Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) ahead of its 31 August expiry. Prior to that, Council members will hold closed consultations on UNIFIL. Khaled Khiari, the Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, is the anticipated briefer.
Key Recent Developments
Following the 15 May legislative election, the parliament designated caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on 23 June as the new head of government responsible for forming a cabinet. (See our brief on Lebanon in the July Forecast.) Over two months after the elections, however, Lebanon remains without a government.
In a 7 July press statement, Council members noted Mikati’s appointment and called for expediting the government’s formation. Reiterating similar previous messages, Council members recalled the need for implementation of reforms that “would enable the quick conclusion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to respond to the demands of the Lebanese population”. (In April, the IMF and the Lebanese government reached a preliminary agreement to support Lebanon for 46 months with around $3 billion on the condition that Lebanon implements a series of prior actions and reforms, including adopting the 2022 state budget and reforming the bank secrecy law.) The statement also encouraged measures to enhance women’s political participation and representation, including in the new government, and their economic empowerment.
Lebanon continues to suffer the effects of an enduring socioeconomic crisis, with the recent period marked by strikes and a continuation of demonstrations.
The situation of refugees in Lebanon also remains a matter of concern. On 4 July, caretaker Minister for the Displaced Issam Charafeddine announced a plan to begin repatriating Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. In a 6 July statement, Human Rights Watch said that “Syria is anything but safe for returnees”, and any forced returns would amount to a breach of Lebanon’s international obligations.
Developments in southern Lebanon are likely to be a key focus of Council members’ attention ahead of the negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal. The Secretary-General’s 13 July report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which in 2006 called for a cessation of hostilities between Shi’a group Hezbollah and Israel, said that tensions remained high in UNIFIL’s area of operations. The report, which covers the period from 19 February to 20 June, documented several violations of resolution 1701 and condemned the 25 April rocket fire from Lebanon towards Israel as well as Israel’s response fire. Overall, while UNIFIL’s freedom of movement was “respected in most cases”, the mission continued to face some restrictions.
The Secretary-General’s report noted that UNIFIL helicopter patrols observed four firing ranges in Sector West of the mission’s area of operations. UNIFIL, which has yet to gain access to these locations, observed shooting exercises taking place at some of the firing ranges. The report also stated that containers and prefabricated structures have been erected in several locations with a vantage point of the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. The Secretary-General’s report noted that UNIFIL “peacekeepers were verbally threatened against entering the area” and that a chain across the road leading to one of the containers prevented UNIFIL from accessing the Blue Line in one location. The report says that “[l]ocal authorities have confirmed that some of the containers are on private land and that some belong to Green without Borders”. According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), these structures are intelligence-gathering positions belonging to Hezbollah acting under the guise of an environmental protection organisation.
According to the Secretary-General’s report, the IDF continued to enter Lebanon’s airspace in violation of resolution 1701 and of the country’s sovereignty, “caus[ing] distress to the Lebanese population, and undermin[ing] UNIFIL’s credibility”. The IDF has reported downing drones that crossed over into Israeli territory from Lebanon on 17 May and 18 July.
In June, the arrival at the Karish natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea of a floating production, storage and offloading vessel to extract gas for Israel sparked renewed tensions between Lebanon and Israel, which have yet to agree on how to delineate the maritime border between them. While Israel maintains that the Karish field is within its exclusive economic zone, Lebanon says that the gas field is partly located in a disputed area and that any activity in the area before an agreement on the maritime border is reached would constitute a hostile act. On 2 July, the IDF shot down three Hezbollah drones heading towards the Karish field. According to media reports, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had previously said that the group would not “stand by and do nothing in the face of [Israel’s] looting of Lebanon’s natural wealth”. US Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein is mediating indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon on the demarcation of the maritime border.
According to the Secretary-General’s report, the IDF Navy warned a UNIFIL Maritime Task Force vessel in early June against approaching the area of the Karish field and took a series of actions against the UNIFIL patrolling vessel in violation of resolution 1701, including overflights with fighter aircraft that triggered supersonic booms, the launching of flares in proximity of the UNIFIL vessel and directing “a fire-control-radar in lock-on-mode towards it”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 24 June, Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi sent a letter to the Internal Security Forces and the General Security Directorate (the national intelligence agency) instructing them to ban any gathering aimed at “promoting sexual perversion”. According to a 4 July letter by the Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon, which comprises Lebanese and international NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the ministry’s letter was followed by a “wave of anti-LGBTI hate speech on social media by individuals and some religious groups”. In a 29 June statement, the UN in Lebanon expressed concern at these developments saying that they “suggest a rollback on human rights”. The statement encouraged the Lebanese government to respect its human rights obligations, “including the rights of all people to freedom of assembly, association, and expression—regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics”.
Women, Peace and Security
From 28 to 30 June, members of the Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security (IEG) undertook a visiting mission to Lebanon. The visit included stops in Lebanon’s capital Beirut and to several locations in the North and South of the country, including UNIFIL’s headquarters in Naqoura, in southern Lebanon. IEG members held meetings with Lebanese authorities, women peacebuilders and members of parliament, women refugees, and civil society representatives. IEG members also met with UN representatives in Lebanon, including Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka, UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz, and UNIFIL’s gender advisors and focal points. While field visits focused on Women, Peace and Security were envisaged in the 2016 IEG guidelines, this was the first such visit by members of the IEG.
Key Issues and Options
UNIFIL’s mandate renewal will be the pivotal issue for Council members in August. Protecting the mandate’s integrity and providing the mission with the necessary tools to carry out its operations remain key priorities for the Council. One option is to renew UNIFIL’s mandate for an additional year without substantive changes to the mission’s mandate and configuration.
Resolution 2591, which extended UNIFIL’s mandate until 31 August 2022, urged the parties to ensure that UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, including access to all parts of the Blue Line, was fully respected. It also called on the Lebanese government to facilitate UNIFIL’s access to sites requested by the mission for the purpose of investigations while respecting Lebanese sovereignty. In light of recent developments, several members may stress the importance of retaining and possibly strengthening language on the mission’s freedom of movement and access needs.
A new element in resolution 2591 was the request for 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 on the LAF’s capacity to adequately carry out its functions in UNIFIL’s area of operations.
In a 15 March letter, the Permanent Representative of Lebanon requested that the temporary and special measures be extended for an additional year. During the 25 April and 26 July quarterly open debates on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Lebanon expressed the hope that the Council would look favourably upon its request. In his latest report on resolution 1701, the Secretary-General said that the “support provided appears to have had a positive impact on the capacity and reach” of the LAF and called for supporting the Lebanese government’s request for an extension. As part of her briefing at the 21 July consultations on the 1701 report, Wronecka encouraged support for the LAF and other state security forces as an indispensable investment in Lebanon’s stability. An option would be for the Council to reauthorise the temporary and special measures mandated by resolution 2591 for one year.
An important issue for some Council members remains how to best support women’s participation in political and peacebuilding processes in Lebanon. During last year’s UNIFIL negotiations, members had tried but did not succeed in adding language to resolution 2591 requesting the mission to support and engage with women’s civil society organisations, a recommendation made by UN Women during the 25 May 2021 IEG meeting on Lebanon. An option would be to incorporate language requesting the mission to support and engage with a wide range of diverse women’s civil society organisations in all areas of its work in the upcoming renewal resolution. Also, the IEG co-chairs (Ireland and Mexico) could share their findings from the visit to Lebanon by IEG members through a publicly available summary report ahead of the negotiations.
The substantial amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in Lebanon remains a key issue for the Council.
The Council will continue to monitor tensions around the Karish natural gas field and developments related to the US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon on maritime border demarcation.
There is broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, as well as on the need for the Lebanese government to carry out the reforms needed for the country to overcome its socioeconomic crisis. The higher number of press statements on Lebanon issued this year (three so far) compared to recent years (one in 2021 and none in 2020) may be seen as an indicator of consensus on these and the other key issues highlighted in the statements. At the same time, some members have been consistently wary of assenting to language they see as overly prescriptive regarding Lebanon’s internal political matters.
A key difference among members remains the role of Hezbollah. Some members distinguish between Hezbollah’s political and military wings and have designated only its military wing as a terrorist organisation; other members, including the UK and the US, have listed the Shi’a group in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force.
Regarding the temporary and special measures in support of the LAF, last year the European members of the Council were broadly in favour of including the paragraph on UNIFIL providing support to the LAF, while other members—including China and Russia—were only persuaded to accept it after the addition of qualifying language, such as that the measures “should not be considered as a precedent” and should be provided “while fully respecting Lebanese sovereignty and at the request of the Lebanese authorities”. China and Russia questioned whether UNIFIL was an appropriate channel for the LAF to receive support and expressed concerns regarding the measures risking a change in the relationship between the mission and the host country authorities, and creating a precedent where other UN peacekeeping missions would be asked to provide material and logistical support to national armies, generating unsustainable demands for the limited UN peacekeeping budget.
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.|
|14 July 2022S/2022/556||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|