Kaag in October 2017. Kubiš formally assumed his post on 11 February and subsequently held a series of meetings with high-level government officials.

On 20 January, Lebanon hosted the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, after which the participants issued a joint statement calling for the creation of an Arab free trade zone and international support for countries hosting refugees. Lebanon bears the burden of hosting over one million Syrian refugees, and it has continually called for their return after the Syrian government took control of most of the country’s territory.

After eight months of talks between the major political parties, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced on 1 February the formation of a government of national unity. The Council welcomed this development in an 8 February press statement and emphasised the urgency of implementing structural reforms and fulfilling commitments made during the major international donor conferences for Lebanon in 2018.

Hezbollah and its allies made major gains at the May 2018 parliamentary elections while Hariri’s Future Movement lost almost half of the seats it had held in the legislature. This development provided Hezbollah with a better negotiating position in talks, led by Hariri, on forming the new government. Hezbollah has leveraged its increased representation to influence the appointment of the important post of health minister, whose ministry has a substantial budget and receives foreign aid. The new health minister, Jamal Jabbak, is not a member of Hezbollah but is believed to have close ties with the group’s leadership.

The new government faces several immediate challenges, most notably the mounting public debt and a lack of sufficient economic growth. Furthermore, Lebanon is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to initiate fiscal adjustments to address government debt, and another set of reforms is required for Lebanon to access loans pledged during the 2018 Paris donor conference. Within days of its formation, the new government approved a set of economic reforms that it said could be difficult, but also necessary, to avoid further worsening of the country’s socio-economic conditions.

UNIFIL head and force commander Major General Stefano Del Col chaired the monthly tripartite meeting on 13 February with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces to discuss the situation along the Blue Line, the border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. Noting that the situation had been calm over the past month, he commended the parties for their cooperation.

In December 2018, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Council with a set of recommendations to improve the management of UNIFIL civilian resources, as requested by resolution 2433. He suggested that UNIFIL and the Special Coordinator optimise coordination of their political, public information and security strategies; ensure increased coordination in the provision of support to the LAF; and rationalise resources. The Special Coordinator is responsible for managing UN activities and all political aspects of the mission. The force commander, who is also the head of UNFIL, is mainly responsible for peacekeeping issues and the operational requirements of the mission.

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.

Council Dynamics

The Council continues to demonstrate unity in its support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security and for the country’s efforts to insulate itself from the damaging effect of the Syrian conflict. The Council has also recognised the decisive role of the LAF 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 has been particularly evident during the mandate renewal negotiations over the past two years. 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. The US has also raised concerns over the growing influence of Hezbollah in the new Lebanese government.

On the mission’s configuration, the US has strongly advocated for a reduction of UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force, leading towards its 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 because of 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 2018S/RES/2433 The Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending UNIFIL’s mandate for another year.
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 November 2018S/2018/1029 This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.
Security Council Letter
31 December 2018S/2018/1182 This was a letter from the Secretary-General to the president of the Council on Lebanon with recommendations for UNIFIL and the Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon.
Security Council Press Statement
8 February 2019SC/13696 This was a statement which welcomed the formation of the new unity government in Lebanon.