November 2019 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In November, 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 in consultations are expected from Ján Kubiš, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and a representative of the Department of Peace Operations.

The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August 2020.

Key Recent Developments

The Lebanese government has come under growing domestic pressure to root out corruption and improve the economic situation. Among the most pressing issues facing the Lebanese economy are mounting public debt and persistently low levels of economic growth. In addition, Lebanon continues to carry the burden of hosting over one million Syrian refugees.

In addressing the economic situation, the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri has sought to initiate a series of reforms and austerity measures, including public-sector spending cuts and tax hikes. Given the high public debt, the Lebanese government is in dire need of financial assistance. The release of some $11 billion in loans and grants pledged by international donors in 2018 is conditioned on Lebanon’s implementing necessary structural reforms. From the outset, the government’s attempts to implement austerity measures drew strong criticism from the general population. The first major demonstrations took place at the end of September when thousands gathered in Beirut to voice their concerns about the government’s handling of the economy.

On 18 October, the government said it would impose a tax on phone calls using Voice over Internet Protocol technology and calls using the Internet instead of analogue phone lines with applications such as WhatsApp. This announcement prompted thousands of demonstrators to turn out in Beirut and other cities throughout the country. Facing public pressure, the government reversed its decision later the same day. The demonstrations continued, however, and the participants’ numbers grew over the next several days. On 21 October, the government approved the budget for next year, including reducing the salaries of government officials and eliminating unnecessary government bodies and agencies. The budget did not include any new taxes. These measures did not appease the demonstrators, who, at press time, continued to protest, and called for Hariri’s government to resign. On 29 October, Hariri announced his resignation.

Another issue facing Lebanon is a shortage of foreign currency reserves, particularly US dollars. This has had especially negative consequences for companies in the fuel sector. Domestic gas sales are conducted in Lebanese pounds, while international importers and suppliers sell oil to gas stations almost exclusively in US dollars. This situation prompted gas station owners to go on a countrywide strike in September and again in October.

During her broader visit to the Middle East, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo travelled to Lebanon from 9 to 11 October. In meetings with senior government officials, including President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, DiCarlo reiterated the UN’s support for the extension of state authority over the whole Lebanese territory. Other issues high on the agenda during DiCarlo’s visit were the economic situation and economic reforms, security challenges, and Syrian refugees. During her last day in Lebanon, DiCarlo visited the UNIFIL area of operations in southern Lebanon and met with the head of mission and force commander, Major General Stefano Del Col.

Key Issues and Options

The situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained relatively calm despite a very volatile regional security environment. The Council’s primary concern is the lack of implementation of resolution 1701, including a permanent ceasefire and disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon.

One of the central issues for the Council is the significant amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors. 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 is likely to continue to monitor the political situation in Lebanon closely, especially given recent instances of public unrest in the country. An issue for the Council is how to address the growing political instability and its potentially negative consequences for the overall security situation in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s burden in hosting over one million refugees from Syria is also of deep concern, and in that regard, the Council could request a briefing by UNHCR on how member states can help enhance services for refugees.

Council Dynamics

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 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 renewals. The US has taken the view that the mission should play a more active role in confronting the threats the US 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 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 to 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 mission’s mandate. 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. The mandate renewal resolution, however, calls for an assessment of the mission to be conducted by the Secretariat and in this context to take into consideration the troop ceiling and the civilian component of UNIFIL.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
Security Council Resolutions
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.
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
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
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.