Expected Council Action
In October, 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
Over the past several weeks, there were numerous security-related incidents along the Israel-Lebanon border followed by escalatory rhetoric between Israel on one side and Lebanon and Shi’a militia group Hezbollah on the other. However, no major escalation of violence threatened the relative calm in the area of operations of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
On 25 August, Lebanon alleged that two Israeli drones had crashed in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut. The next day, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that the attacks represented a declaration of war by Israel and that Lebanon had the right to defend itself. Lebanon has claimed that the incidents represent a clear violation by Israel of resolution 1701. Israel has not formally claimed responsibility for the alleged incidents.
On 28 August, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) said they had fired on two of three Israeli drones that Lebanon claims violated its airspace in the southern part of the country. Israel confirmed that its drones were fired upon from Lebanese territory but did not say whether the drones had entered Lebanese airspace. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed retaliation for the alleged attacks. On 1 September, Hezbollah launched several missiles targeting Israel Defense Forces (IDF) south of the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. In a press statement issued the same day, UNIFIL declared that this incident represented a clear violation of resolution 1701 and urged the parties to exercise restraint.
In a 3 September statement, the IDF said that Iran has been assisting Hezbollah in constructing a factory for precision-guided missiles in the Bekaa Valley. The IDF claimed that Hezbollah has moved some of the crucial equipment from the alleged factory to civilian areas in Beirut. Hezbollah did not comment on these specific allegations, but has previously denied having precision-guided missile factories in Lebanon.
On 29 August, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2485, which extended UNIFIL’s mandate for another year. While it did not alter the mission’s mandate and size, the resolution asked the Secretariat to conduct an assessment by 1 June 2020 of the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources and options for improving efficiency and effectiveness between the mission and the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, taking into consideration the troop ceiling and UNIFIL’s civilian component. The resolution contains strengthened language about the need for freedom of movement and access for the mission as well as a request for the Secretary-General to enhance his reporting on the implementation of the arms embargo to the Council.
Women, Peace and Security
On 12 September, the government of Lebanon endorsed the country’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The National Commission for Lebanese Women developed the plan with the support of the UN, including UNIFIL. The NAP establishes a costed, targeted framework for action, committing Lebanon to increasing the engagement of women in peacebuilding, their representation in the country’s security forces and promoting women’s participation in governance structures, among other things.
Issues and Options
While there has been no major deterioration of the security situation in UNIFIL’s area in over a decade, the Council shares concerns over recent incidents of heightened rhetoric between Israel and Hezbollah. A related issue for the Council is the absence of progress towards implementing the main objectives of resolution 1701, including a permanent ceasefire.
A primary 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.
There is a strong consensus among Council members in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. In this context, the Council has also stressed the critical role of the LAF in addressing security challenges in the country.
Council members’ positions differ, however, on the security dynamics in the region and the role of the mission. Over the past several years, these differences have been especially evident during negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal. 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. The US entered the latest mandate renewal negotiations advocating for a significant reduction of the troop ceiling and a comprehensive strategic review of the mission. These proposals encountered strong opposition from most Council members. The US has argued that the mission’s role should be reconsidered, given that UNIFIL is unable to fulfil part of its mandate because it lacks access in its area of operations. On the political front, the US has raised concerns about Hezbollah’s growing role in the new Lebanese government.
Other members—including France (the penholder) and Russia—have emphasised that no changes should be made to the mandate of the mission. These members are cautious about such changes 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 Resolution|
|29 August 2019S/RES/2485||This resolution renewed UNIFIL’s mandate for another year and asked the Secretary-General to conduct UNIFIL’s assessment by 1 June 2020.|
|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.|
|17 July 2019S/2019/574||This was a report on implementation of resolution 1701.|
|25 April 2019S/2019/343||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|8 February 2019SC/13696||This was a statement which welcomed the formation of the new unity government in Lebanon.|