Expected Council Action
In July, 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, Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and possibly 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
Six months after it was formed, the new Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri continues to face a wide range of challenges. In 2018, the Lebanese economy grew by a meagre 0.2 percent, while government debt stood at 150 percent of gross domestic product. Upon taking office, Hariri signalled that financial sector reforms would be one of the main priorities of the new government. Lebanon is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to conduct reforms, which are also a condition for its access to the more than $11 billion pledged at the 2018 Paris donor conference which focused on infrastructure investments and economic development.
In May, the government agreed on a draft budget that would decrease public spending and increase taxes. In a 27 May press statement, Kubiš welcomed the draft budget and said that its adoption would create an opportunity to reduce the country’s deficit to promote further reforms. Fearing the loss of some of their benefits, public sector employees, including the armed forces, have criticised the proposed spending cuts. They have also organised strikes and protests throughout Lebanon. At press time, the parliament had yet to approve the draft budget.
Thousands of Syrian refugees have returned from Lebanon to Syria as hostilities have subsided and the government has regained control of most of the territory. Nonetheless, Lebanon still carries the burden of hosting more than a million Syrian refugees. Over the past year, the Lebanese leadership has become more adamant in calling for further refugee repatriation to Syria. Recently, some human rights organisations have criticised the Lebanese government for instigating the involuntary return of refugees to Syria. Lebanese authorities have denied these allegations.
Earlier this year, Israeli authorities said they had uncovered six tunnels crossing the border between Israel and Lebanon, which they allege were built by Hezbollah. In his March report on the implementation of resolution 1701, the Secretary-General said that UNIFIL verified the existence of five tunnels and that three of them cross the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. After a military operation lasting several months, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) declared in June that it had destroyed all tunnels.
UNIFIL head and force commander Major General Stefano Del Col chaired a tripartite meeting on 11 June with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the IDF to discuss the situation along the Blue Line and issues related to the implementation of resolution 1701. Despite heightened tensions in the region, Del Col said that the UNIFIL area of operations has remained generally stable. He urged all parties to ensure that stability is maintained.
Media reports over the past weeks suggest that Israel and Lebanon have agreed in principle to start negotiations on the demarcation of their maritime border. While this is a long-standing dispute, the US has recently become increasingly active in efforts to mediate a resolution. Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield has engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Lebanon to outline the parameters for eventual talks. There are still questions over the role of UNIFIL in this process and a timeframe for the negotiations. The Lebanese side seems to prefer open-ended negotiations and involvement of UNIFIL while the Israeli side favours a defined timeframe for the talks and mediation by the US. The maritime border has become a more prominent issue in recent years after the discovery of hydrocarbon resources.
Key Issues and Options
Despite the volatile security environment in the region, the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained relatively calm. The Council is concerned about the lack of progress in implementing the main objectives of resolution 1701, however, including a permanent ceasefire and disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon.
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.
The Council will continue to monitor developments related to the US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon on maritime border demarcation. An issue for the Council is to consider whether the mission could play a role in this process.
The Council is united in its support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. The Council has also continued to emphasise that the LAF should play a critical role in addressing security challenges in the country.
Council members’ positions diverge on the security dynamics in the region and the role of the mission. The US has indicated that the mission should play a more active role in confronting the threats it considers as the most serious in this context: those posed by Iran, Hezbollah and the proliferation of weapons in southern Lebanon. On the political front, the US has raised concerns about Hezbollah’s growing role 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. During the 2018 negotiations on the draft UNIFIL resolution, Russia emphasised that no changes should be made to the mandate of the mission. Most other members, including France, the penholder, also support the view that the mission’s tasks and mandate should not change and that the mission contributes to the stability in the region. 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.|
|25 April 2019S/2019/343||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.|
|14 March 2019S/2019/237||This was the report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|8 February 2019SC/13696||This was a statement which welcomed the formation of the new unity government in Lebanon.|