May 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

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.

This briefing, usually conducted by the Special Coordinator for Lebanon or an official from the Department of Peacebuilding and Political Affairs, has traditionally been held in consultations.

Key Recent Developments

On 22-23 March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Lebanon, where he met with, among others, President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. While reiterating the US’s continued support for Lebanese institutions, Pompeo expressed concern over the destabilising influence of Hezbollah and Iran. In a press conference following his meeting with Bassil, Pompeo said that Hezbollah has put the Lebanese people at risk for 34 years and that the organisation defies the state through a terrorist wing committed to spreading destruction. Hezbollah made significant gains during the May 2018 parliamentary elections, giving the group substantial influence in the current Lebanese government.

Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix visited Lebanon from 9 to 13 March. During his meetings with Lebanese leadership, Lacroix emphasised the importance of close cooperation between the Lebanese government and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in preserving the relative calm in southern Lebanon and ensuring implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate. He urged the parties to work towards a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution to the conflict.

UNIFIL head and force commander Major General Stefano Del Col chaired a tripartite meeting on 2 April with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defence Forces to discuss the situation along the Blue Line, the border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon, and the discovery of clandestine cross-border tunnels, among other things. While noting the recent increase of activity along the Blue Line, Del Col said that the area has remained generally stable because of the restraint shown by the parties, as well as UNIFIL’s engagement and liaison activities.

The new Lebanese government led by Hariri faces several challenges that it must address in the coming months. Chief among them are growing public debt and slow economic growth. In addition, Lebanon continues to carry the burden of hosting approximately one million Syrian refugees. Since the Syrian government regained control of most of its territory, the Lebanese leadership has been advocating for increased refugee repatriation to Syria.

US President Donald Trump announced on 8 April that the US would designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation. The IRGC is under the direct control of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and operates independently of Iran’s traditional armed forces. The US has accused the IRGC of providing financial and weapons support for terrorist organisations in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon.   

Key Issues and Options

The situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained generally calm. The Council remains concerned, however, that there has been little progress towards implementing the main objectives of resolution 1701, including a permanent ceasefire, more than a decade after its adoption.

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, the latter of which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. A related issue is Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and the movement of arms from Syria to Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s hosting of approximately one million refugees from Syria is also of deep humanitarian concern, and in that regard, the Council could request a briefing by UNHCR on the prospects for an acceleration of refugee returns and what is being done to address issues of concern to refugees.

Council Dynamics

The Council has been united in supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, and 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 Lebanese Armed Forces play in responding to security challenges. 

Members are divided, however, in their views of the security dynamics in the region and the role of the mission. This has been particularly evident during the negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal 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. It 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 of the other members, however, share the view that the mission’s mandate and tasks should remain unchanged, and are cautious about drastic mandate changes because of the 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.
2 September 2004S/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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
14 March 2019S/2019/237 This was the report on the implementation of resolution 1701.
15 October 2018S/2018/920 This was the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of resolution 1559.
Security Council Presidential Statements
22 July 2016S/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
8 February 2019SC/13696 This was a statement which welcomed the formation of the new unity government in Lebanon.