March 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2020
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon (1701)

Expected Council Action

In March, 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 from 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

Lebanon is experiencing one of the worst economic and political crises in its recent history. Economic growth has been stagnant for years, resulting in widespread unemployment and a mounting public debt crisis. For almost five months, Lebanon has been engulfed in countrywide anti-government protests, which on 29 October 2019 brought down the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. United in their demands for a new technocratic government and better living conditions, the protesters were made up of all ethnic and religious groups across the social and economic spectrum.

The Lebanese political leadership system is based on sectarian quotas, whereby the post of prime minister must be occupied by a Sunni Muslim, the presidency by a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of the parliament by a Shi’a Muslim. In December 2019, after consultations with parliamentary political blocs, Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated Hassan Diab as the prime minister, in charge of forming a new government. A career academic, Diab has not been affiliated with any political party in Lebanon and has described himself as a technocrat. Diab received little support from Sunni political blocs in the parliament while obtaining strong backing from Christian and Shi’a groups, including Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, the countrywide protests have continued, and turned more violent for several days beginning on 18 January when security forces clashed with protesters in Beirut. According to media reports, more than 400 people were injured. On 21 January, Diab formed a new government consisting of a cabinet of 20 ministers. The Future Movement, led by former prime minister Hariri, and some other parties refused to participate in the new government. Diab, who has labelled the new government as technocratic, has vowed to address the protesters’ demands. Critics have argued that the new cabinet is heavily influenced by Hezbollah-allied parties and lacks true political independence. The public demonstrations have continued, with protesters showing dissatisfaction with the new government.

In an 11 February vote of confidence, the parliament backed the government and its reform agenda. Protesters tried to prevent the vote and to block the lawmakers’ access to the parliament. Security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disband the protesters, resulting in over 300 persons injured. On 12 February, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) issued a statement calling on the new government to undertake necessary reforms and address the needs of the Lebanese people. ISG is composed of the UN, the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US, as well as the EU and the Arab League.

With the country on the brink of economic collapse amid massive public debt, rising unemployment, and slow growth, addressing Lebanon’s economic situation will be one of the main priorities of the new government. Lebanon has been under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to implement 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.

Key Issues and Options

The Council is facing a number of interrelated issues on Lebanon. The ongoing political instability coupled with the deep economic crisis has the potential to undermine the already fragile security situation in the country. The growing concern for the Council is how to address the political instability and prevent further deterioration of security.

In UNIFIL’s area of operations, the situation 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.

In addition to the challenges mentioned above, Lebanon currently hosts over a million Syrian refugees. In this regard, the Council could consider requesting a briefing by UNHCR on how member states can help enhance services for refugees.

Council Dynamics

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 Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in addressing security challenges in the country.

Council members hold different views on the security dynamic 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 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 parts of its area of operations. 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.

Other members—including France and Russia—have emphasised that no changes should be made to the mission’s mandate. These members are cautious about changing the mandate because of the potential impact on the fragile calm that has been maintained in southern Lebanon for over a decade.

The US has also raised concerns about the growing influence of Hezbollah in the Lebanese political structures. This issue has become more prominent in light of ongoing tensions between the US and Iran.

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 Report
18 November 2019S/2019/889 This was the report on the implementation of resolution 1701.