Expected Council Action
In October, Security Council members are expected to receive their semi-annual briefing in closed consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Adopted in 2004, the resolution called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, the disarmament of all militias, and the extension of government control over the whole Lebanese territory. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. The Secretary-General’s report is due on 13 October.
Key Recent Developments
On 10 September, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati announced the formation of a new government. This came after more than a year of political deadlock following the resignation of then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab in the aftermath of the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion. The new government won the confidence of Lebanon’s parliament on 20 September. Najla Riachi, the Minister of Administrative Development, is the only woman in the cabinet. According to UN Women, this represents a drop to “a disappointing four percent” compared with the 2019 Lebanese government, in which women made up 30 percent of the cabinet.
In welcoming the formation of the new government, Secretary-General António Guterres urged the new executive to “implement a tangible reform agenda that addresses the needs and aspirations of the Lebanese people, which includes holding elections on time”. A similar message, welcoming the new executive while underscoring the necessity of reforms and timely elections, was also put forward by the International Support Group for Lebanon on 22 September. (The group is composed of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US, as well as the EU and the Arab League.)
On 27 September, Security Council members issued a press statement welcoming the announcement of the formation of a new government in Lebanon and urging it to implement necessary reforms. Council members also stressed the importance of holding “free, fair and inclusive” elections in 2022 that ensure “the full, equal and meaningful participation of women as candidates and voters”. The statement further calls for “a swift, independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation” into the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion. This is the first Council press statement on Lebanon since February 2019.
Lebanon continues to face a serious socioeconomic crisis characterised by shortages of fuel, medicine and water. In early September, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia reported that poverty in Lebanon affects almost 74 percent of the population, while Amnesty International warned of the risk to the right to health associated with the failure of the Lebanese authorities to provide fuel to hospitals.
During the crisis, the Shi’a group Hezbollah has arranged for Iranian fuel to be delivered to Lebanon, with the first of several truck convoys reaching Lebanon via Syria on 16 September. It seems that the shipment was not approved by the Lebanese government and was delivered despite US sanctions on Iran. In a 17 September interview with CNN, Mikati said that he was saddened by the delivery, but that he believed that the country would not be subjected to US sanctions as the shipment had not been authorised by the government.
At the same time, several international initiatives have emerged to support the government and the population of Lebanon. The French and UN-led “Conference in Support of the Population of Lebanon” took place via videoconference on 4 August, raising $370 million, with the US pledging nearly $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. In early September, plans for Lebanon to receive Egyptian natural gas supplied via Jordan and Syria were announced after a ministerial-level meeting among Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in Amman. It seems that the plan enjoys US support and might receive an exemption from US sanctions on Syria. On 17 September, a shipment of fuel from Iraq reached Lebanon, and on 23 September, Deputy Special Coordinator and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Najat Rochdi announced the start of fuel delivery to “critical healthcare and water institutions across Lebanon”. On 13 September, the Lebanese government announced that the central bank of Lebanon would receive $1.135 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Demands for accountability for the Beirut port explosion have continued in recent months, as no significant progress was achieved through the domestic investigation. On 15 September, a joint letter signed by 145 non-governmental organisations, survivors, and families of the victims of the blast appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution establishing an international investigative body to look into human rights violations related to the explosion.
Regarding the security situation in southern Lebanon, tensions flared in early August along the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. On 4 August, three rockets were fired from north of the Blue Line towards Israel, prompting artillery fire from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in response. On 5 August, following further rocket fire towards Israel from sites in Lebanon, the IDF carried out airstrikes on Lebanese territory for the first time since 2014. On 6 August, rockets were fired from Lebanon towards open ground near Israeli positions, for which Hezbollah claimed responsibility. The IDF later responded with artillery fire. No casualties ensued from this bout of tension, and both Israel and Hezbollah said they had no intention of escalating violence further.
On 30 August, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for one year, until 31 August 2022, through resolution 2591. The main new element introduced by the resolution was a request for UNIFIL to support and assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) by providing additional non-lethal material and logistical support for a temporary period of six months. This originated from concerns about the effects of Lebanon’s multifaceted crises on the capacity of the LAF to maintain security in southern Lebanon. (See our 29 August “What’s in Blue” story on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal).
Key Issues and Options
A key issue that the Council is likely to consider in October is the significant amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in Lebanon. The most recent Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701 said: “No progress was achieved with respect to the disarmament of armed groups. Hizbullah continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains military capabilities. The maintenance of arms outside the control of the State by Hizbullah and other groups in violation of resolution 1701 (2006) continues to restrict the State’s ability to exercise full sovereignty and authority over its territory.”
Other issues for the Council include the socioeconomic instability in Lebanon and the timely holding of elections in 2022. An important connected issue is also how best to support women’s participation in the elections. Council members could consider holding a closed Arria-formula meeting with women from Lebanese civil society and influential political figures in the country to discuss strategies for enhancing women’s participation in the political process.
Council members are united in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and security. They further emphasise the need for government reforms to address the difficult security, socioeconomic and humanitarian situations facing the country.
The negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal suggest a less confrontational US approach when compared to the previous administration. Unlike last year, there was seemingly no attempt by the US to alter UNIFIL’s mandate and configuration to allow the mission to play a more active role in confronting the proliferation of weapons in southern Lebanon and actors such as Hezbollah.
Nevertheless, this does not seem to have been underpinned by a fundamental change in the US position on Hezbollah. Extending the national emergency declared on 1 August 2007 by the US with respect to Lebanon (Executive Order 13441), President Biden issued the following notice on 20 July: “Certain ongoing activities, such as Iran’s continuing arms transfers to Hizballah—which include increasingly sophisticated weapons systems—serve to undermine Lebanese sovereignty, contribute to political and economic instability in the region, and continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Russia has typically taken the view that Hezbollah should be seen as a legitimate partner for dialogue, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with a delegation of senior Hezbollah members in Moscow on 15 March.
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 August 2021S/RES/2591||This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for another year until 31 August 2022.|
|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.|
|11 August 2006S/RES/1701||This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.|
|13 July 2021S/2021/650||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|