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
On 22 July, Council members were briefed in consultations by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubiš. Lacroix presented the main findings from the latest Secretary-General’s report which noted a lack of progress on disarmament of armed groups. Kubiš emphasised as a positive development the Lebanese parliament’s adoption of the 2019 budget. Kubiš also briefed Council members on his regional engagements.
The US has continued its campaign of maximum pressure on Iran and its affiliated entities throughout the region. Lebanon has been affected, given its many links with Iran. In an effort to curb the influence of Hezbollah, on 9 July, the US imposed sanctions on three senior officials of the group—Lebanese parliament members Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Raad, and one of the group’s security officials, Wafiq Safa who is Lebanese. The US claims that these individuals exploited their positions within the government to advance both Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and Iran’s interests.
The sanctions drew a varied response from the Lebanese political establishment. Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, whose party Amal Movement has been allied with Hezbollah in the parliament, condemned the sanctions, describing them as an assault on Lebanon. While expressing regret over the sanctions, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that Lebanon would follow up on this issue with US authorities. Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed that the sanctions would not affect the work of the parliament.
Hezbollah’s bloc in the parliament dismissed the sanctions, saying that they will not change the group’s convictions and its behaviour. In a 13 July televised address to his supporters, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke about the wider regional context in light of the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran, saying that the group would back Iran should conflict with the US break out. Furthermore, he said that the US has been trying to open a channel of communication with the group, although he did not provide any details to support this assertion.
Hezbollah made major gains in the 2018 parliamentary elections in Lebanon, winning 12 out of 120 seats in the parliament. Hezbollah has also gained influence in the government, in which three individuals affiliated with group hold cabinet positions. The US has been concerned about Hezbollah’s rising influence in Lebanon. During his visit to Lebanon earlier this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly warned Lebanese officials to distance themselves from Hezbollah, which the US considers a terrorist organisation.
The US has been heavily invested in efforts to facilitate talks between Israel and Lebanon on the demarcation of their maritime border. Media reports suggest that the process has stalled. Speaker of the Parliament Berri, who is also Lebanon’s point person on this issue, has insisted that talks also include issues related to the land border and that the UN play a lead role in mediation. Israel, on the other hand, has seemed to prefer US mediation and the exclusion of issues related to the land border in the talks. The two sides also differ in their preferences for the timeframe for the negotiations, with Israel favouring a limited timeframe and Lebanon calling for open-ended talks.
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. On 27 June, Satterfield was confirmed as the US ambassador to Turkey, and it remains unknown whether he will continue his shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Lebanon in his new role.
Women, Peace and Security
Resolution 2433 “requests the Secretary-General and the troop-contributing countries to seek to increase the number of women in UNIFIL, as well as to ensure the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of operations”. Women currently constitute 5 percent of military and 29 percent of civilian peacekeepers in UNIFIL.
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, however, about the lack of progress in implementing the main objectives of resolution 1701, 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 UNIFIL 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 Lebanese Armed Forces 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. 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 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.
The US has taken the view that the mission should play a more active role in confronting the threats it considers 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.
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.|
|17 July 2019S/2019/574||This was a report on implementation of resolution 1701.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|8 February 2019SC/13696||This was a statement which welcomed the formation of the new unity government in Lebanon.|