Expected Council Action
In May, Council members expect to receive their bi-annual briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Adopted in 2004, this 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. A copy of the Secretary-General’s report, which is expected to serve as the basis for the briefing, was circulated to Council members on 22 April. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is the expected briefer.
Key Recent Developments
Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Lebanon for 15 May. While several political leaders, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, have said publicly that the elections will be held without delays, several factors regarding the polls are a source of uncertainty. In February, the government approved an election budget of approximately $18 million, a $36 million decrease from the budget for the 2018 elections. According to data referenced by the Lebanese interior minister, public electricity provider Électricité du Liban may charge in excess of $16 million to provide power on the day of the elections, and the state may still have to use private generators to ensure the powering of polling centres. (Extensive power shortages have been one of the elements of Lebanon’s ongoing socioeconomic crisis.)
In January, Sunni leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri announced that he was retiring from political life and would not stand in the elections. In April, Sunni-majority states Saudi Arabia and Kuwait returned their ambassadors to Lebanon after having recalled them in October 2021 when—in the context of already strained relationships between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia—critical comments by former Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi on the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen came to light. (Kordahi made the negative comments—which included a comment that Iran-backed Houthis were defending themselves from “an external aggression”—before joining the government. He stepped down in December 2021.) Some analysts have argued that, among broader calculations, the rapprochement may be aimed at preventing the Shi’a group Hezbollah from increasing its influence in the context of the upcoming elections. The ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, who were also recalled in the aftermath of Kordahi’s comments, have yet to return to Lebanon.
The May elections will also be the first since the October 2019 mass protests against the Lebanese political establishment (for background, see our brief on Lebanon in the November 2019 Forecast). On 23 April, Al Jazeera reported that some independent candidates have faced intimidation and attacks, including a candidate who had some of her electoral billboards vandalised. In his 11 March report on the implementation of resolution 1701, Secretary-General António Guterres called upon the Lebanese authorities to prevent violence against women in politics and urged political actors to “commit to peaceful elections and freedom of expression, to work to calm tensions and to refrain from sectarian incitement and hate speech”. Security Council members underscored the importance of holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections in the two most recent press statements on Lebanon, issued on 27 September 2021 and 4 February, “ensuring the full, equal and meaningful participation of women as candidates and voters”.
Lebanon continues to experience the effects of its severe socioeconomic crisis, with added concerns over the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on food security in Lebanon. (According to a recent FAO information note, Lebanon is among a group of countries that have, on average, imported half of their wheat purchases from Ukraine and Russia.) In this context, the situation of refugees in Lebanon remains dire. In March, the World Food Programme in Lebanon assisted 1,071,007 Syrian refugees and 6,431 refugees of other nationalities, in addition to 529,194 Lebanese people in need. On 24 March, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka visited the Burj Barajneh refugee camp, where she was briefed by officials of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on the growing needs of Palestine refugees for UNRWA’s services, including education, health, social services, and cash assistance.
On 23 April, a boat carrying a group of people intending to leave Lebanon sank off the coast of Tripoli in the north of the country, killing at least six people. According to media reports, some survivors accused the Lebanese navy of ramming the boat, causing it to sink, while the military reportedly said that the collision occurred as a result of the boat’s attempted evasion manoeuvres. In a 24 April tweet, Wronecka said that the “tragedy is another signal of the urgent need for solutions to Lebanon’s socio-economic crises and living hardships”.
A delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Lebanon from 28 March to 7 April. At the end of the visit, an IMF official announced that the Lebanese authorities and the IMF had reached a staff-level agreement (that is, a preliminary agreement) to potentially support Lebanon for 46 months with around $3 billion. The agreement has yet to be approved by the IMF management and Executive Board and is subject to the Lebanese authorities implementing a series of prior actions—including Parliamentary approval of the 2022 budget—as well as confirmation of international partners’ financial support.
On 10 March, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) convicted Hezbollah-linked Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi, both tried in absentia, for being accomplices to intentional homicide, among other felonies, reversing on appeal its earlier acquittal. In a 22 March statement, the Secretary-General called for the decision of the tribunal to be respected and urged the international community to continue supporting the work of the STL. (The STL, a tribunal composed of Lebanese and international judges, began operating in 2009 to try those accused of carrying out the February 2005 bombing in which former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others were killed.) In a 13 March tweet, the US State Department welcomed the convictions of Merhi and Oneissi.
According to media reports, the Lebanese government has recently approved the demolition of the silos, which were seriously damaged in the August 2020 Beirut port explosion. This is despite concerns on the part of victims’ families that the demolition may allow for the port to be reconstructed even in the absence of accountability for the explosion and that this may erase a visible reminder of the need for justice. To date, no significant progress has been achieved in the inquiry into the responsibility for the blast.
Adopted in August 2021, resolution 2591 extended UNIFIL’s mandate until August 2022 and requested it to support the LAF through temporary and special measures consisting of “non-lethal material (fuel, food and medicine) and logistical support” for six months. (This provision was motivated by concerns about the impact of the socioeconomic crisis on the LAF’s capacity to satisfactorily carry out its functions in UNIFIL’s area of operations.) The six months expired at the end of February. In a 15 March letter, the Permanent Representative of Lebanon said that extending these measures is vital to ensuring the implementation of resolution 1701 and to strengthening the capacity of UNIFIL to carry out its activities. The letter requested that the temporary and special measures be extended for an additional year. During the 25 April quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, the representative of Lebanon expressed hope that the Council will look favourably at Lebanon’s request. At the time of writing, it does not appear that Council members will consider whether to extend these measures before UNIFIL’s mandate renewal in August.
On 25 April, a rocket was launched from southern Lebanon towards Israel. A UNIFIL statement issued later the same day says that the Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz was in immediate contact with the Lebanese and Israeli authorities to urge restraint but that “[n]onetheless, the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] fired back several dozen shells into Lebanon”. According to media reports, the IDF suspects that Palestinian factions are responsible for the launch, possibly in connection with recent tensions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. (For background, see our 18 and 24 April What’s in Blue stories.) On 26 April, the IDF announced that it had seized a number of weapons—including machine guns and hand grenades—that were apparently intended to be smuggled into Israel. In February, Israeli fighter jets flew over Beirut following incursions by Hezbollah drones into Israel and declarations by Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that the group had become capable of converting standard rockets into precision missiles.
Women, Peace and Security
On 1 March, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women issued its Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report of Lebanon under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Committee noted with concern that “women only represent 4.7 percent of parliamentarians and are still underrepresented in ministries and municipal councils, as well as in leadership positions”. In view of the 15 May elections, the Committee urged Lebanon to “establish a minimum quota of 30 percent for women candidates on the electoral lists of political parties”. At the time of writing, no such measure has been adopted.
Key issues and Options
The substantial amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in Lebanon is a long-standing issue. This situation contributes to periodic tensions between Israel and Lebanon. Other key issues of interest for the Council are the timely holding of elections in May, the subsequent formation of a government, and the implementation of reforms aimed at addressing the ongoing socioeconomic instability. Council members are likely to closely follow developments in these areas in the coming months, and may consider a product, as appropriate.
There is broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. Differences over Hezbollah remain among Council members. While some Council members distinguish between Hezbollah’s political and military wings and have designated only its military wing as a terrorist organisation, members, including the UK and the US, have listed the Shi’a group in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. Russia, on the other hand, sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force.
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 March 2022S/2022/214||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|