October 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 2 October 2022
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In October, Security Council members will receive their semi-annual briefing in 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 12 October.

Key Recent Developments

Over four months since the 15 May legislative elections, Lebanon remains without a government, as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Lebanese President Michel Aoun have so far failed to reach an agreement on the composition of the cabinet.

On 29 September, Lebanon’s Parliament convened for the first session to elect the country’s next president. However, no candidate garnered the necessary number of votes. Although Aoun’s presidential term is set to expire on 31 October, he recently said that he might not step down should a government not be appointed before the end of his term. (The Lebanese president is elected by the Parliament and, according to Lebanon’s power-sharing arrangement, must be a Maronite Christian, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the parliamentary speaker a Shi’a Muslim.)

US Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein is mediating indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon on the demarcation of the maritime border between the two states. In June, the arrival at the Karish natural gas field in the eastern Mediterranean of a floating production, storage and offloading vessel to extract gas for Israel sparked renewed tensions between Lebanon and Israel. During his latest visit to Lebanon, Hochstein said on 9 September that the negotiations had made “very good progress” but more work was needed to finalise an agreement.

On 31 August, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2650, which extended the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year. (See our 30 August What’s in Blue story for more details.) The resolution extended UNIFIL’s support to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) through the supply of non-lethal, material and logistical support for six months. Resolution 2650 condemned the maintenance of arms outside state control by “armed groups”. It also added new language on UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, saying that, according to the 1995 Agreement on the Status of the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (SOFA), “UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently” and demanding that the parties cease restrictions on UNIFIL’s movement including by allowing “announced and unannounced patrols”.

Some of this language was seemingly not well received by some Lebanese actors. Following the adoption of resolution 2650, the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the resolution included “wording that does not conform to the framework agreement Lebanon has signed with the UN”. An official from the Shi’a group Hezbollah declared that the resolution turned UNIFIL’s “forces into occupation forces”.

In a 12 September statement, the UNIFIL Spokesperson’s office said that recently “a great deal of misinformation and disinformation about UNIFIL’s mandate” had been circulating in the media and that “UNIFIL has always had the mandate to undertake patrols in its area of operations” with or without the LAF. This response followed through on another element introduced by resolution 2650, requesting UNIFIL to address “disinformation and misinformation” against the mission.

The Lebanese population continues to face the consequences of a severe socioeconomic crisis. After months of deliberations, the Lebanese Parliament adopted the 2022 state budget on 26 September. The 2022 budget adoption is one of the conditions for Lebanon to unlock a deal with the International Monetary Fund worth around $3 billion.

According to a recent UNICEF survey, 70 percent of households in Lebanon rely on credit or borrow money to buy food, and 23 percent of children went to bed hungry in the three months before the survey. UNICEF’s study shows that children are aware of the crisis’ impact on their lives and many feel that emigration “is their only hope for a better future”.

Several incidents, many of them leading to fatalities, have occurred in recent weeks involving boats departing from Lebanon reportedly carrying Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian migrants. On 6 September, a four-year-old child died in transit to a hospital after the boat she was in with about 60 other passengers was stranded for days at sea between Greece and Malta. Six people died on 12 September when their boat sank off the coast of Türkiye. Over 100 people died after their boat sank near Syria’s coast on 22 September. The three boats were reportedly heading to Italy. Cypriot authorities rescued over 400 people in two separate vessels stranded at sea between 19 and 20 September.

4 August marked two years since the Beirut port explosion. Several damaged silos that were left standing eventually collapsed between July and August because of fires generated by the summer temperatures and the fermentation of grain that had been left on site since the explosion. The national inquiry into the responsibilities for the blast has been blocked several times and is currently suspended. On 3 August, six UN Human Rights Council (HRC) independent experts and a group of Lebanese and international NGOs issued separate statements calling for the HRC to establish an international investigation into the explosion.

Women, Peace and Security

According to a 6 July summary letter on the June visit to Lebanon by members of the Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security (IEG), the UN in Lebanon supports several projects aimed at training women in mediation skills and conflict prevention and resolution. The women who participated in some of these projects reported several positive results, including that the programme helped them to build “networks across communities, thereby diminishing the fear of attacks, preventing violence, fostering dialogue and tolerance”. However, participants also faced “resistance from within families”, including a participant who “reported facing death threats for being active in her community and for calling for the disarmament of children”.

Key Issues and Options

The instability that could ensue from a delayed presidential election and a possible power vacuum is a potential issue for the Council. A prolonged presidential crisis—like the two-year impasse that preceded the election of Aoun on 31 October 2016—is likely to add another aggravating factor to Lebanon’s longstanding socioeconomic crisis.

If the process of appointing Aoun’s successor stalls, then the Council may consider issuing a statement encouraging the swift election of a president to avert further political instability. (Resolution 2650 contains new language based on a 7 July press statement calling on Lebanese leaders to “ensure adherence to the constitutional calendar so that the presidential election takes place on time”. On 21 September, France, Saudi Arabia and the US issued a joint statement stressing the importance of a timely presidential election.)

The substantial amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in Lebanon is an ongoing issue for the Council. The latest Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1559 said that “incidents between Lebanon and Israel are a reminder of the risks posed by the maintenance of weapons outside State authority, the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon, and regular violations by Israel of Lebanese sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Council members will continue to monitor developments related to the US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border demarcation. On 17 September, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that his party “is giving a real chance” to the negotiations but also that gas extraction by Israel in the Karish field before a deal with Lebanon is agreed would be a red line, adding that Hezbollah’s “missiles are locked on Karish”. On 19 September, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that extraction of gas from Karish “is not related to the negotiations” and that production would start as soon as possible.

Council Dynamics

There is consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. Council members also broadly agree on the need for the Lebanese government to carry out reforms to overcome the socioeconomic crisis and on the importance of a timely presidential election. Although more contentious than in 2021, the negotiations on resolution 2650 showed that consensus still exists among Council members on UNIFIL’s core mandate or, at least, that members are willing to find compromises to retain this consensus even where their views do not precisely align.

Marked differences among members remain regarding Hezbollah. Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force in Lebanon. In contrast, the UK—which unsuccessfully requested that Hezbollah be directly mentioned in resolution 2650—and the US see Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and a source of instability. During the negotiations on resolution 2650, the United Arab Emirates broke silence to demand the inclusion of stronger language condemning the possession of weapons by “armed groups” outside of the state’s control, a request that was accommodated by the penholder, France.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON

Security Council Resolutions
31 August 2022S/RES/2650 This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for another year until 31 August 2023.
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.

 

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