March 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2022
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In March, Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, adopted in 2006, which called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. The report is due by 10 March. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix are the expected briefers.

Key Recent Developments

On 24 January, the Lebanese cabinet met for the first time in more than three months to discuss the draft budget for 2022. The cabinet had last met on 12 October 2021, before ministers affiliated with Shi’a groups Hezbollah and Amal refused to participate in further cabinet meetings in protest against Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion. (For context, see our brief on Lebanon in the November 2021 Forecast.) According to media reports, while stressing that they would “continue to work to correct the judicial process”, the two groups said that their decision to end the cabinet boycott was motivated by a desire to discuss the country’s economic recovery and approve the budget. On 10 February, the cabinet approved the budget and referred it to the parliament, where it is currently awaiting approval.

Key international interlocutors have seen the resumption of regular cabinet meetings, the approval of the budget, and agreement on a comprehensive programme of reforms as necessary steps for Lebanon to unlock international financial support to help the country overcome its ongoing dire socioeconomic crisis, as detailed in the Security Council’s 4 February press statement on Lebanon. Discussions between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Lebanese government are ongoing. Concluding an IMF virtual mission to Lebanon from 24 January to 11 February, an IMF official said that while progress had been achieved on agreeing with the Lebanese authorities on necessary areas of reform, “more work is needed to translate them into concrete policies”.

On 29 December 2021, Lebanese President Michel Aoun signed a decree scheduling parliamentary elections for 15 May. In two recent press statements—released on 4 February and 27 September 2021, respectively—Council members stressed the importance of holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections “ensuring the full, equal and meaningful participation of women as candidates and voters”. A similar message was put forward by the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon on 11 February. (The ISG is composed of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US, as well as the EU and the Arab League.) While candidate registration for the elections is still open, an important development was the announcement on 24 January by a Sunni leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri that he was retiring from political life and would not run in the elections.

The Lebanese population continues to face the effects of a severe socioeconomic crisis. A Word Bank report issued in January estimates a 58.1 percent contraction of the Lebanese gross domestic product (GDP) between 2019 and 2021, while the inflation rate for 2021 is expected to average around 145 percent. On 26 January, Lebanon signed a deal to import energy from Jordan through Syria, but the implementation of this agreement has yet to commence. During a 10 February visit to southern Lebanon, Wronecka noted the severe impact that the crisis was having in that part of the country, where she was briefed by UNHCR officials on the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, many of whom face extreme poverty and food insecurity.

Following separate talks with Israel and Lebanon, US Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein said he could see “narrowing gaps” toward an agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border between the two countries. Resolving the dispute could allow for the exploration of potentially lucrative natural resources in the area.

During his visit to Lebanon from 19 to 22 December 2021, Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to the victims of the Beirut port explosion and said that only an “impartial, thorough and transparent investigation” could deliver the justice that the families of the victims deserve. However, the inquiry into the explosion has been suspended several times following the filing of lawsuits against Bitar by officials he had summoned for questioning. During his visit, Guterres also met with key Lebanese officials to discuss the need for reforms and visited the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon.

Several violent incidents targeting UNIFIL patrols have recently taken place in various locations in the mission’s area of operation. In their 4 February press statement, Council members deplored these incidents—which occurred between 22 December 2021 and 25 January—and called on the Lebanese authorities to investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice. According to media reports, the incidents have involved groups of residents who have stopped UNIFIL patrols, vandalising the mission’s vehicles and stealing peacekeepers’ personal and operational items. On 25 January, a peacekeeper required hospitalisation after sustaining injuries in an attack.

Adopted in August 2021, resolution 2591 requested UNIFIL to support the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) through temporary and special measures consisting of “non-lethal material (fuel, food and medicine) and logistical support” for a period of six months. This provision was driven by concerns about the impact of the socioeconomic crisis in Lebanon on the LAF’s capacity to carry out its functions adequately in UNIFIL’s area of operations. UNIFIL has since provided supplementary support to the LAF through several rounds of donations and, on 10 December, signed a memorandum of understanding with the LAF formalising the provision of this assistance. The LAF has also received bilateral support from some Council members, in particular from the US, which has recently announced its intention to redirect some of its military assistance to the LAF towards “livelihood support”.

On 4 February, the Secretary-General announced that Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz will take over from Major General Stefano Del Col as UNIFIL head of mission and force commander. At the time of writing, the transfer of authority ceremony was expected to take place on 28 February.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 14 February, during the 81st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Lebanese NGOs called for targeted measures for women to address structural barriers that reinforce discriminatory and gendered norms, practices and policies; legislation to address violence against women, including against women in politics; and a comprehensive law on personal status codes in Lebanon, among other issues.

Women, Peace and Security

On 31 January, UNIFIL became the first UN field mission to receive funding via the Elsie Initiative Fund for Women in Peace Operations (EIF), which is aimed at creating an enabling environment for women peacekeepers. The EIF is a UN trust fund established in 2019 by the UN and Canada, with its secretariat within UN Women. The $357,000 funding will be used to put in place gender-sensitive accommodations and working conditions for women peacekeepers deployed in UNIFIL’s Ghanaian battalion.

Key issues and Options

One of the Council’s main concerns is the lack of implementation of resolution 1701, including a permanent ceasefire. The most recent Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701 said that no progress had been achieved towards the disarmament of armed groups and that Hezbollah “continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains military capabilities”. According to media reports, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on 16 February that the group has been producing drones in Lebanon and that it has become capable of converting standard rockets into precision missiles. On 17 February, Israeli authorities said that they had shot down a drone belonging to Hezbollah and media reports indicate that Israeli fighter jets overflew Beirut and its suburbs the following day and southern Lebanon on 22 February.

Regarding UNIFIL, the increase in attacks against the mission’s patrols is an issue of concern for the Council. A potential issue that Council members may also consider is the expiration at the end of February of the six-month temporary and special measures in support of the LAF and whether an extension of these measures is needed. (The mandate of UNIFIL expires on 31 August.) Another potential issue is the fact that the Indonesian ship that currently serves as one of the five vessels of UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force may end its service in March.

A key issue for the Council is the timely holding of the elections in May. How best to support women’s participation in the elections is an important related issue for some Council members. As noted during the 25 May Lebanon meeting of the Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security, women constitute only 4.6 percent of the parliament and have in the past faced numerous challenges in winning seats, such as financing and violence. Council members may consider a closed Arria-formula meeting with women from Lebanese civil society and key political figures to discuss the challenges facing women participating in politics.

The ongoing socioeconomic instability is a further issue. Council members may consider inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, for a briefing. (De Schutter spent two weeks in Lebanon in early November 2021 to assess the country’s multifaceted crisis.)

Council members could also consider a visit to Lebanon to gather first-hand information on all of these issues.

Council Dynamics

Although the Council has not met on Lebanon since Albania, Brazil, Ghana, Gabon, and the United Arab Emirates joined in January, it seems that the arrival of these five members has not changed the Council’s broad support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and security. Differences over Hezbollah remain among Council members, with Russia on one end of the spectrum seeing the Shi’a group as a legitimate sociopolitical force, and Council members including the US and the UK at the other end listing Hezbollah as a terror group, in both cases without distinguishing between the group’s political and military wings.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON

Security Council Resolution
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.
Secretary-General’s Report
16 November 2021S/2021/953 This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.

 

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