November 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 October 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In November, Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701. Adopted in 2006, resolution 1701 called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the Shi’a group Hezbollah. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka and Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix are expected to brief.

Key Recent Developments

Seven people died and more than 30 were wounded following armed clashes in Beirut on 14 October. The violence occurred in connection with a demonstration organised by the Shi’a groups Hezbollah and Amal, protesting against Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion. The blast led to at least 200 deaths and 6,500 casualties and devastated significant parts of Beirut. The immediate cause of the explosion was a large quantity of inadequately stored ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound commonly used as fertiliser. More than a year after the explosion, no official has been convicted in connection with the incident.

Since February, Bitar has been looking into the potential responsibility of several senior officials—including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab—and had recently summoned two former Amal ministers, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaiter. The inquiry has been delayed by legal complaints against Bitar filed by some of the officials he intended to question. On 12 October, the probe was temporarily suspended following a complaint filed by Khalil and Zaiter. A court dismissed their complaint early on 14 October.

At the time of writing, the exact sequence of the violent events on 14 October and the identity and affiliation of the shooters remain contested. Clashes took place in the Tayyouneh area of Beirut when the Shi’a groups’ demonstration developed into a gun battle, which reportedly involved unidentified snipers and armed fighters associated with the two Shi’a groups and the Christian group Lebanese Forces. In reporting on the incident, national and international media outlets often pointed out that the 14 October street violence was reminiscent of images typical of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) launched an investigation and have arrested several people in connection with the clashes. In a 14 October statement, the Secretary-General’s spokesperson expressed concern over the violence in Lebanon and reiterated “the need for an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut”.

Ministers affiliated with Hezbollah have reportedly threatened to bring the new Lebanese government—which was formed on 10 September following more than a year of political deadlock—to a standstill unless Bitar is removed, raising concerns that tensions over the investigation might affect the ability of the government to agree on the reforms needed to end the socioeconomic crisis in the country. On 18 October, Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that he would not convene a cabinet session before finding a solution to the controversy over Bitar’s investigation. On 26 October, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi proposed an initiative to resolve the impasse during consultations with Mikati, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. At the time of writing, the proposal was seemingly gaining traction, leading Mikati to announce on 27 October that he was hoping that the cabinet would be able to meet again soon. The details of this proposal have not been clarified yet, but it has been reported that it may consist of the parliament referring higher-level officials to a constitutional body dedicated to trying presidents and ministers, while limiting Bitar’s inquiry to lower-level officials. In a 27 September press statement, Security Council members welcomed the formation of the government, urged it to implement necessary reforms and called for “a swift, independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation” into the port explosion.

The extended socioeconomic crisis in Lebanon has continued to negatively affect the lives of Lebanese people, with growing levels of poverty and severe shortages of fuel and medicine. According to an estimate provided on 1 October by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi, “more than one million Lebanese need relief assistance to cover their basic needs, including food”. On 9 October, Lebanon’s power grid shut down after the nation’s two main power stations ran out of fuel. Power was restored to pre-shutdown levels the following day, but according to media reports, that has usually consisted of one to two hours of electricity a day, obliging people to rely on private generators that require increasingly unaffordable or unavailable fuel. On 27 October, it was announced that Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, will undertake a fact-finding mission in Lebanon from 1 to 12 November. De Schutter is expected to share his preliminary conclusions on the mission on 12 November.

As a result of an arrangement between Hezbollah and Iran, fuel from Iran was delivered to Lebanon on 16 September, apparently without the approval of the Lebanese government and in violation of existing US sanctions. On 29 September, in coordination with Qatar, the US announced the imposition of new sanctions targeting seven individuals and a firm accused of financially supporting Hezbollah.

While several international initiatives in support of Lebanon have been announced in recent months, their effect on everyday life in Lebanon are yet to be felt. (For more details, see our brief on Lebanon in the October Forecast). On 22 October, Minister of Economy Amin Salam told Reuters that while a resumption of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expected in the coming months, funds are unlikely to be disbursed before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Since incidents in early August involving exchanges of fire across the Blue Line (a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon), the situation in the area has seemingly reverted to a tense calm. During the exchanges, the Israel Defense Forces conducted airstrikes on Lebanese territory for the first time since 2014. (For more details, see our brief on Lebanon in the October Forecast).

Women, Peace and Security

From 1 to 3 October, eight women leaders from Tripoli and Baalbek participated in a workshop in Batroun, north Lebanon, organised by International Alert in partnership with Action Research Associates and supported by UN Women. The workshop focused on enhancing skills in dialogue facilitation in local peacebuilding processes and was the first of a series of capacity-development training workshops aimed at strengthening women’s roles in leading local dialogue, peacebuilding and reconciliation processes in their communities. The training workshops are expected to culminate in intergenerational and cross-community dialogue sessions on conflict issues that are disproportionally affecting women and that have roots in unresolved issues from the Lebanese civil war.

Key Issues and Options

The events of 14 October demonstrate that weaponry held by Hezbollah and other groups in Lebanon remains an ongoing issue for peace and stability in the country. However, the most recent Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1559—on which Council members were briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo on 20 October—said that “no specific steps” have been undertaken towards disbanding and disarming Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias since the adoption of the resolution. At the time of writing, it does not appear that a Council product—for instance, condemning the recent violence—is being considered.

The continuing socioeconomic crisis, including its effects on the ability of the LAF to maintain security in Lebanon, is also an area of concern. Council members may consider calling on international donors to fulfil their pledges to support the LAF’s continued operations.

Looking ahead, the timely holding of parliamentary elections is an issue of relevance to the Council. In their latest press statement on Lebanon, Council members stressed the importance of holding “free, fair and inclusive” elections. On 19 October, the Lebanese parliament voted to hold legislative elections on 27 March 2022, but Lebanese President Michel Aoun sent the draft electoral law back to parliament on 22 October, asking for the date to be reconsidered.

An important issue for some Council members remains how best to support women’s participation in the elections. On 19 October, the Lebanese parliament failed to support the adoption of a women’s quota for the upcoming elections. In a statement on the same day, Wronecka encouraged the discussion in the parliament of a gender quota for the elections. Council members may be interested in holding a closed Arria-formula meeting with women from Lebanese civil society and key political figures in the country to discuss strategies to support women’s participation in the political process.

Council Dynamics

Council dynamics appear to be unchanged on this file. Council members remain united in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and security. As shown by the recent press statement, there seems to be agreement among members on the need for the Lebanese government to undertake reforms and to hold timely elections. Despite this general unity among members, differences remain. While Russia has generally taken the view that Hezbollah should be seen as an important political force in Lebanon and a legitimate partner for dialogue, other members—notably the US—do not share this view.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON

Security Council Resolutions
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.
Secretary-General’s Report
14 October 2021S/2021/873 This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.