August 2020 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In August, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) before its 31 August expiry. Prior to this, Council members will convene for a closed videoconference (VTC) meeting to hear a briefing on the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, issued on 14 July. The expected briefers are Ján Kubiš, Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

Key Recent Developments

The situation in Lebanon remains unstable as the country continues to suffer from a debilitating economic crisis that is fuelling popular unrest and giving rise to concerns of widespread food insecurity. The financial crisis—the worst in Lebanon’s recent history– is characterised by a deep recession, a sharp rise in unemployment, and escalating inflation.

On 30 April, the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab approved a five-year financial recovery plan aimed at alleviating the country’s economic condition. It maps out losses in the country’s financial system and calls for restructuring the country’s debt load through negotiations with Lebanon’s creditors, curbing expenditures, and implementing structural and sectoral reforms. The plan had faced criticism from opposition parliamentarians, the governor of the Central Bank, and the Association of Banks in Lebanon, who claim that it overestimates the extent of the losses in the financial system.

Disagreements among Lebanese political elites about the financial recovery plan complicated the government’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) aimed at securing a $10 billion loan, as the plan served as a platform for the government’s engagement in the talks. After several rounds of negotiations beginning in early May, the Lebanese Finance Minister announced on 3 July the suspension of talks with the IMF pending internal agreement on the scale of losses in the financial system. IMF officials have since stressed the need for the Lebanese authorities to unite around the government plan while expressing concern that an attempt to present lower losses and postpone necessary reforms will only delay the country’s economic recovery.

In the meantime, Lebanese citizens continued to bear the brunt of the country’s dire financial straits, which have been exacerbated by the halt in economic activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between October 2019 and July, the Lebanese pound lost more than 80 percent of its value against the US dollar. The prices of many basic staples have doubled since the beginning of the year, and sharp devaluation of citizens’ wages left many unable to buy food. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that a million Lebanese will be unable to afford food in 2020. For the first time since 2006, the WFP is planning to begin distributing food assistance to Lebanese citizens, with the organisation expecting to reach approximately 50,000 families in need.

On 17 July, the UN launched an updated COVID-19 Lebanon Emergency Appeal, which seeks $482 million to assist those affected by the combined impact of the pandemic and the socioeconomic crisis.

Popular protests by citizens calling for better living conditions and government reform, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government in October 2019, subsided between mid-March and late April because of the lockdown measures imposed to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. Large-scale anti-government protests, some of which turned violent, resumed across the country in late April as citizens sought to express their growing discontent over the lack of basic goods and services. During a 6 June protest, violence erupted between supporters and opponents of Hezbollah as several groups called for the disarmament of all militias in line with resolution 1559; 25 soldiers and 48 civilians were injured.

The Secretary-General’s 14 July report on the implementation of resolution 1701 said that despite several incidents between Israel and Lebanon that had increased tensions, the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation remained mostly calm during the reporting period. The report noted an increase in instances in which the sides pointed weapons at each other across the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon, requiring UNIFIL’s involvement to de-escalate the situation. The report said that in some instances “Israel Defense Forces (IDF) weapons were also pointed at UNIFIL and Observer Group Lebanon” and that this issue had been brought up during a 14 May meeting of the tripartite mechanism consisting of UNIFIL and the two countries.

On 27 July, tensions rose along the Israeli Lebanese border, as the IDF announced that it had foiled an infiltration attempt by Hezbollah in the Shabʻa Farms/Mount Dov area. According to the IDF, it had opened fire at a group of up to five Hezbollah operatives who crossed the Blue Line into Israeli territory in a bid to carry out an attack. No casualties were reported on either side of the border, and Hezbollah had denied that its members attempted to infiltrate Israel. Media sources suggest that the reported attempted attack was a retaliation for the killing of a Hezbollah fighter on 20 July during an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria. The occurrence prompted accusatory rhetoric from leaders in Israel and Lebanon. UNIFIL urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint and launched an investigation to determine the facts of the incident.

On 1 June, the Secretary-General issued a report containing an assessment of the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources, taking into consideration the troop ceiling and the civilian component of the force, in accordance with resolution 2485 of 29 August 2019. The assessment determined that UNIFIL plays a key role in maintaining calm along the Blue Line, including through its liaison and coordination mechanisms, which help prevent misunderstandings between the sides. It noted that UNIFIL’s configuration is based on a saturation model, as the force currently has the highest concentration of troops and equipment among all UN peacekeeping missions. According to the assessment, the high density of troops in a relatively small area of operations and the high frequency of daily operational activities conducted by UNIFIL serve as a deterrent to a resumption of hostilities. The assessment appears to conclude that no changes in the troop ceiling are necessary as it observes that “UNIFIL, with its robust posture, remains necessary to prevent a security vacuum until conditions on the ground change” towards a permanent ceasefire.

The assessment also outlines challenges to the implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate, including the limited ability of the Lebanese Armed Forces to fully deploy in the south of Lebanon or maintain a maritime presence, the continued violations of Lebanese aerospace by Israel, and restrictions on the movement of UNIFIL personnel that have barred the force from investigating sites of violations of resolution 1701. The report makes several concrete recommendations to address these challenges, including the deployment of smaller combat vehicles to allow UNIFIL to access sites without disturbing the local population and the consolidation of several UN positions concurrent with the use of advanced technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance monitoring along the Blue Line.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 10 July statement, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, registered serious concerns about Lebanon’s economic crisis. “The situation is fast spiralling out of control, with many already destitute and facing starvation as a direct result of the crisis,” she said, calling on Lebanon’s political parties and leaders to enact needed reforms and prioritise the provision of essential needs such as food, electricity, health care, and education. According to the statement, 1.7 million refugees and 250,000 migrant workers are among the most vulnerable.

 Key Issues and Options

The main issue for Council members in August will be the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate. A key priority for the Council is to protect the integrity of UNIFIL’s mandate and to provide the force with the means necessary to carry out its tasks. Council members may choose to endorse the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s assessment and request the secretariat to initiate deliberations with the parties and troop-contributing countries on the matter.

An ongoing concern for the Council is the economic and political turmoil engulfing Lebanon, which has the potential to undermine the already fragile security situation in the country. The Council also remains concerned 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. As the Council has not issued a press statement on Lebanon since February 2019, it may consider a statement calling on the government of Lebanon to implement the reforms necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis in the country. Such a product may recall resolution 2532 of 1 July, which called on parties to conflicts around the world to adopt a ceasefire to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and urge Israel and Lebanon to fulfil their obligations under resolutions 1701 and 1559.

Council Dynamics

There is a strong consensus among Council members in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. However, there is a divergence of views on the security dynamic in the region and the role of UNIFIL. Over the past several years, these differences have been especially evident during negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewals.

The US has argued that the mission’s role should be reconsidered, given that UNIFIL is unable to fulfil the entirety of its mandate because it lacks access to parts of its area of operations. The US most recently reiterated this position in the Council’s 4 May closed VTC meeting on the implementation of resolution 1701, saying that steps should be taken to either empower UNIFIL or to realign its “staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish”.

The US entered the latest mandate renewal negotiations advocating a significant reduction of the troop ceiling and a comprehensive strategic review of the mission. The request for an assessment of the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources served as a compromise, as most Council members opposed these proposals. On 17 June, Council members held an informal closed VTC discussion on the assessment with Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix. It appears that most Council members appreciated the report’s recommendations, but the US may have felt the assessment fell short in addressing the challenges to the implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate.

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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
14 July 2020S/2020/710 This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, covering the period from 19 February to 16 June 2020.
1 June 2020S/2020/473 This was an assessment of the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources, taking into consideration the troop ceiling and the civilian component of the force, issued in accordance with resolution 2485.