July 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 June 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In July, Security Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, due on 12 July. Adopted in 2006, resolution 1701 called for a cessation of hostilities between the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah and Israel. Briefings are expected from Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka—who was appointed on 1 April and will provide her first briefing in this position—and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

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

Key Recent Developments

Lebanon remains without a government, almost 11 months after former Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned following widespread anti-government protests in the aftermath of the 4 August 2020 Beirut blast. Diab’s government serves in a caretaker position while Saad Hariri—whom Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated as the new prime minister on 22 October 2020—negotiates the formation of a new cabinet.  Disagreements between Hariri and Aoun appear to be the main stumbling block in the formation of a new government.

In a 19 May statement, the International Support Group for Lebanon—which is comprised of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US, as well as the EU and the Arab League—called on Lebanese leaders to put aside their differences and to swiftly form a government capable of addressing the country’s most pressing needs and carrying out necessary reforms. It referenced the elections for the Lebanese parliament that are scheduled for May 2022 and called for the timely holding of elections in accordance with the electoral calendar to “preserve Lebanon’s democracy in the context of the ongoing crisis”. In a 16 June tweet, Wronecka conveyed the UN’s readiness to “extend technical assistance to the electoral process”.

The political deadlock hinders progress in addressing Lebanon’s multifaceted economic problems. The World Bank noted in a 31 May report that the country’s financial crisis could rank as one of the world’s three most severe crises in 150 years. According to the report, Lebanon’s gross domestic product (GDP), which stood at 55 billion dollars in 2018, plummeted to 33 billion dollars last year. In addition, unemployment rates are soaring, having increased from 28 percent in February 2020 to 40 percent by the end of 2020.

The economic crisis, which has been gradually worsening since 2019, has reached concerning new levels in recent months. In June, the Lebanese currency fell to a record low of approximately 18,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. This compounded the difficulties faced by the civilian population, which had already been struggling to obtain basic staples. Najat Rochdi, the Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, noted in a 14 June briefing to member states in Geneva that more than one million Lebanese need assistance to meet their basic needs, including food. Lebanon has also been recently experiencing shortages in fuel and an increase in power outages. The crisis has also stretched the public health system in the country; medicine is in short supply and people are increasingly unable to access healthcare.

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Against this backdrop, Lebanon has been experiencing increasing social unrest. On 17 June, a general strike was staged to press the government to address the deteriorating economic conditions. Shops, businesses, banks, and government offices were shut down, and several roadblocks were set up around Beirut and several other cities. On 26 June, protests were held in Beirut and several other cities, including in the northern city of Tripoli—which has witnessed several demonstrations in recent months— leaving several protestors and ten soldiers injured.

The financial crisis has also severely affected the Lebanese army—which is seen by many as the most stable and reliable institution in Lebanon—raising concerns that it may curtail its ability to maintain security. Salaries and food rations for soldiers have steadily decreased, leading some 3,000 soldiers to leave the 80,000-strong military force. On 17 June, France convened a virtual donors conference to mobilise aid (including food, medicine and medical equipment) for the Lebanese army. At the meeting, donor nations pledged tens of millions of dollars for direct support to the army.

Recent months have witnessed some tensions between Israel and Lebanon in UNIFIL’s area of operations in the context of the round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which took place between 10 and 21 May. During that period, UNIFIL recorded several instances of rocket fire from southern Lebanon towards Israel on 17 and 19 May. No group claimed responsibility for the launches. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded by firing artillery rounds towards Lebanon. No injuries or damage were reported as a result of the exchanges. In addition, on 14 May, several Lebanese citizens crossed the Blue Line and entered Israeli territory. The IDF opened fire in response, and one of the Lebanese citizens later died from injuries he had sustained. The militant group Hezbollah later confirmed the deceased was one of its operatives.

The indirect negotiations between Israel and Lebanon on the delineation of the maritime border between the two countries resumed on 4 May. The talks commenced in October 2020 with the mediation of US officials from the Trump administration but appeared to have stalled by December 2020 after the sides had met four times.

Key Issues and Options

An issue of growing concern for the Council is how to address the political and economic instability in Lebanon and prevent further deterioration of the already fragile security situation in the country. Another issue of increasing concern relates to the ability of the security forces in Lebanon to maintain stability in the country. Council members may consider calling on international donors to swiftly fulfil their pledges from the 17 June donors conference to facilitate the Lebanese army’s continued operations.

Looking ahead, Council members will soon initiate discussions on the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate ahead of its 31 August expiry. A key priority for the Council in this regard is to protect the integrity of UNIFIL’s mandate and provide the force with the means to carry out its tasks. Council members may be interested to hear from the briefers on progress in the implementation plan for the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s 1 June 2020 assessment report on the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources. While the Council has not officially endorsed the 1 June assessment report, it appears that many Council members have expressed support for its recommendations.

The Council may consider issuing a press or presidential statement to call for the urgent formation of a new government in Lebanon, the swift implementation of reforms necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis, and the timely holding of elections in 2022. The Council has not issued a press statement on Lebanon since February 2019.

Council Dynamics

There is a consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. Possible changes to Council dynamics on Lebanon relating to the change in the US administration and the advent of the five elected members in 2021 are likely to become more pronounced during the upcoming negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal.

The previous US administration was of the view that UNIFIL should play a more active role in confronting the threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah and the proliferation of weapons in southern Lebanon. Its advocacy for a reduction in UNIFIL’s troop ceiling resulted in the decision, by resolution 2539 of 28 August 2020, to reduce the force’s troop ceiling to 13,000 from the 15,000 set out by resolution 1701.

Council members India and Ireland are major troop-contributing countries to UNIFIL. They are likely to closely follow developments related to the implementation of the 1 June 2020 assessment report and may emphasise the need for close consultations with troop-contributing countries throughout the process.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON

Security Council Resolutions
28 August 2020S/RES/2539 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNIFIL until 31 August 2021.
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
Secretary-General’s Reports
9 March 2021S/2021/240 This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.
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.